Red Tide

Dead redfish on Manasota Key

Growing up in the Cold War era, I associated Red Tide with communism.

Recently, I saw the results of another kind of Red Tide. This one caused by a population explosion of toxic plankton in the ocean usually from environmental factors like warm temperatures, calm seas and high nutrition content, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

During my last trip to Florida, Red Tide blooms were moving northward along the Gulf of Mexico, turning some beaches into morbid scenes.

The Gulf was like a bathtub at Manasota Key and I thought I could float on the aqua waters, wash away stress and bask under the sun’s glow. Instead, the beach smelled foul, much worse than the outer alleys of a Kolkata fish market where the fish mongers throw out the guts and scales from cleaning their daily catch. The easterly breeze was strong enough to make me want to breathe solely through my mouth.

I could not tell what the problem was until I walked down to the beach and there, for as far as the eye could see, were dead fish. Redfish and Grunt mostly.

Red Tide killed fish in the Gulf of Mexico

Redfish are sizable and they looked grotesque with their stomachs split open and their eyes popping out after many days in the sun. A fisherman said he had been on the beach three days before, when the fish still looked red. But no more. They had turned a color of death. Some sort of creature had pecked through the vast assortment of food — a veritable banquet for crabs, birds and others that crawl the sands. Whatever it was had picked through the eyes and left only the sockets behind.

The predators had left the day I was there. Maybe the fish was too spoiled even for vultures.

It was a grisly scene of death. And yet, I suppose, nature’s way of keeping balance.

Four days later, back at CNN, I stared into my computer screen, sizing up the photographs of a dead Moammar Gadhafi, his body bruised, battered, bloodied and discolored. He lay on a mattress in a Misrata meat cooler for days, rotting slowly but surely.

I thought of the Redfish.

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