Beachgoers had to bear the smell of thousands of dead fish as they tried to enjoy their day outdoors at Galveston Island, Texas this past weekend. On Saturday, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) received reports of hundreds of dead fish on the island. By Sunday, there were thousands of dead fish washed ashore along 32 miles of coast. A toxic algal bloom known as red tide has been blamed for the deaths in addition to low oxygen levels.

Among the dead marine life, there were flounder, stingrays, menhaden and more. There is a moratorium on harvesting various molluscan shellfish at the moment, but no ban on fishing since red tide does not impact sport fishing, according to TPWD spokesperson Steve Lightfoot.

WFAA-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth Texas caught footage of the fish before they were removed by TPWD. A reporter spoke with beachgoers about how they are still managing to enjoy the beach.

Original press release issued by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on August 14, 2012:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is working with other agencies to monitor a red tide event along the upper Texas coast.

The bloom was first confirmed on Sunday, August 12, by biologists with the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) who collected samples around the Galveston area to follow up on reports of dead fish washing ashore.

Subsequent analysis confirmed low to moderate concentrations of the microscopic algae Karenia brevis, commonly called red tide. Effective at 12:01 a.m., August 13, 2012, Conditionally Approved Area 1 of Galveston Bay, the Central and East Approved Areas of Galveston Bay, and Smith Point Approved Area of Galveston Bay as designated on the map dated November 1, 2011 were closed to the harvesting of molluscan shellfish, including oysters, clams, whelks and mussels.

The bloom is suspected to have caused fish kills along a number of locations along the upper coast, including Crystal Beach, Galveston, Surfside, Sargent’s and Matagorda beaches. TPWD plans to conduct an overflight of the entire Texas coast before the end of the week to get an aerial view of the bloom’s extent.

Karenia brevis is a naturally-occurring organism that produces a toxin affecting the central nervous system of fish which causes paralysis and the inability to breath. As a result, red tide blooms often result in dead fish washing up on Gulf beaches. When red tide algae reproduce in dense concentrations or “blooms,” they are visible as discolored patches of water, often reddish in color.

The last red tide occurrence in Texas was in 2011-2012 and occurred from Boca Chica to the lower reaches of Galveston Bay.

People who are near the water during red tide may experience irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. People with existing respiratory illness, such as asthma, may experience these symptoms more severely. If you have concerns or questions about human health effects of red tide or symptoms you are experiencing, consult a physician.

Updated information on the current red tide situation in Texas, as well as background information on red tide and how it affects people and fish, is available on the TPWD website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/hab/redtide/. You can also get up-to-date information through TPWD on Facebook and Twitter.

Image from Beau (Beau B) on the flickr Creative Commons

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