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Divers show red tide destruction at the bottom of the ocean floor

Posted at 5:24 PM, Sep 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-21 08:58:56-04

BOCA  GRANDE, Fla. -- A Southwest Florida couple is showing people how red tide has affected the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.

Curt Bowen and his wife Jennifer Graham have taken several diving trips off Florida's west coast to show what conditions look like.  Their latest expedition was off Boca Grande Wednesday, where they saw nothing but death for miles. 

Wednesday they saw two dead manatees as they traveled to open water. About seven miles offshore near Boca Grande, underneath the surface there was more devastation. Bowen shot video picking up lifeless shellfish on the bottom of the ocean floor. "We hit what I would call a dead zone," he said. "That means everything on the bottom all the way to shore is no longer there. Even the invertebrates, the corals, the clams."

MORE: Red tide map shows high concentrations in Charlotte and Lee counties

Bowen said conditions were worse than he was expecting. More footage showed countless feet of dead coral. "The little white things you're seeing, that's coral," he explained. "It's dead coral. Coral is normally a color like a yellow or a brown. When it dies, it's kind of like a little skeleton of an animal and it bleaches white."

That coral was home to several fish species. Bowen is unsure how long it will take for the area to recover. "A lot of these things like the corals and plants take a long time to come back. Years and years," said Bowen. "One of my main concerns is if red tide becomes an annual event to this extent, they'll never come back."

Bowen said beyond 12 miles, there is still marine life, but not as much as he's seen in previous years. He hopes to dive the same areas six months to a year from now to document how long it takes for the areas to recover. 

For more of Bowen's videos, and information on his expeditions, visit his organization's website here. It's called the ADM Exploration foundation.

MORE: Florida tourism officials questioned over red tide response