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Red Tide reported off Pinellas beaches; shellfish farming closed again

Samples show bloom concentrations off Pass-a-Grille, Redington Beach, Redington Shores and Indian Shores.
A dead fish is seen on the beach at Indian Shores after reports that Red Tide was found in water samples taken along the Pinellas County coast, according to state officials.
A dead fish is seen on the beach at Indian Shores after reports that Red Tide was found in water samples taken along the Pinellas County coast, according to state officials. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jun. 9
Updated Jun. 10

INDIAN SHORES — Bloom levels of Red Tide have been found in waters along the Pinellas County coast, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The agency said it has also received reports of several fish kills discovered around the county since Friday.

Red Tide showed up in five samples taken Monday off Pass-a-Grille, Redington Beach, Redington Shores and Indian Shores, according to the agency’s website. Each indicated medium concentrations of the organism in Red Tide, which the commission says is enough to cause respiratory irritation and “probable fish kills.” Low concentrations were found off St. Pete Beach and Fort De Soto.

The state has received reports of fish kills in places including St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and Indian Rocks Beach since last Friday, according to the commission. While water samples are scientific tests, fish kills are typically reported through a hotline and are not always verified by scientists.

A seagull carries the remains of a dead fish in its beak in Indian Shores on Wednesday after Red Tide was found in water samples taken along the Pinellas County coast.
A seagull carries the remains of a dead fish in its beak in Indian Shores on Wednesday after Red Tide was found in water samples taken along the Pinellas County coast. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services late Wednesday once again closed a small local aquaculture industry in a section of lower Tampa Bay, temporarily stopping farmers from harvesting shellfish like oysters and clams. The state issued a similar shutdown in late May before re-opening over the weekend.

The tourism industry, which struggled during the coronavirus pandemic, is following the reports closely. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Pinellas’ public tourism agency, sent a message to businesses on Wednesday asking owners to report fish kills and other impacts from Red Tide in emails to pr@visitspc.com.

“We understand that this couldn’t happen at a worse time given current high demand following a challenging 2020,” the agency said, “but we’ll continue communicating as much real-time information to consumers and industry as possible on this page.”

Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce president Robin Miller said she had not heard of businesses experiencing problems because of Red Tide. Nor had the organization’s welcome centers received calls from people asking about it. She said the chamber watches for Red Tide news every year.

“There isn’t the high level of urgency and alert” right now, she said. “But we are monitoring it like everyone else.”

No public health advisories had been issued as of Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County said, because the levels had “not been high enough to warrant alerts.” Last week the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County issued an advisory warning that people might experience respiratory irritation or see fish kills because of Red Tide in lower and middle Tampa Bay.

Related: Hillsborough health officials send Red Tide warning for Tampa Bay
The beach at Redington Shores was mostly clear, save for a few dead fish found along the shore Wednesday. Red Tide was found in water samples taken from the Pinellas County coast.
The beach at Redington Shores was mostly clear, save for a few dead fish found along the shore Wednesday. Red Tide was found in water samples taken from the Pinellas County coast. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Dead fish floated in pools below the high tideline at the beach in Indian Shores late Wednesday afternoon. A boy skimboarded and people splashed in the shallows undeterred, while others sunned themselves or cooled off underneath umbrellas nearby.

There were no rafts of dead fish like what washed ashore by the ton a few years ago, during a devastating and persistent toxic Red Tide bloom that plagued the state’s lower gulf coast.

Vanessa Loria, 36, of Brandon, didn’t notice at first the scattered dead fish, small and silver, at the beach Wednesday. No sign warned her of Red Tide when she walked up.

Vanessa Loria, 36, of Brandon, enjoys the shallow water along the beach, at first not concerned about the dead fish until she started noticing more of them scattered along Indian Shores.
Vanessa Loria, 36, of Brandon, enjoys the shallow water along the beach, at first not concerned about the dead fish until she started noticing more of them scattered along Indian Shores. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

“I just hope it’s a small little wave of it, and they nip it before it gets bad,” she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in its mid-week update that a “patchy bloom” of Red Tide “persists in Southwest Florida,” and officials have recently received at least one report of respiratory irritation in Pinellas suspected to be tied to the harmful algae. Bloom concentrations were also detected in Hillsborough and Manatee over the last week, according to the agency.

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

Monitoring near the Hillsborough-Manatee county line has shown medium concentrations this month. That area is where 215 million gallons of wastewater were released in April from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant site.

The contaminated water contained high levels of nutrients, namely nitrogen that scientists said could offer fuel for a bloom, if Red Tide were to show up in Tampa Bay after the discharge.

Red Tide is naturally occurring, with a long record of it cropping up in Florida.

Related: Failure at Piney Point: Florida let environmental risk fester despite warnings

People may experience a cough, scratchiness in their throat and irritation in their eyes and nose, similar to a cold, when they encounter Red Tide, according to the Florida Department of Health. Those with chronic respiratory issues, like asthma or emphysema, may experience a more severe reaction. Moving to an air-conditioned space can help bring relief.

If someone touches Red Tide, they should wash themselves with soap and water.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asks anyone who sees a fish kill to report it at 800-636-0511. For more information on the status of Red Tide, visit the agency’s website.

Times staff writer Martha Asencio-Rhine contributed to this report.

People enjoy the water on the beach, most not paying attention to the occasional dead fish washed ashore after reports of Red Tide found in water samples along the Pinellas County coast, Wednesday, June 9, 2021 in Indian Shores.
People enjoy the water on the beach, most not paying attention to the occasional dead fish washed ashore after reports of Red Tide found in water samples along the Pinellas County coast, Wednesday, June 9, 2021 in Indian Shores. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]