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Work crews clean up dead fish at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, Fla., which has been hit by red tide. (Photo Chris O'Meara/AP )
Devastating toxic algae bloom plagues Florida's Gulf Coast
LONGBOAT KEY, Fla -- Tons of dead fish. A smell so awful you gag with one inhale. Empty beaches, empty roads, empty restaurants.
A toxic algae bloom has overrun Florida's southern Gulf Coast this summer, devastating sea life and driving people from the water.
"I've never seen it this bad," said Heather Lamb, 31, a hairdresser and makeup artist who styled herself as a dead mermaid and posted photos on social media to raise awareness of the problem. "I feel like it cleanses your soul to go to the beach. For me to not be able to go, it's painful."
Red tide, a naturally occurring toxic algae bloom that can be harmful to people with respiratory problems, has spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico, drifting in the water since it began in October. Stretching about 150 miles, it's affecting communities from Naples in the south to Anna Maria Island in the north and appears to be moving northward.
The algae turns the water toxic for marine life, and in recent weeks beachgoers have been horrified to find turtles, large fish and even manatees wash up dead. In places like Longboat Key, more than 5 tons of dead fish have been removed from beaches.
The Florida Wildlife Research Institute says the number of dead and stranded sea turtles is nearly three times higher than average. More than 450 stranded and dead sea turtles have been recovered in four affected counties this year.
Charlotte County resident Magdalena Rossip, who turned 35 this month, usually goes to the beach to celebrate her birthday. This year, she didn't. It was too depressing Ñ her family's pressure washing business has dried up because no one wants to use their boat or patio. "It's catastrophic," she said.
Dead Dolphin on rocks (Photo Sandy Estabrook)
Fish on the beach (CBS CH 3 Tampa)