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Toxic red tide algae, last seen in 2018, returns to Texas coast


Toxic red tide algae, last seen in 2018, returns to Texas coast

Sep 25, 2023 | 3:45 pm ET
By Alejandra Martinez
Toxic red tide algae, last seen in 2018, returns to Texas coast
Red tide visible in the water near South Padre Island in October 2009. The state has detected red tide in Texas coastal waters for the first time since 2018. (Courtesy of TPWD)

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Toxic algae blooms known as red tide have been detected in multiple sections of the Texas Gulf Coast including the upper coast around Galveston Bay and the lower Laguna Madre in the Rio Grande Valley, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said.

It’s the first time Texas has seen a red tide since 2018, when it affected the upper and middle parts of the state’s coast.

Red tide typically starts in late summer or early fall. Parks and Wildlife officials first noticed it in Freeport, south of Houston, on Sept. 3.

The state agency estimates that at least two fish kills have been associated with red tide, one on Surfside-Quintana beaches near Freeport and another between Sargent Beach and Matagorda Beach last week.

Red tide is caused when colonies of microalgae rapidly grow and produce toxins that can make people, fish and other sea creatures sick. When red tide algae, which occur naturally in the Gulf’s waters, reproduce in mass quantities in one location, they form “blooms,” which are visible as discolored patches of water often reddish in color.

People who swim in water with a high concentration of red tide can experience eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The toxins can become airborne and people can breathe them in. Red tide also releases a toxin that can affect the central nervous system of fish, paralyzing them so they cannot breathe. This often leads to dead fish washing up on Gulf beaches — especially in Florida, where it happens nearly every summer.

Red tides in Texas happen less often and don't last very long, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

TPWD said their staff is keeping an eye on the situation and working with other groups including NOAA to monitor beach conditions.

Lerrin Johnson, a TPWD spokesperson, said it’s difficult to predict how long the red tide will last in Texas, adding that long periods without rainfall, like most of Texas has experienced this year, can drive algal blooms and, specifically, red tide.

The agency suspects the red tide near Freeport and Galveston Bay might have caused fish to die in places like San Luis Pass and Surfside Beach and Quintana Beach.

The Brazoria County parks department said staff checking beach conditions reported respiratory symptoms caused by discolored water and scattered dead fish at Quintana Beach and Follet's Island Beach. County officials are asking people to stay off beaches for safety.

Red tide has also been detected in the lower Laguna Madre area at Good Hope Circle Beach and the Gulf Beach in Cameron County.

Disclosure: Texas Parks And Wildlife Department has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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