Florida's Red Tide Is Back. One of North America's Rarest Bird Species Is Among Its Latest Victims

A lethal Gulf Coast red tide that littered beaches with dead wildlife in 2018 is back and this time around, it's claiming one of North America's rarest bird species.

Earlier this month, two reddish egrets tagged as part of a research project on the dwindling species died from likely red tide poisoning in the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. Since they were tagged in 2014, the birds provided a trove of information to scientists trying to understand why the species never fully recovered from the devastating plume trade a century ago.

“These birds are giving us a signal,” said zoologist Ken Meyer, director of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute in Gainesville which led the study. “It might seem insignificant, but what they're revealing to us is that the problems that we already know are a problem, are not going away. They're only getting worse.”

The birds were prime examples of the two-and-a-half-foot-tall egrets best known for their dinner dance. In 2014, Meyer outfitted five birds with $4,000 trackers after Ding Darling hired the institute to study the small family of egrets at the refuge. Wildlife managers want to better understand why reddish egrets around Florida have continued to flounder.

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