There is an underrated problem that although only seen in coastal towns, can bring harm across the country, even to the most landlocked places.
Living in Freeport, right on the shore of the Harraseeket River, we know all too well how important shellfish are to the economy and diet of Americans. So when red tide strikes, it is detrimental to a coastal town. Not only does red tide cease shellfish harvesting and hurt the economy, it stops all shellfish exports to those landlocked towns that purchase the bivalves.
Red tide is caused by an explosion of the dinoflagellate population in a certain area. Dinoflagellates are a type of red algae that contain harmful toxins and when an algal bloom occurs, can cause harm to marine life and whatever consumes it.
When the dinoflagellate population is numerous enough, it can actually cause the water to appear red which is where the name “red tide” comes from. Red tide is a very serious issue and should not be overlooked. Red tide affects all marine organisms differently with the most serious being bivalves.
During an outbreak, specific precautions are taken to keep sea organisms and humans safe. For those who can’t live without seafood, fish are safe to eat if they are caught fresh and filleted, and crab, shrimp, and lobster are safe to eat because the harmful toxin is not absorbed into tissues in the organisms that are then eaten by humans.
Bivalves such as clams, mussels, and oysters are the main concern when a dinoflagellate algal bloom is present. Serious precautions need to be taken with these shellfish because they absorb the harmful toxin directly into tissues due to being filter-feeders. This is tissue that would be consumed by humans when they eat this shellfish.
Now, this toxin is not lethal to humans unless mass amounts are consumed, but we can fall victim to neurotoxic shellfish poisoning which can cause gastrointestinal distress, reversed hot and cold sensations, headache, chills, and muscle weakness. However, it can be a lot more serious for marine organisms, often resulting in death or great distress.
Red tide cannot only be absorbed into shellfish and crustaceans and passes on to what eats them, but can outright kill the animal. One episode of red tide in 1996 killed almost 10 percent of all manatees in Florida and 162 dolphins in Mexico. Along with the killing of organisms, red tide can also create vast hypoxic zones, or areas of the ocean without enough oxygen for marine organisms to survive.
Being a coastal town, Freeport gets hit especially hard when red tide precautions are taken. Historically Freeport has had an economy heavily relying on shellfish harvesting and many people in this town who we’ve come to know, live off of lobstering and clamming. We even dig clams for a summer job so we know the hurt when the flats get closed due to weather. There is one part of the Harraseeket that gets closed to digging if it rains more than an inch in a 24 hour period. This is due to the nutrients being washed into the water from the banks of the river which can lead to an algal bloom.
Red tide is a big issue, but unfortunately not one that can be helped much by humans due to its natural occurrence. We just want to raise awareness for the seriousness of this potentially deadly toxin and bring it to the attention of people who greatly enjoy eating marine organisms and for those who need to fish or harvest shellfish for a living. It’s important to understand the dangers that may be brought to the consumer of these organisms if fished during a red tide.
Joe Ashby and Griffin Agnese are students at Freeport High School.