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.

New hope for a son of Libya


This is Bashir Al Megaryaf. He’s holding a poster demanding the release of his father, imprisoned in a Libyan jail for two decades. Bashir was only 1 when his father was detained. He has not seen him since.

But he has new hope in his heart that the two may be together again as the Libyan uprising against strongman Moammar Gadhafi gathers steam.

Bashir was among a crowd of Libyans demonstrating in front of CNN Center in Atlanta on Saturday. I had just finished writing a main Libya story for CNN Wires and CNN.com; had watched gruesome videos and listened to the on-air descriptions by witnesses of Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown that was unfolding in Libyan cities and towns.

Writing about the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been overwhelming — they are such powerful stories of human perseverance and courage. I wished so many times that I might have an opportunity to cover the story from the ground.

Thus far, I have seen it only from the CNN newsroom.

So when I stepped out into the gloriously sunny and warm afternoon Saturday, accosted by thousands of people attending a hair show, a cheerleading convention and a circus, I felt compelled to walk over the waving Libyan flags and the voices that rang out the loudest on Marietta Street.

Meeting Bashir brought Libya home for me. I have been reading a new book of my father’s writings and could not imagine a life without ever knowing him. Suddenly, the idea of freedom in Libya, a nation have never visited, became very personal to me.

I hope to write more about Bashir in the days ahead. Meanwhile, you can read about Libya and the rest of the region on CNN.com