GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Many Florida beaches are dealing with the presence of red tide. With spring break approaching, it’s important to know how that will affect your plans.

First, it’s important to understand what red tide is. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, red tide is a common term for an algal bloom that can be toxic and harmful to marine life and humans. The algae is said to have a sulfurous or decaying smell.

“Unfortunately, sometimes due to certain circumstances like fertilizer runoff, or we had a power plant that had a lot of runoff two years ago,” WFLA Meteorologist Rebecca Barry said. “Sometimes, those blooms can feed off of fertilizers that get put in the water and that population really explodes.”

The bloom usually hits Florida from the Gulf of Mexico in August and dissipates in December. But the current one is expected to last for the next few weeks at many beaches on the west side of the state.

Red tide can be harmful to humans who venture to waterfronts where the algae is present. Some of the symptoms in humans include burning or irritation of the skin and eyes as well as trouble breathing. Those with asthma and other respiratory issues are advised to avoid beaches.

“People with respiratory sensitivities may start to cough, their throat may feel itchy, that sort of a thing, and it can be very annoying. But at its highest level, it can kill fish,” Barry said. “But in general, most of the time, it’s just a nuisance and an annoyance. It’s only those peak moments where you get the fish kills that it’s really a hindrance for people to enjoy their vacations down here.”

Cassie Celestin of Grand Haven Township vacationed to Clearwater, Florida, with her family in the first week of March and said they all felt the effects.

“The very first day we were there, we went to the beach and immediately we all started sneezing,” Celestin said. “The sneezing got worse and worse and worse, and we heard people all around us coughing and sneezing and sniffling.”

Celestin said she was only able to stay at the beach for an hour before giving it up and her symptoms immediately disappeared once she left. It wasn’t until a few days later that they discovered red tide was responsible for their symptoms.

“For us, as soon as we left the beach I was fine, I never sneezed again,” Celestin said. “After we heard about the red tide, we didn’t go back in the water.”

Red tide results in massive fish kills. Just this month, over 7,000 pounds of dead fish were cleared from beaches in Manatee County, Florida, over the course of just a few days. Celestin said she noticed a large number of dead fish when they went to the beach — enough to see them in the water while driving over a causeway.

She said if they may have considered alternate vacation plans had they known how bad it would be.

“To be honest, had we known what it was and that the area was experiencing that, we would have chosen another part of Florida,” she said.

The good news is, Barry said that most beaches are starting to recover and are at more moderate levels of red tide and a couple of upcoming cold fronts could help push the bloom away from the coastline.  

“We are seeing several days in the middle of the week which would be optimal for spring breakers where have those northeasterly winds pushing any red tide that is out there away from the coastline,” Barry said.

While many beaches are feeling the impact of red tide, NOAA has said that the bloom is patchy and not every beach is affected every day. It is important to check with forecasts and other reports. Individual beaches will also typically issue warnings if there is a high amount in the water.