Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Red Tide?

  • York River Bloom
    York River Bloom
    An algal bloom colors the waters of the York River near Sarah's Creek in lower Chesapeake Bay. Aerial photograph taken on August 22, 2013.
    Photo by Dr. Wolfgang Vogelbein
  • Bloom in Sarah's Creek
    Bloom in Sarah's Creek
    The discolored water of a 'red tide' in Sarah's Creek near the mouth of the York River during August 2012. Samples taken nearby exhibited extremely high cell counts of the dinoflagellate {em}Alexandrium monilatum{/em}, up tp ~100,000 cells per milliliter.
    Photo by VIMS professor Wolf Vogelbein.
  • Bird's Eye View
    Bird's Eye View
    Large blooms of the algae {em}Cochlodinium polykrikoides{/em} in Chesapeake Bay with Glouceser Point and the mouth of the York River in the background.
    Photo by Kim Reece/VIMS.
  • Armored Dinoflagellate
    Armored Dinoflagellate
    A microphotograph of a chain of {em}Alexandrium monilatum{/em} cells from a Chesapeake Bay water sample. This alga has bloomed the last two summers around Labor Day, although it was not found blooming in previous years and was last reported from a Chesapeake Bay sample in the 1940s.
    Photo courtesy of Bill Jones.
  • Diatoms
    Diatoms are some of most varied, beautiful and geometrically intricate of all phytoplankton. They have a rigid silica shell composed of two interlocking parts. Diatoms and other algae are normal components of all aquatic environments. However, when they bloom in significant numbers and produce biotoxins, they can produce harmful algal blooms or HABs.
  • HAB Cells
    HAB Cells
    A filtered water sample from the harmful algal bloom (HAB) that struck the York River during summer 2005. The bloom was caused by dense aggregations of {em}Cochlodinium polykrikoides{/em}.
    Photo courtesy of Lynn Killberg.
I've observed a patch of water that is colored red or mahogany. What should I do?

Discolored water is a typical sign of an algal bloom, or "red tide." Red tides are caused by dense blooms of photosynthetic algae that contain reddish pigment. Some of the micro-organisms responsible for red tides can be harmful to both marine organisms and human health. Scientists refer to these as "harmful algal blooms" or HABs.

To report a bloom and obtain information about possible effects on human health, call Virginia's toll-free Harmful Algal Bloom hotline at 888-238-6154. The line is available 24-7.

How do I report discolored water, a fish kill, or a related event?

To report a red or brown tide, water that has an odd color or odor, or a fish kill during business hours, you may use our online reporting form, or call:

A.  The nearest regional office of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality:

  • Virginia Beach: (757) 518-2000
  • Richmond: (804) 527-5020
  • Woodbridge: (703) 583-3800
  • If necessary to call outside of business hours or for an emergency, dial the Department of Emergency Services
 at 800-468-8892 (calls will be forwarded to a DEQ responder). 

B.  You may also call the Advisory Services office at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at 804-684-7108, Dr. Kim Reece at 804-684-7407, or Dr. Wolfgang Vogelbein at 804-684-7261.   

What if I feel I have been exposed to a HAB?

If you are concerned that you have been exposed to a HAB, please see your doctor or call your local health department. Telling your doctor about contact with water may help him/her treat any possible illness properly. You can also call the
 Virginia Department of Health HABs Hotline at (888) 238-6154.

What is Virginia doing about HABs?

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science works in cooperation with other state agencies, particularly the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Health, including the Division of Shellfish Sanitation, to regularly monitor the water and shellfish growing areas for the presence of HABs and to conduct surveillance for human-health effects. The public will be notified by the Department of Health if a HAB that could affect human health is identified.

Virginia’s Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force

Virginia's Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force includes representatives from the Virginia Department of Health, the Marine Resources Commission, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Drs. Kimberly Reece and Wolfgang Vogelbein) and Old Dominion University. These agencies and institutions will participate in responding if a Harmful Algal Bloom occurs in Virginia.