To Fear or Not to Fear

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Last week some dreaded news broke for folks along the Laguna Madre: red tide was on our shores. I imagine many people reacted the same way I did — by saying, “Oh no! Not again!”

No one can predict where or when a red tide bloom will occur, but in our warm waters and with our temperate climate, the surf off South Padre Island is no stranger to the toxic algae. The last time it happened was just last year, and it lasted three months.

During those three months, thousands of fish and eels were killed by the algal bloom. Walking along the shore, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Fish could be seen with their backs arched and their mouths gaping open in the rictus of death. One couldn’t help but imagine what their struggle to “breathe” had been like in the tainted water.

The surf, normally a vibrant shade of turquoise glittering in the sun, was muddy, dull and brown. In between and past the sandbars, streaks of rust, like old blood, stained the water. The waves that crashed ashore were capped with a yellow-tinged foam that clung to the sand, and everywhere was the unpleasant odor of dead marine life.

City and county workers would arrive early every morning to rake the carcasses away with earth movers, eventually burying them beneath the dunes. Island residents and visitors alike found themselves wracked by coughs spurred by a harsh itch that tugged at the back of the throat.

Like I said, it wasn’t a pretty sight. And the memories of last year’s bloom quickly came to the forefront of my mind when I heard about a bloom and fish kill which had been detected near Corpus Christi. Sure enough, just a few days later, our own coastal stewards, the Red Tide Rangers, had detected the presence of the algae along our beautiful beaches, too.

But this year is different, and I hope it remains. So far, the weather has been calm, the winds light. Without the winds to fuel the waves, the delicate cells of the algae are less likely to break and release their irritating aerosols. While a couple of samples came back with high levels of the algae late last week, the numbers this week have been low to moderate. Fish kills have been reported, but in small numbers — nothing like the carpet of fish that covered the beaches of the Island and clogged the channels in Port Isabel.

No one knows when red tide will go away again, but it’s not so bad right now. I’m hopeful that means it will be gone soon. The beaches are still safe to visit, though folks with respiratory conditions should remain cautious. It’s ok to go on an evening walk along the shore, but you might want to leave Fido at home, because dogs are more vulnerable to the algae’s effects.

As with most things in life, everything in moderation. Red tide is here, and that’s unfortunate, but it won’t be here forever.

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