For the first time since 2016, a red tide algae bloom is making its way to the Texas Gulf Coast. Brazoria County officials are cautioning people to keep off of many Galveston beaches.
Red Tide is a natural phenomenon that occurs when algae in the Gulf begins producing large amounts of a rust-colored toxin.
"The algae is always there in the water, but during certain conditions – and we're still not 100 percent certain what those conditions are – something happens to make that algae really angry and it dumps toxins in the water," said Bryan Frazier, director of the Brazoria County Parks Department.
The algae is deadly to fish, and as a result, dead fish have been washing ashore in Galveston since the bloom began a few days ago.
"Sadly, it's a toxin that's an equal opportunity toxin. If there's a fish near that, it really gets them," said Frazier. "We're seeing dead small sharks; we're seeing dead ladyfish, you know, dead mangrove snapper."
When the water meets the shore, the toxin enters the air, where humans can breathe it in, and while the toxin is not a serious threat to humans, it can cause some uncomfortable symptoms.
"If you're standing near the water's edge, there's respiratory irritation and effects there," said Frazier. "You know, it burns your sinuses. You'll likely sneeze and cough."
Frazier said the algae flare-ups tend to happen in the fall and winter. He says this wave will eventually shift southwest, but it's too soon to tell how long it will stick around.
Until then, Frazier said beaches are still open but cautions potential beachgoers that they may experience respiratory symptoms if they decide to visit.
He said that while live fish caught in the area are still safe to eat, he advises against eating oysters and other filter feeders gathered from affected beaches.