Tons of dead fish. A smell so awful you gag with one inhale. Empty beaches, empty roads, empty restaurants. A toxic algae bloom has overrun Florida's southern Gulf Coast this summer, devastating sea life and driving people from the water. Red tide—toxic algae bloom that can be harmful to people with respiratory problems—has spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico, drifting in the water since it began in October. Stretching about 150 miles, it's affecting communities from Naples in the south to Anna Maria Island in the north and appears to be moving northward. Per the AP, the algae turns the water toxic for marine life, and in recent weeks beachgoers have been horrified to find turtles, large fish like goliath grouper and even manatees wash up dead.
In places like Longboat Key, more than 5 tons of dead fish have been removed from beaches. This week, nine dead dolphins were found in Sarasota County. The Florida Wildlife Research Institute says the number of dead and stranded sea turtles is nearly three times higher than average. More than 450 stranded and dead sea turtles have been recovered in four affected counties this year, and the institute estimates that 250 to 300 died from red tide poisoning. Red tide is a natural occurrence that happens due to the presence of nutrients in the water and an organism called a dinoflagellate. Why this year's red tide is so intense is up for debate, with some researchers pointing toward aggressive blooms after hurricanes. Although this isn't peak tourist season for the Gulf Coast—that's in winter—red tide is affecting tourism as visitors avoid stinking, fish-covered beaches. (Read more red tide stories.)