"Red Tide" is a common name for a phenomenon known as an algal bloom, an event in which estuarine, marine, or fresh water algae accumulate rapidly in the water column, or "bloom".
These algae, more specifically phytoplankton, are microscopic, single-celled protists, plant-like organisms that can form dense, visible patches near the water's surface.
Certain species of phytoplankton contain photosynthetic pigments that vary in color from green to brown to red, and when the algae are present in high concentrations, the water appears to be discolored or murky, varying in color from white to almost black, normally being red or brown.
Not all algal blooms are dense enough to cause water discoloration, and not all discolored waters associated with algal blooms are red.
Additionally, red tides are not typically associated with tidal movement of water, hence the preference among scientists to use the term algal bloom.
The term "red tide" is often used in the United States of America to describe a particular type of algal bloom common to the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and is also called "Florida red tide".
This type of bloom is caused by a species of dinoflagellate known as Karenia brevis, and these blooms occur almost annually along Florida waters.
The density of these organisms during a bloom can exceed tens of millions of cells per liter of seawater, and often discolor the water a deep reddish-brown hue.
The term "Red tide" is also commonly used on the northern east coast of the United States, and particularly in the Gulf of Maine.
This type of bloom is caused by another species of dinoflagellate known as Alexandrium fundyense.
These blooms of organisms cause severe disruptions in fisheries of these waters as the toxins in these organism cause filter-feeding shellfish in affected waters to become poisonous for human consumption due to saxitoxin.
The most conspicuous effects of red tides are the associated wildlife mortalities among marine and coastal species of fish, birds, marine mammals and other organisms.
In the case of Florida red tides, these mortalities are caused by exposure to a potent neurotoxin produced naturally by Karenia brevis, called brevetoxin.