Red tide skips St. Augustine, wreaks havoc in other Florida cities

The remains of a large stingray found on the shores of Saint Augustine Beach on
Nov. 23, 2018. Photo by Rachel Fairclough.

By Rachel Fairclough |

The coast of Florida is known for its delicious seafood and beautiful beaches. A sudden downfall and shift in climatic health, however, has implemented a new aspect of notoriety for the Floridan shores.
Red tide has recently swept through the waters, leaving a destruction of the coastal ecosystem and aquatic animals that were in its path.
Red tide is when algae become supplied with an excess of nutrients and forms large masses that suffocate any and every surrounding aquatic life forms around it. It can be deadly to humans when inhaled due to the chemicals emitted from the severe algal blooms.
In St. Augustine, red tide has had only a minimal impact on the waters. But Mason Schilling, a student majoring in coastal environmental science at Flagler College, alluded to the fact that even though there were no major hits to St. Augustine’s waters directly, there is still a large amount of side effects that the shore has been seeing.
“I’ve seen the beaches down south covered in dead fish,” Schilling said.
There are certain types of fish that can adapt quicker than others and are able to escape the dangerous outbreaks that begin to occur in their habitats.
One reason red tide is so dangerous is because of the rapid pace in which the algal blooms can appear and how quickly they can spread. The toxic algae stifles the pure oxygen in the water and countless species of aquatic animals have died as a result.
“My favorite fish to fish for are redfish, tarpon, trout and speckled trout,” Schilling said. “It’s a good thing that they tend to migrate fast.”
A key factor in understanding red tide is the understanding of where it comes from. Recently, the majority of this outbreak has been linked to the runoff of farm drainage.
“The rivers that lead into the marinas and oceans get contaminated with the runoff from farms near them,” Schilling said. “Fertilizer is the real killer. The chemicals in it can’t be broken down fully.”
The recent fluctuation of high levels of red tide in the water has not only killed off aquatic life and posed a real threat for humans on account of its toxicity when inhaled, but it has also inflicted some damage to the revenue of businesses that revolve around the water.
Sea Tow St. Augustine, a towing company based on the Municipal Marina underneath the Bridge of Lions, is one of those businesses. Christopher Hampton, the captain at Sea Tow St. Augustine, a company that responds to calls from people on boats who have gotten stranded and need some assistance, is glad that his specific business has not suffered a significant loss this year but reflects on year passed where he has.
“If there’s red tide, no recreational boaters come out,” Hampton said. “If they’re not out, there’s no one to help.”
Hampton alluded to what the outcome could be if St. Augustine were to suffer from a direct hit.
“There would be major change,” Hampton said. “Most of these businesses around here are dependent on the ocean; we base our livelihoods around it.”
In years prior, the algal blooms of red tide has been so bad in other regions, Hampton has had to relocate as a result.
“We just escaped it this year,” Hampton said. “Our fingers are crossed for next year.”
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