Hurricane Michael Did NOT End Florida's Red Tide, Experts Say

Experts say that Hurricane Michael failed to break up a patchy and toxic algae bloom that has lingered in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida's shoreline for the last year. 

That means that Florida's red tide outbreak could continue to cause problems in the weeks ahead.

Hurricanes can break up algae blooms, but they also drop freshwater and increase nutrient-rich runoff from land, which can make them worse, said Robert Weisberg, a professor of physical oceanography at the University of South Florida.

Michael blew red tide at the water's surface into shore, but deep ocean currents that have been feeding the bloom since the summer also have persisted, he said.

The red tide began last October off southwest Florida after Hurricane Irma swept up the state, killing massive numbers of fish, along with scores of sea turtles and the state's beloved manatees.

The bloom also causes respiratory irritations in people which, coupled with the stench of rotting marine life, sent many tourists inland away from the beaches, seaside attractions and restaurants with outdoor seating.

Satellite imagery showed an "anomaly" in the waters off the Panhandle, where Michael made landfall Wednesday, and off the southwest coast, said Tracy Fanara, a program manager for environmental health at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Water samples this week likely will confirm red tide in those areas, she said. Whether fish kills or respiratory problems follow on those shores depends on which way the wind blows.

"On the southwest coast, we didn't get much wind or rain onshore from Michael, but offshore it wasn't enough to dissipate the bloom," she said.

NOAA researchers have called this red tide "unusually persistent."

"Hurricanes in the past have not caused the blooms to dissipate, though the number of cases where blooms and hurricanes occurred at the same time is small so we will be watching to see what effects Hurricane Michael has on the current bloom," NOAA spokesman Jerry Slaff said in an email Monday.

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