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What's the difference between green algae and red tide?

Two environmental events become issues in Florida's 2018 gubernatorial race

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The green algae crisis and this year's red tide are two major environmental issues you'll consider before you choose Florida's next governor in November.

News4Jax cut through the politics to examine exactly how these natural phenomenon impact your health and our environment.

Red tide and the spread of green algae are two of the state's most devastating environmental crises. While both of these toxic, murky liquids are known for killing marine life and making people ill, they are not the same.

University of North Florida biology professor Cliff Ross is an expert on both phenomena.

"These are two different things and they are not going to interact with each other," Ross said.

Green algae thrives in freshwater bodies like rivers and lakes. While red tide blooms naturally occur in saltwater and typically spread along Florida's west coast.

"They are toxic in different ways, so the brevetoxins from red tides can block your sodium channels, so there's a lot of issues with nerves and muscles, but the green algae microcystis affects your liver," Ross said.


Those toxins also get into our bodies of water differently. Every year, millions of naturally occurring microscopic red tide blooms spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

As for green algae, nutrients found in sewage and fertilizers lead to their development.

"The green algae is stemming from Lake Okeechobee and other freshwater bodies of water and it starts to bloom when you have a lot of nutrients in the water, so a lot nitrogen and a lot of phosphorus," Ross said.

While red tide and green algae are different, their impact is the same -- hurting tourism, raising the price of seafood and, during this election year, becoming a campaign issue.