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Beached Marine Mammals
Beached whales and schools of porpoises can be particularly disturbing because we often do not know what has driven these wonderful mammals ashore. There are a number of marine rescue organizations that have had some success in recent years in saving these sea creatures, but many are still doomed to die because of viruses or other diseases. Disposal of dead animals, especially the large carcass of a full-grown whale, is problematic because the Coast Guard is only responsible for animals floating in the water where they are a hazard to navigation.
Oils spills result in defilement of beaches and can cause widespread mortality of sea life, including fish and birds. Some of these oil spills are the result of careless ship operators or shipwrecks during storm activity. The Valdez oil spill in 1989 stands out as one of the worst such disasters where a tanker grounded offshore, releasing millions of gallons of crude oil in the Alaskan waters. Fortunately the number of oil spills has greatly diminished in recent years because of a concerted effort by the industry and the Coast Guard to prevent such occurrences. The technology to clean up such spills is also improving, but no beach is immune from this peril.
Red tides are a particularly troubling problem for beaches, particularly in warm-water areas like Florida. Red tides are caused by an explosion in the population of marine algal, which can cause the ocean water to turn red or brown because of the sheer numbers of these organisms in the water. The huge concentration of organisms can deplete the water of oxygen, causing massive fish kills, which wash ashore and pile up on nearby beaches. Some red tides are toxic and can infect shellfish, making them poisonous if eaten. The piling up of such algal material on the beach can release toxins into the air, which are carried onshore by the sea breezes. They can affect the health of local residents and vacationers, causing flu-like symptoms and other breathing problems especially for asthmatics. Red tides seem to be increasing in their number, and new coastal areas are being subject to these dreaded occurrences. While pollution, especially nitrogen and phosphate enrichment of coastal waters from urban and agricultural runoff, is often blamed for this increasing trend, definitive cause and effect relationships have still not been scientifically established.
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