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SANIBEL l Red drift algae washes up on Sanibel beaches

Red Drift Algae
Posted at 5:13 PM, Nov 03, 2023

SANBEL, Fla. — You might have seen the red drift algae washing up onto Sanibel beaches. The good news is it is not harmful, even though it smells a little bit. Though with the weekend almost here, how long will it stick around?

“This type more often will just wash out with the tide,” said Rick Bartleson, research scientist with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

If you’ve been out and about recently, you’ve probably noticed the steady breeze out of the north. This wind, in combination with the orientation of our coastline, causes ocean upwelling. This means it pulls the water from the bottom and pushes it to the top of the water column. The motion dislodges the red algae of the seafloor.

“The wind will cause waves, waves will cause turbulence and friction, drag at the bottom and that will help dislodge the plants,” said Dr. Bartleson.

He says this red drift algae is likely growing off our coastline in large amounts.

“So apparently a lot of them were out there, growing and getting thick,” said Dr. Bartleson. “There isn’t anything grazing them down and there has been plenty of nutrients near the bottom for them to get that big. And plenty of light. So, they are doing pretty well out there.”

And while it might be slippery, slimy, and maybe a little stinky, he says it poses little to no hazard to wildlife or people. Despite being a type of seaweed, Dr. Bartelson says you do not want to ingest it.

“It's growing bacteria, it’s a culture for bacteria,” says Dr. Bartelson

As a good reminder, despite this having a red coloring, this is not red tide.

It does have beneficial impacts on our animals that live in it. However, as it decays, those nutrients it leaves behind could feed additional algae blooms, including red tide down the line.