Thousands of fish, eels and turtles are dying, sometimes as far as the eye can see, in parts of southwest Florida. Just this week, one of several lifeless manatees was pulled from the water. The suspected culprit is a toxic algae bloom known as “red tide.”

Ozzie Fisher has been a fishing guide in the area for more than 20 years and is already seeing cancellations.

“It really stinks,” he said. “Imagine if you paid $5,000 to come here on vacation and you tell your wife and your 3-year-old to go on the beach and breathe this in, you can’t do that. It’s bad.”

The toxins can also be harmful to humans, causing respiratory illnesses for some beachgoers.

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The algae and bacteria are usually found in pockets, but this year they’ve mushroomed to stretch over 150 miles. Warmer waters and runoff from lakes and streams can fuel the problem.

The red tide, which typically goes away in the spring, has persisted for nine months. Conservationists like Heather Barron say the overall effect on fragile species like sea turtles, which have turned up sick or dead, can be long-lasting.

“I’ve cried three times already today,” Barron said. “Imagining one day my three small children may grow up and these animals may not be here anymore.”

On Sanibel Island, cleanup crews haven’t been able to keep up with this putrid wave of dead sea life, and it extends for miles in either direction. There’s no telling how long this could last — the worst bloom lasted 17 months in 2006.

At least 15 people were reportedly treated at Florida emergency rooms last week after coming in contact with algae-filled water known as red tide.

The ER visits were a result of people having contact with water from the St. Lucie River near Palm City on Florida’s east coast. Algae outbreaks have also been reported along the state’s southwest coast.

Nearly 4,000 dead fish were also found on Sanibel, Florida area beaches and parks, the Weather Channel reported.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, coming in contact with the algae can cause nausea, vomiting and, in rare cases, acute liver failure.

Earlier story:

An unprecedented red tide event is being blamed for the deaths of scores of animals along the Florida coast.

The National Weather Service Center in Tampa issued a beach hazard warning through Monday evening due to the presence of red tide, a name given when harmful colonies of algae grow out of control in the water. The algae produces toxins that can be harmful to animals and humans and makes shellfish from the water dangerous to eat.

The algae blooms turn the water red, giving it its name.

Dead animals, including numerous seat turtles and a whale shark,have washed up on the beach in southwest Florida. The majority of the animals killed by the red tide are floating on the surface or have sunk to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, officials said.

The beach hazard advisory covers Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties. Samples have also been collected in Collier County and in background levels in Gulf County along the Panhandle.

The current red tide outbreak started in October and is the longest since 2006.

Red tide danger to humans

Red tide has been found to cause health issues in humans as well.

The National Weather Service said the algae blooms have been linked to coughing, sneezing, eye irritation in humans. People with respiratory illnesses may be more sensitive to the conditions and are advised to avoid red tide areas, especially at times when the wind is blowing and toxins could be blown onshore.

According to the Florida Department of Public Health, shellfish that are harvested from areas with active red tides should not be eaten.

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