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Red Tide found on Sarasota coast, warning issued

Beach water samples from earlier this week revealed elevated levels of the toxic algae.
Signs warning beach goers of the presence of Red Tide are placed Friday around Nokomis Beach after officials detected higher than normal levels of Red Tide.
Signs warning beach goers of the presence of Red Tide are placed Friday around Nokomis Beach after officials detected higher than normal levels of Red Tide. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 16
Updated Apr. 16

Elevated levels of Red Tide have been found along the beaches of Sarasota County and warning signs went up Friday, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County said.

Beach water samples from earlier this week revealed a “medium-range” presence of Red Tide at Siesta Key and the Health Department in Sarasota said there have been “reports of respiratory irritation” from some people. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said a fish kill was reported in the area. On Friday, low levels of Red Tide were reported at Turtle Beach, North Lido Beach and at the New Pass Dock at Sarasota Bay.

Signs notifying the public of Red Tide were placed at Longboat Key, Bird Key Park (Ringling Causeway), North Lido Beach, Lido Casino, South Lido, Siesta Beach, Turtle Beach, Nokomis Beach and North Jetty Beach. Current beach conditions can be monitored on the Mote Marine Laboratory website.

At Nokomis Beach on Friday, hundreds of people swam in the water despite the new signs. No odor or dead fish were detected in the area.

Related: Forecasting what comes next from Piney Point for Tampa Bay

Red Tide has been present in southwest Florida with blooms found in Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The agency maintains a Red Tide tracker documenting the finds.

Although warning signs were up hundreds of people still swam in the water and no odor or dead fish was detected in the area of Nokomis Beach.
Although warning signs were up hundreds of people still swam in the water and no odor or dead fish was detected in the area of Nokomis Beach. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

No signs of Red Tide have been found in samples taken from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

“It’s always disheartening to see it, but it’s kind of like one of these wait-and-see games,” said Justin Bloom, a board member at Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

Nearby, millions of gallons of polluted wastewater have been released this month from the former phosphate plant at Piney Point. Scientists and people working on the water worry that the nutrient-heavy plume from the discharge, if it meets Red Tide, could fuel a big, damaging bloom.

“Of course, the big fear is that we will have a full-blown Red Tide and that Piney Point and other sources of man-made pollution will fuel it,” he said. “We just don’t know.”

Related: Red Tide's toxic toll — your questions answered

Red Tide organisms exist in the Gulf of Mexico all year long, but periodically their population explodes, staining the water a rusty red — hence the name. It can be deadly for wildlife, with past outbreaks causing fill kills in the thousands and the deaths of hundreds of sea turtles and manatees. Bottlenose dolphin have also been killed by Red Tide toxins.

Florida endured a months-long Red Tide scourge from 2017 to part of 2019 causing immense environmental damage. Bloom says scientists are worried about that happening again.

“We’re really afraid,” he said. “Bays are resilient and need time to recover. Another dose of Red Tide would be just terrible.”

The Sarasota Health Department said “some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms. Some individuals with breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe symptoms. Usually, symptoms go away when a person leaves the area or goes indoors.”

Anyone experiencing respiratory irritation should keep away from the Sarasota beaches and take shelter in air conditioning.

More recommendations from the Health Department:

  • Do not swim around dead fish.
  • If you have chronic respiratory problems, consider staying away from the beach as Red Tide can affect your breathing.
  • Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish and distressed or dead fish. If fish are healthy, rinse fillets with tap or bottled water and throw out the guts.
  • Keep pets and livestock away from water, sea foam and dead sea life.
  • Residents living in beach areas are advised to close windows and run the air conditioner (making sure that the A/C filter is maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications).
  • If outdoors, residents may choose to wear paper filter masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.

If you think you have Red Tide exposure, you can report it to the Florida Poison Control Centers hotline at 1-888-232-8635.

Times staff writers Zachary T. Sampson and Luis Santana contributed to this report.