Marine biologists call it an algal bloom, but by any name the algae that can grow so thick it makes seawater appear red is one you want to avoid. Texas Parks and Wildlife marine biologist Meridith Byrd says the algae and the red tide are completely natural occurences no one can do anything about.
"It's been documented going on for centuries in the Gulf of Mexico. There are studies being done looking at control mechanisms, but right now there is nothing that we can do to control it."
Byrd says this particular algae is native to the very deep areas of the Gulf of Mexico, but for reasons they don't fully understand, it reproduces and grows out of control periodically, and a combination of winds, currents and tides will push it toward the coast.
"And that's when we start seeing the dead fish, we start having people on the beach notice that they're coughing and sneezing, and their eyes are watering. But yeah, it's something that's occurred for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it's a natural process that goes on in the Gulf of Mexico."
Red tide is a malignant nuisance that uses up the oxygen in the water, which kills fish and all other sea life, and it makes people sick.
"It affects different people in different ways, especially people with respiratory illness like asthma, or emphysema, they are certainly going to feel the effects of it much more severely than someone without those pre-existing conditions."
Space age technology has made red tides a lot more predictable. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses satellite imaging to identify areas where the algae are building up and where they're moving. State officials use that data to predict where and when the blooms will hit the coast and start causing problems.
Byrd says red tides appear everywhere on the Gulf Coast at one time or another, but this year's event is confined to the coastal bend between Matagorda Bay and Padre Island. She says all any of us can do is keep up with the red tide forecasts and make our fishing and beach vacation plans accordingly. There's a link to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Red Tide information webpage on our website KUHF dot org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.