Unlike Lake Erie algal blooms caused by agricultural runoff, Florida Red Tide occurs naturally

‘High Nile’ is red, some algal blooms cannot be controlled; sustained blooms could be bad

By Gregory Jackson

Karenia Brevis

Karenia brevis, is the Florida Red Tide microscopic organism that turns water red or brown and releases a neurotoxin that kills fish, cause the consumption of shellfish toxic to eat, or irritate those with respiratory conditions.  Sometimes, allergic reactions can occur on the skin.  Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

On August 9, 2014 Groundz posted an article about the use of compost as agricultural best practices to help reduce Lake Erie algal blooms, which are caused by fertilizer runoff. Spraying fertilizer applications provide soluble nutrients that rinse into waterways, while compost provides insoluble nutrients (those that are bound to proteins), and can reduce significant runoff. While the Lake Erie algae blooms in Toledo were cause by increased temperature and rainstorms affecting how fertilizer and other runoffs into the Maumee River that caused a half million people to be without water for three days; algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida is Karenia brevis or Red Tide.

Red Tide is a natural occurring and toxic microscopic alga in the Gulf of Mexico, which bloom about 30-40 miles off the coast, these blooms are not caused by fertilizer runoff.

What makes Lake Erie algae blooms different than Karenia brevis?

Since Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes it is more susceptible to algae blooms triggered by fertilizer runoff, while Karenia brevis or Red Tides, bloom from natural phenomena yet to be understood. However, Red Tides drift closer to shore, as evident in the August 15, 2014 Red Tide Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) status report showed early indication of K. brevis offshore of Pinellas, Manatee, and Sarasota counties, as measured by the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of Southern Florida.  The FWC puts out weekly Red Tide reports.

“Red Tides are part of a much different system,” says Alina Corcoran, research scientist of the harmful algae blooms (HAB) program at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute for the FWC. “The Mississippi River does add nutrients to the system, but microscopic algae have been recorded here for hundreds of years.”

In Biblical history, “High Nile” is thought to be the biological cause of “water turning to blood” as mentioned in the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7). High Nile is caused by heavy rainfall that can lead to soil runoff, turning the water into a red color. It was not because of the soil runoff that caused the next pending disaster, but the explosion of bacterial growth in the water and Pharaoh’s unyieldingness toward Israel (Exodus 6), not caused by agricultural runoff.

Similar to High Nile, Florida’s Red Tide cannot be controlled. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Florida scientists attempted to eliminate Red Tide in the 1950’s, the copper sulfate they applied did kill some K. brevis, but even more brevetoxins were released. If solutions for Red Tide exist they must include taking into consideration that the algae may cover 10,000 square miles for surface to sea floor. As long as Red Tide remains out to sea, runoff will not contribute to its blooms, but once it drifts closer to shore with streams and currents, then runoff can affect it.

“With currents and wind the organism can move in shore where it will uptake nutrients [from agricultural and other sources of runoff that] may sustain the bloom,” says Corcoran.

Microcystin, produced by the Lake Erie algal bloom, will not peak until September. K. brevis off the coast of Florida occurs about the same time. However if K. brevis blooms are sustained because of agricultural and anthropomorphic runoff, blooms may be longer; consequences have yet to be known. Perhaps extended blooms may contribute to respiratory ailments for residents with respiratory conditions, or eating recreationally harvested bans may be extended.

In Ohio, Cliff Hite, state senator from Ohio’s First Senate District, is raising awareness of Senate Bill 150 as part of the solution for Lake Erie’s algae problems.

“It [Senate Bill 150] aims to better manage the application of fertilizers on our farms through the country’s first ever certification process,” writes Hite in an August 21, 2014 news article for Cleveland.com. “The educational initiatives and requirements in S.B. 150 will go a long way toward making our agricultural community even more knowledgeable about best practices in the use of fertilizer.”

Senate Bill 150 was signed into law by Ohio Governor John Kasich earlier this year. The Ohio Healthy Lake Erie Fund has granted $3 million since it was established in 2012 for best agricultural practices of fertilizer application. Healthy Lake Erie Initiative, founded this year, has received $10 million, from the capital budget, to help provide a solution to Lake Erie’s algal blooms.

In Ohio, Lake Erie algal blooms are caused by agricultural runoff. In Florida, Red Tide blooms are caused by the season and its location drifts from currents, its blooms can be extended beyond usual peak, from runoff. FWC and its state and federal partners track Red Tides and its affect using a variety of tools to observe HAB. K. brevis has not yet shown unusually longer bloom periods, but it may be wise to begin looking for best agricultural fertilizer practices now involving those waterways that can contribute to extended Red Tide blooms.


Tuttle Creek Falls, located at Columbia Park in Bay Village, Ohio is one of the largest waterfalls in Cuyahoga County that drains directly onto the beach.  Lake Erie has thousands of tributaries like Tuttle Creek.  Signs are posted that water may be affected after rainfall advising swimmers not to swim.  The area is common with endurance swimmers and kayakers.  Lake Road (Route 6) and other roadways drain directly into the water, large homes with fertilizer applications can easily end up in waterways like this.


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