SARASOTA (FOX 13) - Scientists have followed Southwest Florida’s red tide bloom since last fall. They've seen it grow, and shrink, and grow again. But it's never gone completely away.
On Manasota Beach, John Leon fights the side effects of red tide each morning. He’s a volunteer with the Coastal Wildlife Club and works to count sea turtle nests and document hatches in the conditions.
"Your eyes start burning," he complained. "You just cough constantly all the time you're on the beach.”
It's pesky, annoying, and deadly for marine life.
"There's been dead fish really all over," Leon said.
The bloom has been present in southern Sarasota County for the last 10 months. It's caused a headache for those in Venice, Manasota and Charlotte County.
Red tide is an algae bloom that depletes oxygen in the water. Dr. Vincent Lovko with Mote Marine Laboratory has dedicated his work to understanding red tide and trying to figure out why it starts up.
Dr. Lovko said blooms like this one have been documented in the past. In 2004, a bloom lasted for 18 months off our coast.
"We believe they initiate near the bottom. Bottom currents move them to the coast, and that's when they get pushed up to the surface, and that's when we see the surface expression of the bloom. They are growing along that path," he said.
There is one missing piece.
"As far as what triggers from the bottom to wake up and start to divide, therefore forming a bloom. We aren't entirely sure. It's a combination of biology, chemistry and physics," he said.
Lovko said red tide blooms are naturally occurring, but said man-made nutrients like fertilizer and river runoff can make them worse.
Some people believe algae from the Caloosahatchee River are to blame. Dr. Lovko said research is needed before that can be proven.
"That seems logical that it seems that it is, but we also have to base it on data," he noted.
As research and cleans up continue, there is one thing that is certain.
"This is certainly among the worst blooms that we have seen," Lovko added.
LINK: You can check the conditions of our area by visiting www.visitbeaches.org