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Red Tide back but not as bad -- so far

The bloom started off Collier County in September. It’s slowly moving north

A Red Tide algae bloom that began off Collier County’s beaches in late September has been inching its way up the coast during October, killing fish and choking beachgoers. On Wednesday, state scientists said the algae was detected in “very low concentrations” off of Pinellas County.

The most recent tests show that the higher concentrations that constitute a bloom have reached an area near Venice, south of Sarasota.

“Bloom concentrations ... were observed in five samples from Sarasota County, two samples from Charlotte County, seven samples from and offshore of Lee County and nine samples from and offshore of Collier County,” the latest Red Tide report from the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.

Reports of fish kills have come in from Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties, and people have reported breathing problems from the beaches in Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

There’s no way to predict if or when the latest Red Tide bloom might show up off of Pinellas County’s beaches, the state’s top Red Tide expert said Wednesday.

“We don’t have good tools for that yet,” said Katie Hubbard of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

So far, officials say the bloom has not been as bad as the 16-month outbreak that started in November 2017 and lasted all through 2018 before finally ending early this year.

“Last year it hung around for month after month, and even killed a 27-foot whale shark,” said James Evans, the director of natural resources for the island city of Sanibel, near Fort Myers. “This is more of an average Red Tide.”

A Red Tide air quality prediction tool, tested in Pinellas last year, has been revived for Sanibel residents. The tool is designed to help residents with respiratory illnesses such as asthma assess what day and time would be safe to visit three local beaches.

Run by the Pinellas-based Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, the 24-hour Red Tide Respiratory Forecasts are updated every three hours.

RELATED: Answering your questions about Red Tide in Pinellas County.

Red Tide algae exist in the Gulf of Mexico all year long, but periodically their population explodes, staining the water a rusty red — hence the name. No one knows what causes a Red Tide bloom to begin 10 to 40 miles offshore. But they have been recorded as far back as when the Spanish conquistadors explored the state.

Wind and water currents can push the bloom around. When such blooms move close to land, scientists say, their duration and intensity can be fueled by pollution such as fertilizer, leaking sewer lines and faulty septic tanks.

The prior Red Tide bloom, considered the worst in the past decade, began off Collier County and a year later, in October 2018, it was touching all three Florida coasts: gulf, Panhandle and Atlantic. The toxins from the bloom also took a heavy toll on manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds.

RELATED: Red Tide bloom touches three coasts.

“Last year we scooped up 850,000 pounds of dead fish, and the cancellation rate at our hotels was 78 percent between July and October” Evans said.

So far, the ongoing bloom has been far less deadly, he said, noting that the island’s fishkill reports have involved about 70 fish, including 30 eels. And he said he has not heard of any hotel or motel guests cancelling reservations.

Oceanographers at the University of South Florida analyze the currents to try to predict where the bloom will go next. Right now the prediction is that the bloom will stay somewhat stationary — but that prediction is only good for the next three days.

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To view the current Fish and Wildlife Research Institute report on Red Tide, click here: https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/

To report a fishkill, call 1-800-636-0511.

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