Palm Beach County closes beaches after Red Tide scare

Beachgoers complain of symptoms similar to what the toxic algae causes. Water samples tested by the state show the toxic algae is present in low to medium concentrations.

West Palm Beach, as seen from Palm Beach. Officials have temporarily closed beaches across the county after beachgoers reported Red Tide-like respiratory, skin and eye irritations. [Discover The Palm Beaches photo]
West Palm Beach, as seen from Palm Beach. Officials have temporarily closed beaches across the county after beachgoers reported Red Tide-like respiratory, skin and eye irritations. [Discover The Palm Beaches photo]

Updated at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2018.

Beaches along the length of Palm Beach County’s coastline have been closed after several reports of people experiencing symptoms consistent with a Red Tide outbreak like the one plaguing the Gulf Coast.

Beaches from the Martin County line south to Delray Beach were closed Monday after incidents started being reported over the weekend, the Palm Beach Post said. Beachgoers in the area had complained of respiratory issues and skin and eye irritation beginning on Saturday.

The county released a statement on Monday afternoon saying that Karenia brevis, the scientific name for the microscopic algae that causes Red Tide, was present in water samples taken from the area.

"What is still unknown at this time is how high of a concentration is currently in the water," the statement read. "More information will be released upon final results."

READ MORE: Answers to questions about Red Tide.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission later said Red Tide was present in low to medium concentrations in the waters of Palm Beach County. Detailed results would likely be included on the FWC's Red Tide status update in the future. The status report typically is updated on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Palm Beach County announced on Saturday that several beaches would be closed for 48 hours, then extended that to Wednesday. The Post noted that by Sunday, beaches from Jupiter to Lantana were closed; Delray Beach on Monday announced it also would close.

Martin County issued an advisory Saturday saying that beaches would be open, but that “residents with respiratory issues are advised to avoid Hobe Sound and Bathtub Beaches at this time.” By Sunday that warning was extended to all beaches.

READ MORE: Is Red Tide affecting Florida's seafood? It's best to ask before you eat.

When conditions are right, Karenia brevis algae multiplies rapidly and causes a bloom that sickens and kills fish and marine wildlife. The bloom can make the water rust-colored, giving the phenomenon its Red Tide name.

No one knows for sure what causes Red Tide blooms, although factors ranging from nutrient-rich runoff to Mississippi River pollution to dust from the Sahara Desert may contribute.

Red Tide is different from the blue-green algae that is plaguing southern Florida currently. The blue-green algae is a freshwater species, while Karenia brevis is a saltwater species. It’s unusual for Red Tide to occur in the Atlantic, although it can happen.

READ MORE: Red Tide can affect birds along the shore.

The East Coast has had Red Tide problems eight times since the 1950s, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. The most recent case was in 2007. The newspaper said each time the microscopic algae drifted in from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf Coast, meanwhile, has been experiencing ill effects from a Red Tide bloom that first formed in fall 2017. Beaches from Pasco to Collier counties have tested positive for the toxic algae, as have several counties in the Panhandle.

This article was published on Oct. 1, 2018.

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This article was written by one or more Florida Beach Insider staff members.