Many popular Pinellas beaches remain unscathed by Red Tide

It was business as usual on Clearwater Beach earlier this week as no sign of Red Tide was present in the form of washed up dead fish. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
It was business as usual on Clearwater Beach earlier this week as no sign of Red Tide was present in the form of washed up dead fish. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published September 14 2018
Updated September 18 2018

Regina and Mark Evans pulled up to Treasure Island on Sunday hoping for white sand and clear water. Instead, they got a shoreline filled with dead fish.

When Red Tide hit the Tampa Bay area last weekend, fish died, and so did beach plans.

"As we pulled into town, Red Tide pulled into town. Poor timing," said Regina Evans, who was in town vacationing with her husband from Cincinnati.

Piles of stinky fish have piled up on Pinellas County beaches, ruining a few beach outings. But several of the county’s most popular beaches remain relatively clear, despite the algae bloom creeping along the Gulf Coast.

The weather forecast could have people longing for a beach trip in the coming days.

While the high temperature may top 90, this weekend is shaping up to be less humid than normal, said Tony Hurt, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Ruskin office. Hurricane Florence, which was near the North Carolina and South Carolina border Friday, was suppressing cloud and shower development here, he said.

Kelli Levy, Pinellas’ director of environmental management, said the following beaches were generally free of dead fish as of Friday morning: Clearwater Beach, Sand Key Park, Fred Howard Park, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore. St. Pete Beach is very good, mostly free of Red Tide’s effects, and Fort De Soto Park is "excellent," Levy said.

"A lot of the beaches had a few dead fish wash in and they were cleaned up. But a lot of them are sandy and normal," Levy said.

While the algae is toxic for fish it only causes slight respiratory irritation to humans, from itchy throats to coughing, according to the Florida Department of Health website. Red Tide conditions, however, might pose additional risks to those with asthma or allergies. People with asthma should make sure to bring their inhaler to the beach while Red Tide lingers or stay away until conditions improve, the Health Department website advises.

Julie Laurent, who was vacationing from Dayton, Ohio had bright skies and clear water nearly every day since Monday at Fort De Soto Park. She’s fixed herself up there four days in a row with a red umbrella and a bright orange inflatable raft.

Beach chairs and the occasional snorkeler dotted Fort De Soto Park’s North Beach on Thursday, but East Beach was all but vacant, except for Kate Canney. Canney checked online and found the park was free of Red Tide conditions before she trekked down from Clearwater with her boyfriend who was visiting from the Netherlands.

"Nobody’s here, it’s a bit suspicious," Canney said.

Because conditions can change quickly, county staff collects observational data every morning and afternoon on whether they smell something, feel irritation or see dead fish, and note whether the water is clear, cloudy or slightly discolored, Levy said.

Samples collected this week in or offshore of Pinellas County showed increased concentrations of the Red Tide organism, Karenia brevis, as compared with testing last week, and respiratory irritation was reported, according to a statement from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Wednesday.

Laura Leon and her family piled into a car and drove all the way to St. Pete Beach for the day from Orlando, where they’re vacationing. She did comprehensive research on beaches in the Tampa area to visit, but didn’t know to check for Red Tide.

She lucked out. At St. Pete Beach’s the water was clear Thursday, aside from the one stray fish carcass her kids found to play with.