Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Red Tide (revisited)

When we arrived on Longboat Key on October 15th the ambient temperature approached 100℉ almost daily for weeks afterwards. Contemporaneously the air adjacent the Gulf of Mexico caused breathing irritation (frequently resulting in coughing).  There were also some dead fish on the shore (and the associated putrid smell). People were reluctant to swim in the sea.  All this pointed to what reportedly had been a common occurrence throughout the summer months - Red Tide.

"Red tide is a phenomenon caused by algal blooms during which algae become so numerous that they discolour coastal waters (hence the name "red tide". The algal bloom may also deplete oxygen in the waters and/or release toxins that may cause illness in humans and other animals."

"One of the most frequent symptoms people experience during a Karenia brevis (the microscopic organism responsible for the Florida red tides found in the water of the Gulf of Mexico) is respiratory irritation . If you have ever visited a beach during a red tide, you may have experienced the "red tide tickle " which can include itchy throat and coughing."

There is considerable debate about whether this curiosity is universal, seasonal and normal. Over the weeks following our arrival, as the temperature dropped, the regularity of the Red Tide likewise subsided.  Until recently - that is, until the temperatures began to climb once again - there have been no complaints or reoccurrences whatsoever.

Apart from the scientific debate and considerations I have as a practical matter noted several matters today.  Although I swam in the sea for a prolonged period mid-morning - in clear, cool water - the same cannot be said of the condition of the water late this afternoon.  By that time the water had become cloudy - though not precisely murky, much less "red".  There was an increased but mild smell of dead fish along the immediate shore.  Coincidentally I had noticed a dead fish smell for the past two days when going for a swim in the sea, but again very mild and only on the shore.  Neither today nor in the past two days have I seen any dead fish.

What however was especially remarkable today was what transpired as I went for a long walk southward on the shore towards Longboat Key Club Resort.  I owe it to the local tourist department to emphasize that when I began my walk around 11:30 am it was a brilliantly sunny day, the temperature easily approaching 80℉, nothing but timeless blue sky above.

During my routine walks or bicycle rides I haven't occasion to engage in conversation with others. In fact I am inclined to avoid anything more demonstrable than a nodding head or a restrained smile. Many of the people whom I pass in my outings are either doing so as a couple (or in family groups) or they are as intent as I upon accomplishing their focussed duty.  The exercise adventure is not exactly a diplomatic mission after all. This morning my preoccupation was more animated than usual. As much as I normally dislike walking long distances (my knees and hips just don't work that well), today I felt the need (and inclination) to go beyond the pale rather than submit to hours merely elongating myself on the chaise longue.  I had already swum in the sea.  I figured the walk would at least afford the opportunity to tan my backside.

As I progressed along the shore I was taken by the exceeding pleasure of the surf and the sand.  I was walking directly into the blazing sun and I had omitted to wear my sunglasses, so the sand was extremely bright and the foaming surf was mosaic. The more I walked, the more enthused I became to walk to the Longboat Key Club Resort which is where our sojourn on Longboat Key first began about a year ago.

I approached the Resort almost within spitting distance.  The traditional blue and white striped canopies and beach chairs identified the place. Before I could go beyond what I postulated to be the northern limit of the Resort I encountered a patrician-looking blond young man standing by the shore looking earnestly at the sea.  As I approached he uttered something to me about swimming and regarded the sea with no indifference.  It was only moments later that I realized there was something in the water which obviously the chap had been watching.  Stingrays. The fellow is from Frankfurt, Germany, forty years old, an orthodontist. His name is Jean-Philippe and he confessed upon my whimsical enquiry that he is indeed of Huguenot descent. He told me he has a small 2-bedroom condominium nearby; and that he visits annually.  He proceeded to explain his reluctance to swim because the stingrays "approached" him and even the boat he had been in. I subsequently saw a small fishing boat not far off shore. In his speculation there were hundreds of stingrays along the shore.  Interestingly it wasn't until that moment that I had noticed the presence of the stingrays.  But as I proceeded to retrace my steps there was no mistaking their being there.  At one point I spotted - within no more than fifteen feet of shore in fairly shallow water - no less than 25 stingrays if not more. The numbers began to dwindle as I neared my starting point by the condominium where I had left my beach towel on the chaise longue with my few other personal items.

"This animal is not aggressive, but can be dangerous to humans if it is stepped on. Stingrays like to bury themselves in sand and mud to hide from predators. The southern stingray has a venomous barb on its tail that it whips up when it feels threatened by a predator."

When I had almost regained my starting point I encountered a second fellow, a college student from Connecticut but studying in South Carolina and currently visiting his grandparents in one of the nearby condominiums. He too was captivated by the multitude of stingrays in the shallow water.  Neither he nor the other chap offered any guess as to the unusual presence of the beasts; and later my brief internet search revealed nothing either.

The stingrays tended to diminish my immediate interest in swimming in the sea.  I therefore repaired to the swimming pool but admittedly found the tepid water there singularly uninviting by comparison to the more refreshing sea water.  Nonetheless I took up a position on a chaise longue, directed as always southwesterly into the sun.  Later an elderly couple sat themselves under a large beach-style umbrella at a nearby table. They had just arrived from Wisconsin. They own an apartment down the hall from ours, on the same floor. We chatted at some length about the weather, politics and everyone's health before George and I agreed to remove ourselves from the pool for a swim in the sea.  It was then that I discovered the altered appearance of the water (clouded) though naturally the temperature of the water was refreshing.

Although my beach walk had pretty much been the ruin of me I persisted in going for a bicycle ride at the end of the day.

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