by Loren G. Edelstein and Lisa A. Grimaldi | August 16, 2018
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency due to impacts of red tide, a naturally occurring algae, that is affecting the Gulf Coast and waterways in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
In a statement released Monday, Scott said, "I am issuing an emergency declaration to provide significant funding and resources to the communities experiencing red tide so we can combat its terrible impacts. This includes making additional Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists and scientists available to assist in clean-up and animal rescue efforts, more than $100,000 for Mote Marine Laboratory and $500,000 for state destination marketing organization Visit Florida to establish an emergency grant program to help local communities continue to bring in the visitors that support so many Florida families and businesses."
 
The governor added, "In addition to the emergency order, I am also directing a further $900,000 in grants for Lee County to clean up impacts related to red tide -- bringing total red tide grant funding for Lee County to more than $1.3 million. While we fight to learn more about this naturally occurring phenomenon, we will continue to deploy all state resources and do everything possible to make sure that Gulf Coast residents are safe and area businesses can recover." 
 
In addition to the emergency marketing campaign, Visit Florida also has posted some important red tide information for visitors, citing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Among key points:
 
How is red tide related to respiratory irritation?
Some people may experience respiratory irritation (coughing, sneezing and tearing) when the red-tide organism (K. brevis) is present along a coast and winds blow its toxic aerosol onshore. People with severe or chronic respiratory conditions (such as emphysema or asthma) are advised to avoid red-tide areas. Generally, symptoms are temporary and disappear within hours.
 
Is swimming OK?
Yes, for most people. However, in some people, red tide can cause skin irritation and burning eyes. Use common sense: If you are particularly susceptible to irritation from plant products, avoid red-tide water. If you experience irritation, get out of the water and thoroughly wash off. Do not swim among dead fish, because they can be associated with harmful bacteria.
 
Does cooking destroy the red-tide toxin?
No, cooking does not destroy the red-tide toxin.
 
Is it OK to eat shellfish during a red tide?
No, shellfish should not be eaten during a red tide. If a shellfish-harvesting ban is in effect, it is not safe to eat mollusks (e.g., clams and oysters). However, edible parts of other animals commonly called shellfish (e.g., crabs, shrimp and lobsters) are not affected by the red-tide organism and can be eaten.
 
Is it OK to eat fish, crabs or shrimp during a red tide?
Yes, fish, crabs and shrimp can be eaten during a red tide because the toxin is not absorbed in the edible tissues of these animals. However, if a red tide is in the area, eating distressed or dead animals is discouraged because the reason for the animal's strange behavior or death cannot be absolutely known. It could be something unrelated to red tide.
 
For more information, visit Mote's Florida Red Tide FAQ page.