Would Tides by any other Name Smell so Stinky?


What is coarse, toxic, sweeps up marine life in its wake and kills? If you guessed a broom, we’re done here. If you answered pollution, you’re close. If you said red tides, you’re dead on. Never heard of this menacing algae? Let me introduce you.

Every summer at the height of tourist season, a tangle of brownish algae and dead fish cascades onto the Gulf Coast’s pristine beaches; the stink is overwhelming. My mother used to say “That’s enough to gag a maggot.” What makes these algae such a menace? They produce one of the deadliest toxins known to man.


“Beach Buddies” 16×20 mixed media on canvas

These harmful algal blooms or HABS wreak havoc on local fishing industries to the tune of $82 million each year. The toxins effect the central nervous system of fish, killing them in vast numbers; limiting the quantities of fresh fish that fisheries depend on. Toxins also may poison shellfish like clams, oysters, and mussels, and make the humans who eat them sick.

The red tide masses effect marine ecosystems in a number of ways. Dense blooms can block sunlight that benefit good algae and sea grasses needed for food. Wildlife and marine mammals like seabirds, manatees, turtles and dolphins may get sick or even die. Humans may suffer severe respiratory or skin ailments. In addition to that, red tides are downright unsightly.

My first reaction to walking on the beach after a red tide wash up was repulsion. Hundreds of stinky dead fish trapped in strange-looking seaweed covered the white sand driving me and many other tourists back to our hotels. Like them, I wanted to know what this stuff was, what it did, and how we could stop it.

Sea Swirls

“Sea Swirls” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

Red tides are composed of microscopic algae known as dinoflagellates; their scientific name: karenia brevis. The algal cells are asexual. They produce simply by dividing. To complicate matters, each cell is capable of movement via two flagella that propels them through the water. There is no brainwork involved in this confluence or joining of forces. They drift with the water’s ebb and flow, bumping together to form large clumps or “blooms” as their numbers increase.

What makes dinoflagellates different from other microscopic algae? At least two things: their rapid growth and their toxicity both of which raise more questions than answers. Why do these organisms suddenly explode into a massive growing binge? What triggers this growth and why does it produce toxins in some algae and not in others?

Biologists and scientists believe pollution of our waterways may be the leading factor. Pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals are washed into surrounding rivers and lakes and eventually find their way into the sea. At the mouth of these inlets and tributaries, red tides get their first burst of growth which certainly points to pollution as the cause.

But there’s a catch: red tides are not a new phenomenon. Fish kills from deadly algae were recorded in 1840 and as long ago as the Spanish explorers who wrote about them in their logs. After years of red tides research, there is still no conclusive evidence or link to pollution. Like many quirks of nature, the trigger may be from natural causes or a series of events that are little understood.

Sea Nymph

“Sea Nymph” 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas

The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in Florida conducts Red Tide Reports on a regular basis during critical growing periods. Using satellite imagery, high levels of chlorophyll are monitored for possible resurgence of red tides. With the help of modern technology, experts record the size, rate of growth, and location of these HABS.

FWRI works in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA’s goal is to “provide the tools to prevent, control, or mitigate the occurrence of HABS.” Because red algae can be found in almost any waterway, research labs are positioned worldwide.

If you would like information about red tides in your own locale, go to   noaa.gov.

What is the missing component that explains why red tides grow faster and wilder during certain times of the year? Is pollution the cause as some suggest? Or is it increased water temperature that naturally encourages the growth of most algae? Until the mystery is solved, Gulf residents and vacationers around the globe must continue to endure the irritation, the blight and the stink of red tides.

Natural Sponges are a Gift from the Sea



One of my favorite places to visit is the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Often we go there just for the food. We love to order lamb at a Greek restaurant and get dessert afterward at one of their delightful and scrumptious bakeries. We also like the ambiance of the shops and the sound of sea water slapping the bobbing boats. Mixed with the smells of florals and food is the hint of sea salt in the air.

If you’re game, you can go out on a sponge boat and watch them bring up a net full, or you can stroll down the sidewalk and choose a sponge from the many varieties and sizes available. The most popular sponge is the natural yellow (shown above). This type is firm and “very absorbent with a dense cell structure that facilitates exfoliation while bathing and showering.” They are also durable and long lasting.


Then there is the “premium wool” sponge that is the softest, most reliable and absorbent sponge available. Premium wool sponges are firm and close packed. The natural “sea grass” sponge is less expensive and normally used in cleaning or in arts and crafts work, such as faux, etc..


People should be more like sponges:

  • Dependable. Just as a sponge soaks up the water and moisture around it, we should thirst for knowledge and absorb the good things of the earth that have already been discovered and written about. It’s alarming that many people in our nation and around the world do not read. They are trapped by ignorance and afraid to wander far from their birthplace. Most have never read the Bible and remain in spiritual darkness.

    There are those who lack the faith or even a belief in God and refuse to study His word. Yet the evidences from eye-witnesses and historians from the past have documented and testified of God’s existence and His life upon the earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

    What if scholars and curious minds had refused to read Newton’s words or to benefit from Pasteur’s discoveries and Plato’s wisdom, would we have had the building blocks and the foundation to build civilizations, produce products, and benefit from the conveniences and inventions that we enjoy today? Why then do some people avoid the benefits of God’s perfect wisdom and treat His word and His wisdom with such contempt and disregard?

  • Enduring. Sponges are useful. They have a function, and they are efficient. They have a purpose in life. They were meant to assist and to serve. They perform that service just by being themselves. They are well-designed and last a long time. They’re not quitters. We can learn something from them about being content with who we are. Like a sponge, we can make ourselves useful to others and to society. We can outlast our grievances. We can creatively change our state of mind to conform to changing circumstances. We can soak up knowledge and share it with others.
  • Purposeful. Sponges know how to “get down and dirty.” They’re not opposed to hard work and their compositional make-up never tires. They have what it takes when the going gets rough. They’re not wimpy. They are tough.

    We should keep our own minds open and porous to receive ideas and information. We can become tireless advocates for truth and right. We can be purveyors of good will and, when necessary, sop up the sorrow and pain of others through assistance and a listening ear. We can soothe the wounded soul and washout the heartache of neglect and ignorance. We can soak up hurts and bathe the broken hearted with our own tears. We can learn a lot from the sponge.

"Broken" mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

“Broken” mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

If you would like to learn more about sponges, go to:

Gulf Coast Sponges