Until I ran into a coyote on the beach during my morning jog last week, I had not considered the cumulative effects of Florida’s Red Tide.
Even then, I was mostly confused as the coyote and I stopped and stared at each other for a good, long, please-don’t-eat-me moment.
We were both interlopers on that beautiful sand beach in Longboat Key, Florida. I live in a Wisconsin river city and consider any chance I have to run along the ocean a rare treat. As for him, even urbanized coyotes don’t spend a whole lot of time on the beach (though this one seemed right at home.)
At first we stood in silence, each hoping the other would blink first.
“Fancy meeting you here,” I said and added a nervous, “Heh heh” to prove I came in peace.
He rolled his eyes, trotted down the beach a little and turned to look at me as if to say, “Well?”
I headed off in the other direction to finish my run, but each time I looked back, he stood there staring at me. For the longest time, we were the only two trespassers on the beach.
As I ran I noticed dead fish in the surf and figured they must make easy pickings for a scavenger hunter like my coyote frenemy. I passed a pier and then paused to watch a great white heron enjoy a fresh fish breakfast.
Eventually, I spotted another human, a grounds crewman, and I jogged up and asked about the coyote.
He was pretty surprised to hear about a coyote on the beach, and said, “That is unusual and if you saw him eating fish, he’s probably going to get sick. This Florida Red Tide has been terrible.”
I asked about the heron I had seen.
“The birds get sick too, from eating red tide contaminated fish,” he said. “It’s really bad out here. You shouldn’t be running on the beach right now. It really isn’t good for your lungs.”
He let me through his property gate and I ran back along the sidewalk, which was not nearly as scenic.
According to the Florida Department of Health, Red Tides have been documented along Florida beaches since the 1840s. Caused by a particular algae, Karenia brevis, they can kill marine animals. They also cause lung irritation in humans, though those symptoms tend to be temporary.
Several sites offer red tide warnings and updates, which is important because a beach can have negligible blooms on one day, and extremely high concentrations another.
Maybe you already knew about the Red Tide problem in Florida, but I found it fascinating. Though they looked quite healthy, I worried about the coyote I saw and the heron.
One reason I love to run along beaches is that you can see the whole circle of life play out in its delicate balance. Often, though, solving a problem for one species endangers another.
Fortunately, scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota have developed an “Ozone Treatment System” to push back the dangerous algae blooms. It breaks down toxin-infested water, injects it with ozone and then pumps out clean water and is currently being tested in Sarasota County.
The coyote I ran into looked pretty robust (and, I’m sure he could say the same thing about me). Still, I’m glad to hear a solution to the 178-year old Florida Red Tide problem may be at hand.