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The largest red tide bloom seen off Florida since 2006 has killed thousands of fish in the Gulf of Mexico and may pose a greater threat if it washes ashore as expected in the next two weeks, researchers said Thursday. The patchy bloom stretches from the curve of the Panhandle to the central Tampa Bay region. It measures approximately 80 miles long by 50 miles wide. Red tide occurs when naturally occurring algae bloom out of control, producing toxins deadly to fish and other marine life. The chemicals can trigger respiratory distress in people, such as coughing and wheezing.
The agency has received reports of thousands of dead fish, including snapper, flounder, crabs, bull sharks, eel and octopus. Because the bloom is so large, it's being tracked for any effects on beach tourism and commercial fishing. "It could have large impacts if it were to move inshore," said Brandon Basino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A smaller red tide bloom, closer to shore, contributed last year to a record number of deaths among Florida manatees, an endangered sea mammal.