Prevent Red Tide

Harmful algal blooms (HABs), or red tides, are natural phenomena that occur all over the world. However, runoff from agriculture operations and wastewater treatment facilities increases the size and scope of red tides, making them more devastating for affected communities. Warming ocean water as a result of climate change also exacerbates red tides, causing increased severity and longer duration. Much of the responsibility for preventing red tides ultimately lies with affected state and national governments. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help stop red tides or lessen their effect on your region. If there is a red tide near you, do what you can to protect yourself and your pets from illness or injury.[1]


Taking Action to Stop Red Tides

  1. Pick up your pet's waste. When you walk your dog, make sure you scoop and bag its solid waste and dispose of it properly. If you leave it laying on the ground, the soil will absorb the bacteria and ultimately send it into the ocean. HABs feed on the chemicals found in waste, including nitrogen and phosphorus.[2]
    • If you see pet waste on the street or in areas around your community, you might consider picking it up yourself or organizing a community cleanup to get rid of it.
  2. Avoid washing your car in paved areas. The soaps and chemicals used to wash cars run off into your area's drainage system and eventually into the ocean. If you need to wash your car at home, wash it in the grass or over gravel. The grass and gravel will hold back the soaps and chemicals to keep them from polluting the ocean.[3]
    • If possible, you can also take your car to a commercial car wash. These locations have drains and filters that collect the wastewater so it doesn't enter storm drains and flow into the ocean.
  3. Use organic fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn and garden. HABs feed on the chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides. Organic fertilizers and pesticides, on the other hand, don't feed HABs or contribute to red tides. If you routinely fertilize your lawn or garden, make sure you're using organic fertilizers.[4]
    • Using mulch and compost instead of fertilizers builds healthy living soil that is better able to support the watershed.
    • State and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations may have lists of approved fertilizers and pesticides you can use that won't exacerbate red tides.
  4. Design an ocean-friendly garden. If you live in a coastal area and have a garden, transform it into an ocean-friendly garden to help prevent red tide. Ocean-friendly gardens use native and climate-appropriate plants and landscaping that helps absorb rainwater to filter and reduce runoff.[5]
  5. Report fish kills and distressed wildlife. If you see large quantities of dead fish or beached turtles, dolphins, or manatees, contact wildlife responders as soon as possible. Provide a detailed report about the fish or animals, including their location and appearance.[6]
    • If possible, take photos or videos that you can submit to wildlife responders.
    • In Florida, you can contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 800-404-3922. You can also report fish kills to the FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.
  6. Conserve water to protect the natural watershed. Basic water conservation techniques can reduce wastewater to decrease harmful chemicals entering natural waterways and contributing to algal blooms. Some techniques you can employ include:[7]
    • Only running your dishwasher or clothes washer when it is full
    • Turning off the water while you're brushing your teeth or shaving
    • Only watering your lawn when it shows signs of wilt
    • Having cracked or leaky pipes repaired as soon as possible
  7. Maintain your septic system and have cracks repaired immediately. Septic tank leaks send wastewater into the watershed where it may flow into natural waterways and oceans. The chemicals in this wastewater can exacerbate red tides.[8]
    • If you have a septic system on your property, have a professional come out and do a routine check on it at least once a year. Preventative maintenance is typically cheaper than repair.

Protecting Yourself and Your Pets

  1. Check bloom conditions at your favorite beach before you head out. If a red tide is active in your area, you want to avoid going to beaches where algal blooms have been spotted. Local reports can tell you which beaches are affected and to what extent.[9]
  2. Avoid contacting water that looks discolored or smells bad. If you see or smell water that doesn't look right or has foam or scum on its surface, do not enter the water or play in it, or allow your pets to play in it. Water affected by a red tide may also have a strong odor.[10]
    • If you see dead fish or other dead animals, do not enter the water and contact the appropriate authorities. For example, if you see dead fish washed up on shore, you shouldn't enter the nearby water.
    • If your pet comes into contact with water that has an algal bloom, thoroughly rinse the animal with tap water. Call your veterinarian if your pet has been licking itself or drinking the water.
  3. Use bottled water if your tap water is contaminated. Your local water provider or a government agency will alert the general public if red tide has infected the local water supply. Basic tap filters may not eliminate toxins from algal blooms.[11]
  4. Consult your healthcare provider if you believe you've been exposed. Respiratory symptoms or illness are most common after red tide exposure. These symptoms can be particularly severe if you have asthma or another respiratory condition. If you were swimming or playing in the water, you may also develop a rash. Your healthcare provider will be able to evaluate your condition and provide you with advice on how to relieve your symptoms.[12]
    • There are no special tests or treatments specifically for HAB-related illnesses. Rather, the treatment depends on the symptoms you have and your overall health condition.
  5. Follow local guidance about possibly contaminated fish or shellfish. Fish and shellfish may become contaminated with toxins, particularly if the red tide condition continues for an extended period. Your local government will alert the general public of any potential for contamination in local fish or shellfish.[13]
    • Do not go fishing in areas where red tide is present. The fish are likely not safe to eat. Consult red tide maps to determine where the condition has spread.
    • Local markets and restaurants likely won't serve contaminated fish. However, it's good practice to ask where the fish came from to make sure.
  6. Seek veterinary care immediately if your pet shows symptoms of exposure. Pets are more susceptible to serious illnesses and even death from exposure to HAB toxins than humans are. If your pet is clumsy or shaking and you believe it was exposed to red tide water, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.[14]
    • Red tide toxins can cause severe neurological symptoms in pets, including seizures and paralysis.

increasing Awareness of Red Tides

  1. Donate to nonprofit organizations that care for oceans. Local, national, and international nonprofit organizations monitor and care for the world's oceans. If you can donate money to support their work, you can help prevent red tide.[15]
  2. Speak out to elected officials about red tides. Particularly if you live in a coastal area, let your representatives know about legal measures that can be taken to prevent red tides. Emphasize the devastating impact red tides have not just on the environment but also on the local economy.[16]
    • Encourage local representatives to pass laws that restrict the types of fertilizers that can be used and reward people for protecting the natural watershed and preventing water pollution.
    • Express your concerns about research and technology development to predict and prevent devastating red tides.
  3. Share science-based information about red tides with friends and family. Use your social media accounts to increase awareness of red tides among people you know, especially those who live in or frequently visit coastal areas. Share science-based articles along with personal commentary on how red tides affect your local community.[17]
    • If you live in a coastal area, you can organize local cleanups or solicit donations to a local nonprofit organization. You could also get a group together to work on a monitoring or cleanup project.
    • If you're a member of a church or community group, let them know how they can help with the effort to prevent red tides.
  4. Volunteer to monitor blooms or assist with cleanup. Your local government, as well as local nonprofit organizations, will have information on how you can assist your local beaches. Monitoring programs focus on measuring and identifying red tide sites, while beach cleanups remove dead fish, animals, and other debris that has washed ashore.[18]
    • If you're working with a beach cleanup, protect your skin from exposure by wearing rubber boots and gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. Wear a face mask so you don't inhale algal spores. Never touch dead fish or animals with your bare hands.


  • Exposure to red tide can be an emergency medical situation, especially for pets. Seek medical attention immediately if you or your pet show symptoms of exposure, even if you didn't observe any visual signs of red tide.[19]
  • Toxins may still be in the water even if you observe no visible signs of red tide. Stay away from areas previously infected with an HAB until authorities give the all-clear.[20]