SURFSIDE BEACH - The presence of red tide at Surfside Beach was confirmed by a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Thursday.
Red tide is when red tide algae reproduce in dense concentrations or "blooms." They are visible as discolored patches of ocean water, often reddish in color, causing the water to appear slightly red.
"It's something that people who have grown up at the beach know about," Surfside Beach Mayor Larry Davison said. "So it's not too shocking."
This is the first report the department has had of this form of algae in this region since about 2000, Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Winston Denton said.
Surfside Beach is not the only city on the Texas Gulf Coast that has had reports of red tide or dead fish washing ashore - another result of the algae - Denton said. The first reports the department received were in the Brownsville Ship Channel about 10 days ago.
Texas red tides have occurred anywhere from August to February and typically begin in the Gulf of Mexico, the Texas Parks and Wildlife website said. Most of the time, it is seen on the lower coast, Denton said.
And the reason for the hundreds of dead fish residents reported on Surfside Beach was because of the red tide, Denton said.
"Red tide produces a toxin that affects the central nervous system of fish so that they are paralyzed and cannot breath," he said. "The concentration is high enough that it can kill the fish."
Freeport resident Stoney Burke reported seeing hundreds, possibly thousands of dead fish extending for more than a mile near Bluewater Highway on Wednesday evening.
"They were all over the beach," Burke said. "They were as far as 10 feet from the water."
Burke also said he experienced a strong smell that made himself and other beach guests cough furiously.
"We started coughing our heads off," Burke said. "There was just something in the air that made you cough."
Denton said what was making Burke and the other beachgoers cough was the airborne form of the algae.
"The algae releases an odorless toxin," he said.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife website said the only real eye and throat irritation residents can experience is when there are high concentrations of the algae in rough surf.
"There is typically little or no irritation when surf conditions are relatively calm," the website said.
As for any other health risks, the Texas Department of State Health Services closely monitors any shellfish that have been exposed to red tide toxins, the website states. The toxins can remain in oysters for weeks, or even months.
"It's usually OK to eat fish, crabs and shrimp during a red tide bloom because the toxin is not absorbed into the fleshy tissues of these animals," the Texas Department of State Health Services website said.
And just because Surfside Beach has had reports of red tide it doesn't mean residents should postpone their trip to the beach, the Texas Parks and Wildlife website said. There still are miles of good beach and clean water for beachgoers and anglers to enjoy.
"Most of the time it's not in a uniform area," Denton said. "It's going to move around, so there is plenty of places residents can go if they're planning to visit the beach."
For information and updates on red tide across the state of
Texas visit, www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
Shannon Daughtry covers Surfside Beach for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0152.