Can You Swim During Red Tide in the Florida Panhandle?

Florida red tide warning
Florida red tide warning

Many tourists to the Florida Panhandle have no idea what this natural phenomenon called red tide is or how to deal with it. Most visitors arrive at the beach, ready to throw on their bathing suits and hit the sugar-white sands of Panama City Beach.

But if you ignore the warnings about red tide, your sunny FL vacation could take a real turn for the worse. Continue reading while we unpack for you just exactly what “red tide” is and how you should deal with it going forward.

What is Red Tide in the Florida Panhandle?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes red tide as “harmful algal blooms, or HABs, that occur when colonies of algae—plant-like organisms that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.”

Illnesses caused to humans by the bloom, though rare, can sometimes be fatal. And, while Florida locals call it a “red tide,” scientists prefer to call it an “algal bloom.” It’s caused by tiny algae that produce toxins that kill fish and make shellfish dangerous to eat.

red tide Florida dead fish

Should You Swim During a Red Tide?

It’s important to note that while there are some that don’t suffer adverse reactions to the tide, for many it can cause all sorts of problems from skin rash to difficulties breathing – even death. Florida Department of Health cautions to not swim in areas where there are dead fish in the water including when a red tide is present.

Related:  Things to do in The Grand Lagoon Region of The Florida Panhandle

Red Tide - Florida - Panhandle

They further warn that “people with chronic respiratory problems like asthma and COPD should avoid red tide areas. If you have symptoms that persist, seek medical attention.” The American College of Emergency Physicians cautions that the red tide can make the air around it difficult for mammals to breathe – it can literally “take your breath away.”

More to Worry About Swimming in the Gulf of Mexico?

Aside from concern over red tide in Florida, there are other subjects that should concern anyone choosing to swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Another phenomenon with which to use caution is sargassum blooms.

Red Tide - Florida - Panhandle

More than 24 million tons of sargassum reportedly blanketed the Atlantic in June 2022, up from 18.8 million tons in May, a monthly report published by the University of South Florida’s Optical Oceanography Lab revealed. That’s a new historical record.

As for red tide, if you’re planning on dipping into the waters of the Emerald Coast, watch carefully for beach flags. Beach flags can refer to any danger in the water with which to use caution.

Green means all clear and Yellow obviously means some caution is needed. One red flag means swimming with an abundance of caution. Two red flags mean – stay out of the water. A purple flag warns of marine pests such as jellyfish, sea snakes, stingrays, or other marine life like sharks.

Enjoy your time in the Florida Panhandle but always use caution and heed warning signs.

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