Red Tide Shuts Down Australia Beach: What Caused The Blood Red Beach? [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on November 27, 2012 10:55 AM EST

The red tide phenomenon
photo: NOAA.gov (Photo: NOAA)

A red tide has rolled into Australia and the blood red waters are shutting down beaches around Sydney, the country's largest city, during the first heat wave of the year. The phenomenon is caused by an unusually large amount of the algae noctiluca scintillans and is often referred to as "red tide" or "fire in the sea." Locals have another word for it: gross.

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"It looks like pink sludge, it's disgusting," Michael Strum told The Australian. He had plans to go swimming to beat the heat until the algae washed up.

This week is expected to be one of the warmest of the year in Sydney, with temperatures in the mid-90s and potentially even in the triple digits. The warm weather is believed to be partly responsible for the blood red tide, as it heats the ocean waters and creates ideal temperatures for the algae to grow. The warm water also causes stronger underwater currents, and those currents stir up heavier, nutrient rich water near the sea floor. Those nutrients, combined with the heat, are the perfect storm for creating the rare red tide phenomenon.

Experts expect the algae to dissipate within the week.

The New South Wales Office of Water is performing tests to determine the exact cause of the red tide. They've also issued warnings against swimming in the algae because it contains high levels of ammonia and other irritants.

"There are some possible risks to human health including skin rashes and eye irritation and for this reason the beach will remain closed until the algae dissipates," a spokesman told The Daily Mail.

Marine biologist Fred Gurgel told The Australian that algal blooms like this last about a week before dissipating. Some species are "potentially dangerous" because of how people react to the chemicals they produce.

"It is potentially dangerous, it produces toxins and varies from people to people," Dr. Gurgel said. "It should clear up in less than a week."

The red tide is believed to have killed hundreds of fish as well, meaning Sydney residents could be treated to beaches full of rotting fish if the tides are right.

The red tide phenomenon is not limited to Sydney. Florida suffers from red tides almost every year with varying degrees of intensity. In October, a 100-mile long red tide bloom stretched along the coast of Southwest Florida, the largest one seen since 2006. Another bloom, in 2005, took 13 months to clear up. These red tides have been known to devastate marine life in the water and can cause respiratory problems, particularly for people with sensitive allergies. The red tides have become such a concern that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a section on their website dedicated to monitoring levels of the algae in the water.

The red tides aren't all bad. A 10-year study of the tides revealed an antitoxin that is being developed into a drug to fight cystic fibrosis.

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