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Irritating Red Tide bloom is back

After an 18-month absence, fish-killing Red Tide is reappearing on Southwest Florida beaches.

The Red Tide organism has been reported at Englewood and Manasota beaches in Charlotte and Sarasota counties, and respiratory irritation has been reported farther north at beaches in Venice and Siesta Key, both in Sarasota County.

It is the first substantial report of a Red Tide bloom along the coasts of West Central and Southwest Florida since the lingering September 1994-April 1996 outbreak blamed for the deaths of 158 manatees.

"We've tracked moderate levels of Red Tide offshore from October (of 1996) until February, but those patches didn't come ashore," said Gary Kirkpatrick, staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. "Red Tide is always out there, but the current and winds responsible for bringing it inshore didn't do that" in the last year.

The single-cell organism, which is deadly to fish and can cause respiratory problems in humans, was detected Oct. 24 off Gasparilla Island.

Southerly winds, especially a strong southwest wind on Saturday, are blamed for pushing the bloom northward along coastal areas.

But this week's northerly winds may prevent it from coming up the state.

"Those types of winds tend to keep the surface layers of the water from coming into shore," Kirkpatrick said. "That would tend to keep it to the south and would potentially blow it offshore in areas it has (affected)."

For the time being, the Red Tide outbreak does not appear to be a threat to manatees.

Over the winter, manatees tend to congregate in warmer inland waters rather than in coastal areas, where Red Tide is more typical, said Beverly Roberts, a research administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Recent outbreaks

Of Red Tide in west central and southwest Florida

May-Sept. 1971 _ Tampa Bay to Fort Myers

Jan.-June 1974 _ Tampa Bay to Fort Myers

Jan.-Sept. 1982 _ Pasco County to Naples

Sept. 1986-March 1987 _ Pinellas to Lee counties

March-May 1989 _ Pinellas and Manatee counties

July-August 1991 _ Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties

Sept. 1992-Jan. 1993 _ Pinellas to Charlotte county

Sept. 1994-April 1996 _ Tarpon Springs to the Keys

Oct.-Nov. 1997 _ Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota countiesSource: Mote Marine Laboratory

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