Red Tide Rolls In On Galveston Beaches

a screen capture from a Texas Wildlife video
The waters off of Galveston Island — Bolivar Peninsula and Matagorda are inundated with a bloom of red tide. The algae are killing off fish and can cause human illnesses.

 

Red tide is toxic to fish and can cause respiratory illnesses in people.

Thousands of dead fish washed ashore on Galveston beaches over the weekend, leading officials to search for the cause.

Meridith Byrd is the harmful algal bloom biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. She says offshore fisherman about four miles out from Galveston reported having difficulty breathing and noticed dead fish in the Gulf waters.

"We know that red tides typically begin out in the Gulf of Mexico offshore, way offshore. And then the currents will bring that overabundance of algae onto our beaches and killing fish along the way. And that's when what we know as a red tide really becomes visible."

Red tide is naturally occurring and isn't caused by any human interference. Unfortunately, it also can't be eliminated by human intervention.

"There's nothing that we can treat the water with that wouldn't do more harm than good. We can't just go in and dump some sort of chemical in to kill off the red tide, because then what sort of ecological effects would that have — killing unintended organisms like fish or birds or anything up the food web."

Byrd says a red tide outbreak can last for months. Typically cold waters and rainfall are required to kill the algae.

In the meantime, the Galveston fishing and tourism industries could suffer as people avoid the waters and beaches affected by the toxic organism.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...