How can the various algae coming to the Keys affect us?

Residents in the Keys know how difficult algae can make visits to the beach and right now, we’re looking at sargassum and red tide that could make our shores quite a mess for animals as well as people.

Dr. Mark Whiteside, Medical Director of the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about health issues.

A large area of sargassum is headed toward the Keys.

Dr. Whiteside explained, “Sargassum is a brown seaweed. It’s really a type of giant algae. It’s always been around the Sargasso Sea in the mid-Atlantic, but in recent years in the last couple of decades, it’s really expanded, stretching almost from Africa to northern South America. During the season it tends to be carried by the currents and…this could be one of the worst years we’ve ever had.”

There was a spike in 2011 and the biggest bloom was in 2018, but this can actually be seen via satellite.

The odor of sargassum can lead to health concerns.

Dr. Whiteside said, “It’s not a problem until it collects on beaches, piles up, rots and then creates this foul odor like rotten eggs. It’s hydrogen sulfide, but there’s other things like ammonia and even methane coming up that can be very irritating to the mouth and throat, especially with prolonged exposure.”

It can bring out respiratory problems, especially with people suffering with chronic lung disease or asthma.

Dr. Whiteside said it’s “more or less a nuisance most of the time, but could be a health issue, especially with people with underlying disease with prolonged exposure.”

The sargassum is expected to build up on the beaches in the Keys in the coming months, but there are ways to protect yourself and your family.

Dr. Whiteside said, “The best treatment is prevention. If you see an area that’s heavily impacted with big piles of brown seaweed and this foul smell, you want to avoid those areas and avoid beaches, especially for prolonged periods of time, that have sargassum.”

It can be quite expensive and labor-intensive to clean up.

Anyone handling sargassum should use gloves and children and pets should stay away from the collection of sargassum.

Dr. Whiteside said, “If you live or are staying right on the beach and there’s a very bad smell, sometimes you need to keep the windows closed and use your air conditioning.”

Sargassum can cause skin irritation, too.

Red tide is another issue we’re already seeing in the Keys. Red tide is another collection of harmful algal bloom.

Dr. Whiteside said, “When it builds up and causes these large areas of reddish discoloration in coastal areas, big blooms in the summer can really be deadly for sea life and lead to fish kills and even affect other larger animals and dolphins and even sea turtles. It can be deadly at times with the really big blooms.”

At the moment, we haven’t seen really big blooms in the Keys, but the situation is being monitored.

Some larger blooms are being seen along the west coast of Florida.

Dr. Whiteside said, “It like sargassum is getting an early start. The big season for these harmful algal blooms is mid-summer and late-summer. We’re getting an early start on this and that’s why we have to keep a close eye on it.”

Red tide can move around and it can be hazardous to pets.

Dr. Whitehead said, “The toxins can also build up in shellfish and fish living in the area. You certainly want to be careful. Be aware of the alerts, know where the red tide is occurring. Stay away from the areas that are heavily impacted. Fresh air is the best defense.”

For updates on the algae, click here: