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Here's why red tide could continue to affect Gulf Coast beaches for months

 Fish killed by red tide float in the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina basin in July.
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Fish killed by red tide float in the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina basin in July.

This has been one of the worst outbreaks of red tide on the Gulf Coast in years.

Scientists say it's hard to pin down the reason, but onshore winds, tides and human activity such as runoff of nutrient-rich stormwater from fertilizers has made the problem worse.

Kate Hubbard, a research scientist at the state's Fish and Wildlife Research Institutein St. Petersburg, says that last fall, we didn't see major blooms until late November.

But red tide got an early start this summer, with dead fish being found throughout Tampa Bay and along the Gulf beaches.

"I think what's atypical this year is that we saw the bloom continue throughout the summer," Hubbard said. "So that doesn't typically happen. Usually, the blooms start in late summer and fall and then they wrap up in winter, spring."

Hubbard doesn't have a prediction on when this latest outbreak might end.

"Fingers crossed, this will follow our typical bloom cycle, that will start to wind down as we descend more into the winter months," she said. "But it's very hard to say with any degree of certainty whether or not that's going to happen and when that's going to happen."

The toxins are not only deadly for marine life, but can affect the respiratory systems of people who go to the beach or live near the water.

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.