As red tide blooms approach coastal areas, breaking waves can cause their toxins to become mixed with airborne sea spray. People in coastal areas can experience varying degrees of eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Cyanobacteria (Blue-Green Algae)
Cyanobacteria (cyano=blue-green) are a type of algae found naturally in aquatic and terrestrial environments. Under the right conditions, cyanobacteria can grow rapidly resulting in an algal bloom.
Ciguatera Fish Poisoning
Ciguatera fish poisoning is transmitted when people eat a fish which contains a marine toxin called ciguatoxin. Ciguatoxins are produced by a dinoflagellate algae called Gambierdiscus toxicus. Large reef-dwelling fish accumulate marine toxins by eating toxic algae growing on coral reefs. Toxins are found in the highest concentrations in the muscle tissue, organs, and fat of tropical or subtropical predatory reef fish.
Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP) is caused by a marine toxin present in contaminated shellfish. Brevetoxins produced by a marine algae, Karenia brevis (K. brevis), may accumulate when filter-feeding shellfish are exposed to algal blooms or red tide events. Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is caused by a different marine toxin called saxitoxin. Both NSP and PSP are transmitted by consuming affected shellfish.
Respiratory and Skin Irritation
One of the most frequent symptoms people experience during a Florida Red Tide is respiratory irritation. Brevetoxins, chemicals produced by Florida Red Tide, may also irritate pre-existing respiratory conditions including asthma. Some swimmers experience skin irritation and rashes after swimming in waters with a severe red tide. They have also reported eye irritation from the sea foam.
Exposure to cyanotoxins can cause severe and even life-threatening illness in pets, livestock, and wildlife when contaminated water is ingested, or through dermal contact when swimming. Cyanotoxins can affect the nervous and gastrointestinal systems, the liver, and can promote tumors.
With over 80% of Florida's residents residing in coastal counties, many Floridians are frequently affected by algal blooms. Recreational activities like boating, fishing, swimming, and beach-walking are popular with both residents and tourists. Florida tourism depends on an abundance of healthy beaches, outdoor recreational activities, and seafood.
Among our partners are: Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, National Science Foundation, Green Water Laboratory, Mote Marine Laboratory, Water Management Districts, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
Press releases created by County Health Departments in Florida are displayed as examples. These press releases are original copies and some of the information may be outdated.
Educational and Outreach Materials
The role of the Aquatic Toxins Program is to prevent and reduce illness. One of the important ways we do this is by providing accurate information. With this information, people can make informed and healthy choices about their recreational activities and seafood consumption. The documents on this page contain information on the types of illnesses people may experience if they come into contact with a harmful algal bloom or toxin. They each open in a new window.
The Aquatic Toxins Program employs a robust epidemiological surveillance system to better understand the distribution and extent of human illness related to aquatic toxins associated with harmful algal blooms.
This page explains how to reach the Aquatic Toxins Program by email, mailing address, phone and fax.
To report suspected illnesses related to algae/aquatic toxin exposures to the Poison Information Center's hotline at the University of Miami, call toll-free: 1-800-222-1222.
Report fish kills to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission at: 1-800-636-0511.