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Red tide spreads to Florida’s east coast, shuttering some Miami-Dade beaches

The red tide bloom that’s been in the waters off Florida’s Gulf coast for months is now choking the Atlantic Ocean waters from Miami Beach to Palm B...

The red tide bloom that’s been in the waters off Florida’s Gulf coast for months is now choking the Atlantic Ocean waters from Miami Beach to Palm Beach, Florida.

Three generations of the Claus family have been fishing the Atlantic waters in southeastern Florida. Trey Claus, 30, has never seen anything like this; he said neither has anyone else he knows.

“This might put a halt to our season, which is not a good thing,” he said.

Should the red tide bloom settle in, mass fish kills will happen. It will kill the Claus family’s charter reservations, and the game fish they’re after.

They’ll have to wait for those fish to come back, and the live bait, too. Claus, like many in the area, uses it exclusively to catch the game fish.

The upcoming fishing and shellfish seasons would shut down: including stone crab, ballyhoo, sailfish, to name a few.

But most people don’t just come to Florida for the fishing — it’s the pristine, white sand beaches. And red tide has already shuttered some.

New beach closures in Miami-Dade County

“I’m not sure if we’ve ever had red tide in Miami before,” said Larry Brand, University of Miami professor of marine biology and ecology.

The worst water samples taken in Miami-Dade County, off Haulover Inlet, had medium levels of red tide. Those levels pushed Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to close several beaches “in an abundance of caution.”

Miami Beach and Crandon Park samples also had red tide algae, but in the “very low to low range.”

Earlier in the week, red tide shut down a number of beaches in Palm Beach County. Some remain closed; video posted to social media showed some of the red tide fish kill washing up on the beaches.

Fish kills have also been reported in St. Lucie County. Respiratory irritation from red tide has been reported in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.

Because Florida’s Atlantic coast rarely sees red tide, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oceanographer Richard Stumpf said there’s no way to forecast it, because it can’t really be seen on a satellite.

But he said he believes this bloom will die out in a matter of weeks; strong currents should rip it apart.

What is red tide?

Florida’s red tides, which occur naturally, are caused by an algae found almost exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico: Karenia brevis.

Not only is it deadly to marine life, but it also can irritate skin and can lead to respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma.

“It’s like being hit with a tear gas,” Brand said.

Although the blooms are naturally occurring, many people, including Brand, blame agricultural runoff and septic tanks in the area.

“It’s 15 times more abundant today than 50 years ago,” he said. “I can’t think of any natural sources that have increased 15-fold.”

On Thursday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced $3 million in grants to St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to respond to what he called the “natural phenomenon.”

The governor’s office said red tide has been documented nine times on the state’s Atlantic coast since 1957.

Miami’s Biscayne Bay could be threatened

Brand said if red tide moves into Biscayne Bay it could fester, feeding off the nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff and septic tanks.

While he thinks it’s highly unlikely, Brand noted he also thought it was highly unlikely to see red tide in Miami.

Starting Thursday, the city of Miami said, it will begin conducting water quality tests in Biscayne Bay, “out of an abundance of caution.”

King tides will also occur this weekend, bringing coastal flooding to areas of the city. If there is red tide in that water, it could push red tide onshore.

The city of Miami is warning residents to avoid contact with the floodwaters.

Currents brought red tide from Florida’s west coast to east coast

The current bout of red tide on Florida’s Atlantic coast is from the same bloom that’s choking its Gulf coast. Stumpf said a loop current helped scoop up the algae from around Collier County.

While traveling in the Gulf Stream, strong winds helped push the algae onshore in Palm Beach County. A southerly coastal current then pushed algae even farther south, toward the greater Miami area.

On Florida’s west coast, Scott has declared a state of emergency in seven counties due to ride tide. As of August, the bloom had washed up over 2,000 tons of dead marine life onto the shores and cost the state well over $8 million in cleanup.

Businesses there, reliant on the beaches and tourism, have lost tens of millions of dollars, and some have closed.