Red tide spotted in Calhoun, may harm shellfish season

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Oct. 18, 2011 at 5:18 a.m.

The red tide algae reported up and down the shores of the Texas coast has also made an appearance in Calhoun County, endangering the upcoming shellfish season, officials say.

The algae bloom, known to cause runny noses and scratchy throats in people, was spotted in waters on the coast of Calhoun County in recent days, said Texas Parks and Wildlife marine biologist Meridith Byrd.

Red tide algae doesn't have a big impact on most people, but it is deadly to fish and other sea creatures. The algae carries neurotoxins, which effect the central nervous system causing the animal to paralyze and suffocate.

Byrd said the Texas Department of Health Services is monitoring the coastal waters closely due to the red tide. Shellfish season is set to open on Nov. 1, but the bays won't be opened if there is red tide in the water because the shellfish would be toxic.

"We're still waiting on word, but I know that some bays will not be opened." Byrd said.

A Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden reported of clearly visible red tide algae over the weekend in Espiritu Santo Bay, Byrd said. The patches of red tide were 100 feet across and a quarter mile wide, according to a release issued on Monday.

Numerous dead fish were sighted along the Intracoastal Waterway near Charlie's Bait Camp, including some legal-sized redfish. The game warden noted that larger fish are comprising more of the fish kill, the release stated.

Byrd said the geographic scope of this red tide - from Galveston to South Padre Island - is the largest since 2000. The last red tide incident was in 2009.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries staff found discolored water, dead fish and aerosols in East Matagorda Bay on Monday evening. Low concentrations were found in the waters near Mustang Island State Park and high concentrations were found in Port Aransas and South Padre Island. There were no reports of red tide in Rockport, according to a release issued by Byrd on Tuesday.

Byrd and other scientists have been preparing for this since early summer, recognizing that the severe drought that has gripped the state was creating warm salty waters closer to shore that the algae love.

Red tide algae tends to cause scratchy throats and other allergy-like symptoms in people, Byrd said, but the effects are only temporary. However, those with asthma or other underlying lung issues should avoid the beaches until the red tide clears, Byrd said.

Once red tide is in the water, there's nothing to do but wait it out, Byrd said. It will take rain and cold weather to kill the algae, but a cold front predicted for later this week may help improve things, she said.

"Rain and some significant cold weather are what we need to knock this thing out, so we're looking for a significant change in weather to get rid of this stuff," Byrd said.



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