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Red tide algae is back in Southwest Florida waters. Here’s what experts predict

The organism that causes red tide is back in waters off the coast of Southwest Florida.

Samples collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last week revealed varying levels of the microscopic algae Karenia brevis, offshore of Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties.

At high enough concentrations, the algae can cause a red tide — a major bloom of K. brevis that can kill fish and other marine life, block out light required by seagrass beds, poison seafood and cause breathing irritation for people — not to mention ruin a day at the beach.

But it’s too soon to say whether the region will see a major harmful algal bloom like those of the past few years, says Robert Weisberg, an emeritus oceanography professor who helped build University of South Florida’s red tide tracking program.

Much like the weather, scientists have gotten better at predicting red tide’s behavior in the short term.

USF produces a forecast that can foreshadow the algae’s movements several days in advance.

But with so many environmental factors at play, predicting severe blooms far into the future is difficult.