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Scientists Are Developing Technology That Could Prevent Red Tides and Save Sea Life

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Scientists are on the brink of a technological breakthrough that could combat toxic algae blooms, Reuters reports.

In response to masses of toxic algae bloom off the coast of Florida, scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have been researching a way to reverse deadly “red tides” and save marine life.

Although “red tides” are a natural phenomenon and a yearly occurrence along the Gulf Coast of Florida, this season’s algae bloom marks the worst in over a decade. Though not all kinds of algae blooms are harmful, the type that creates “red tides” produces toxins that pose a fatal threat to fish and sea mammals.

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Over the past 10 months, the toxic bloom off Florida’s coast has caused thousands of dead fish to wash up onto the shore along a 150-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast. Reuters reports that large sharks, manatees, and sea turtles have also been victims of these harmful algal blooms.

As of Aug. 18, scientists have confirmed that the “red tide” bloom has killed 29 manatees, although a total of 103 are suspected to have died from the toxic water conditions. So far this year, 554 manatees have died as compared to 538 in all of 2017, reports the Miami Herald.

The team of scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have now successfully removed algae and its toxins from large-scale samples. Their patented technology, which reverts toxic seawater to safe conditions within 24 hours, could be used to purify water in impacted canals, coves, and inlets, saving lives. It pumps the toxic water into an "ozone-treatment system," according to Reuters, and then pumps the purified water back into the affected body of water.

But it’s not just marine life that is negatively affected by harmful algal blooms. While the health consequences of these algal blooms are less visible in humans, the toxins can still affect respiration, cause skin irritation, and in serious cases, lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning.

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Nationwide, harmful algal blooms cost the US $50 million each year. About $20 million is spent on public health because of the blooms. And tourism and other industries lose out on economic activity because of damaging “red tides.” Toxic algae bloom is especially detrimental to poor coastal communities that depend on the fishing industry for their food and income.

It may be too soon to determine the cause of this year’s extreme “red tides” in Florida, however research from the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that climate change has played a significant role. Warmer temperatures, higher carbon dioxide levels, changes in rainfall, sea level rise, and coastal upwelling — all associated with climate change — create ideal conditions for algal blooms.