By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
It’s on everyone’s mind and it’s occupying almost every conversation: red tide.
What is it? How bad is it? When will it go away? Can I still go to the beach?
These are all questions I’ve been hearing out on the streets and on social media. Everywhere, people have stories of scratchy throats and coughing spells. By now, most folks around here have seen the fish kills, which have progressed from the sudsy gulf surf on into the bay. Even the big reds aren’t immune to the effects of the algal neurotoxin. I saw a couple of them out on the beach among snook, and eels and other smaller fish.
From what I’ve been hearing, though, it seems like things may be beginning to taper off. Local surfers are reporting that air conditions are fair in the mornings, with aerosol symptoms becoming more noticeable in the afternoons and evenings when the winds shift.
We here at the Press and Parade have not been spared, either. The unmistakable scent of fish lingered outside our offices, located in Port Isabel just a couple of blocks from the historic lighthouse, this week. But, like the surfers and other Island natives said, it was transient. A couple of hours later, the air was clearer.
Red tide is here, and it’s not new. It’s a harmful, but naturally occurring, alga that blooms when conditions are right. The cell walls of the alga are fragile, though, and when they break, the organism releases a neurotoxin which can become aerosolized. For fish, that means their respiratory and nervous systems are paralyzed. The toxin keeps them from being able to breathe and they die. For people, the toxin can make it hard for us to breathe, too, but it mostly serves as an irritant to our eyes, noses and throats. People with respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD can be more sensitive to the effects.
But compared to years past, this bloom doesn’t appear to be as severe. Beachgoers can still be seen walking the sand at Isla Blanca Park. Even a few seasoned surfers have been taking advantage of the bigger surf despite the bloom.
And with numerous events scheduled across the Laguna Madre this weekend, the one big question is, “are we still a go?” The answer is yes. Organizers for Sandcastle Days still expect thousands to show at Clayton’s Beach Bar to marvel at professionally created sand sculptures. The South Padre Island Triathlon is still on tap, too. It’s scheduled to start at Parrot Eyes. And, though some have reported feeling effects intermittently on the mainland, Port Isabel’s 5th Annual Pachanga in the Park will still welcome dance-ready participants on Saturday at Washington Park.
So, don’t be afraid. Come on down and enjoy what the Laguna Madre region has to offer. If you do start feeling a cough come on, simply head indoors or put on a dust mask. There’s plenty to do inside, too. And don’t forget to visit us online at www.portisabelsouthpadre.com.
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