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Your Yak Or Mine: The Turn Of The Tide

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On: Tue, May 21, 2013 at 8:25AM | By: Mel The Guide


Hi, everyone! Mel the Guide here, once again with a fantastic month of kayaking behind us.

We started the month with a Meet & Greet on North Captive at Barnacles Adventures for new folks and renters on the island so that they can get to know about the island and the many adventures that can be had.

On a recent cool morning outing I was not sure if that was the day for manatees, but we gave it our best shot. We met the family—mom and dad and two teenagers. We talked about manatees and no sooner got in the kayaks than there they were up along side the kayaks. A pod of about six. We went for a nice paddle and saw many more manatees along the way.

While we are talking about manatees, let me say that these past few months have been really hard on them. We have had more than our share of HABs (harmful algal blooms). That’s a rapid increase of the algae population; along the Florida (and the Texas) Gulf coast, they are usually caused by Karenia brevis, and are known as red tide. Since September 2012 red tide has bloomed in coastal waters from Marco Island to Tampa Bay. Even low concentrations of red tide can kill fish and give humans a respiratory irritation. Red tide itself is oderless; the smell comes from the decaying sea life that the red tide has killed.

Red tide is not new. It has been around in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1500s. In 1793 the first case occurred in British Columbia, Canada (though not caused by Karinia brevis) with over 100 reported deaths and several thousand with illness.


So what happens to humans if they come in contact with the red tide? Folks with sensitive skin can get rashes. If you feel itchy after contact with the water rinse off with fresh water and soap. When the toxins are in the air, they can cause a dry irritating cough. In most cases this is a temporary irritation and will go away when you leave the beach.

On the other hand, how about the manatees? Manatees exposed to red tide toxins are hit many ways. They can swim in it then breathe the sea spray, or eat the toxin that has contaminated their food source—aquatic plants.

What are some of the signs that manatees and fish have been exposed to the toxin? The toxin paralyzes the central nervous system so they can not breathe. Symptoms include a lack of coordination and stability in the water, muscle twitches, or seizures and difficulty lifting its head to breathe.

A large number of manatees have died in the Mayakka River, Lemon Bay, Sarasota Bay, and waterways through South West Florida. Sadly we will not know how badly this outbreak has affected the manatee population for a few more months, as there still will be those which will die from eating the toxins in the grass.

After many years of study we are finding out that fertilizer and nitrogen and phosphorous may be the cause or linked to the cause of the algae blooms. Others think that Karenia brevis’ toxin may be a defense mechanism against zooplankton. Opportunistic plankton feed when the plants are not getting enough nitrogen and phosphorous, the stuff fertilizers are made of. When there are lower levels of nutrients, there could be high toxicity.

Confusing?? Yes. One could say, “Let’s dump more nutrients out there and that should stop the growth.” Many state-level environmentalists and fertilizer/phosphate industry lobbyists will battle this for many years to come, as it has in the past.

So when you are about to go for a paddle and you have heard that there has been some red tide in the area, try giving the Motes beach conditions a call. They cover 26 beaches along Florida’s Gulf coast from the panhandle south to Lee County. The reports are up-to-date and are updated two times a day, 10am and 3pm, 365 days a year. Check www.moto.org/beaches or The Fish Kill Hotline 800-636-0511. Hopefully we won’t have to deal with this again till next year. The beaches have been clear and should stay that way.

If you are looking to go kayaking and need a guide we are available at many of your favorite kayak launch sites. Just give us a call and we will let you know where our next adventure is going to be. Mel the Guide 941-661-8229, and thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide.




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