Red tide occurs when algae rapidly divide and release toxins into the water and air. The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute states that red tide is a natural phenomenon. Others don’t agree, believing it’s caused by polluted runoff. For sure, when local marine life ingests the toxin they can die off in great numbers. People can also become sick from red tide by eating affected shellfish.
When the toxin becomes airborne, it can cause respiratory problems such as itching, burning eyes, runny nose and difficulty breathing for those with asthma, allergies or other respiratory disease. I have asthma and red tide is no fun for me.
Nonetheless, I have some great memories of red tide, once night surfing at midnight as blue trails came off of our boards. At other times it’s proven a pretty lightshow to be observed from the shore. While still I enjoy the colors, my priority is being able to breathe.
I quit enjoying red tide after staying at a hotel in Baja. We were enjoying the sight of the fluorescent show from our hotel window when it occurred to me that I could barely catch my breath. I hadn’t been in the water that day and was a few hundred feet from the ocean when I made this disturbing discovery.
Since I have asthma I travel with an inhaler. I was gasping until I took a blast from the inhaler and resumed living. When the attack returned the next morning, I packed my bags and headed home. The further I got from the coast the better I felt. By the time I turned toward the coast, I notice the red tide had made its way to Cardiff, and I felt miserable again.
Like most asthma sufferers that live near the ocean, I can tell you when it’s red tide by how well or poorly I’m breathing. (Maybe I should volunteer as Surfrider Foundation’s canary in a coalmine.)
Most media will generally report that red tide is harmless to people, but my personal experience has proven otherwise.
It seems simple enough to stay out of the coastal water, but try staying out of the coastal air, when you live two blocks from the beach.
Once red tide forms, it sends up an invisible gaseous cloud that spreads far inland, like an invisible marine layer. If you’re allergic to the water, the air might get you also.
I’m supposed to drive to L.A. today and, ironically, am looking forward to the air quality there.
This is a severe red tide that has spread at least as far north as Fort Bragg where it killed off many of a once abundant abalone population.
At this writing there are 20-some surfers riding shoulder high Cardiff Reef. I wish I could join them.
The water isn’t exactly red, but more of a Mississippi River brown. At least a few of those surfers will return home with breathing difficulties or feeling like they have the flu.
They’ll take medicine, drink plenty of fluids and get a good night’s sleep. It won’t help.
Nothing will until the red tide is swept away.
Apparently red tide likes water in warmer than 66 and colder than 62. Since there’s little chance the water will heat up beyond the mid 60s, I’m selfishly hopping that it dips further. Call me weird, but I’d rather be surfing cold water, than gasping in the warmth.
Filed Under: Sea Notes