In recent weeks, I've been asked if the current red tide is different from past outbreaks.
Well, yes and no.
No, the existing episode that has cleared local beaches, irritated human respiratory systems, killed countless numbers of fish and harmed waterfront businesses is not that different from previous red tides in terms of its effects.
And while it is too soon to determine whether this bloom is the worst in recorded history, it is likely to be one of the worst — on par with the 2005-06 red tide that was determined to be one of the two or three worst, and the 1994-96 event responsible for killing 238 manatees (the current bloom is linked to 103 manatee deaths so far).
But, yes, this is a severe outbreak that has created harsh, perhaps unprecedented consequences, not only near the Gulf but far inland. (The air in eastern Manatee County was filled last week with stench and irritants; all of the dead fish gathered by cleaning crews were dumped at the Lena Road Landfill, east of Interstate 75.)
Unfortunately, centuries of history demonstrate that, even after this red tide dissipates, more outbreaks will follow — and recent history suggests they could happen with greater frequency.
Three of the most significant differences, though, deal not specifically with the harmful algal bloom but with circumstances surrounding it. They are:
1. The prevalence of social media.
Facebook and its creators were young during the horrible 2005-06 red tide. Today, however, the most used platform in the world is mature; it and alternative platforms enable anyone to share news, information, half-baked opinions, outright falsehoods and photographs.
So, news feeds are stocked with photos of dead marine life. There is no such thing as out of sight, out of mind during this bloom, and the images have stoked anger at levels we haven't previously witnessed.
2. The nutrient- and algae-laden, florescent green discharges from Lake Okeechobee that make their way into the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers.
The optics of flowing, bright green water are never positive but the negative impacts are exacerbated by the red tide that has stretched north to Anna Maria Island. The discharges have led to fierce debates over whether the nutrients have intensified the red tide.
3. Speaking of fierce debates, it's an election year and the discharges will be among the dominant issues in races for the U.S. Senate and governor, which will result in unprecedented spending featuring images of green goo and red tide.
Get ready for the tsunami.
Tom Tryon is opinion editor.