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Hillsborough issues Red Tide health alert; Pinellas says beaches are clear

Here’s what Tampa Bay beachgoers need to know this weekend.
A bird inspects a dead fish along the beach at Honeymoon Island State Park last week. Red Tide is blamed for the dead fish washing up along the Pinellas shore.
A bird inspects a dead fish along the beach at Honeymoon Island State Park last week. Red Tide is blamed for the dead fish washing up along the Pinellas shore. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jun. 25
Updated Jul. 19

Red Tide shouldn’t pose a problem to most Pinellas beachgoers this weekend, county officials say. But Hillsborough County is a different story.

Officials there issued a health alert that Red Tide may cause respiratory issues for anyone planning to hit the beaches at Davis Islands and Picnic Island and placed caution signs at Ben T. Davis and Cypress Point.

That two neighboring counties would issue drastically different assessments on Friday underscores how hard it is to forecast where and when the current outbreak of toxic algal blooms will flare up along Tampa Bay and the gulf.

“It’s always a big deal when Red Tide makes its way up in the bay because that’s not an every year kind of occurrence,” said Maya Burke, assistant director at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Related: On Pinellas beaches, business owners watch as Red Tide conditions evolve

But this bloom in particular, she said, has been patchy, which makes it hard to know which areas might be clear — and some are — and which might have beachgoers or boaters feeling a scratchy throat and runny nose.

“It’s very challenging to track,” Burke said.

Here’s the weekend situation on both sides of the bay:

Most Pinellas beaches “are showing little to no sign” of the blooms, according to the county. The exception is Honeymoon Island, where the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Friday report shows a high concentration detected off the eastern coast.

Dead fish and some blooms have been spotted in the Intracoastal Waterway, Anclote Key south, Boca Ciega Bay and near the Gulfport Pier. Clean-up crews were removing tons of dead fish from the beaches just days ago, but now the county reports they’re pulling back and hauling away dumpsters and other heavy equipment.

The only other high concentration close to the Pinellas coastline were found on the other side of the peninsula, near the Venetian Isles canal in St. Petersburg. But the county did not highlight any issues there.

Related: Environmentalists file federal lawsuit in Piney Point disaster

The state on Friday detected 16 medium-level concentrations of Karenia brevis, which causes the toxic algal blooms, floating near each other along the southern Hillsborough-northern Manatee border. Scientists have been investigating a link between the current blooms and the 215 million gallons of polluted wastewater dumped into Tampa Bay in April from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant in Manatee.

A health alert was issued for Davis Islands and Picnic Island and health officials warn that anyone in those areas may experience eye, nose and throat irritation and experience respiratory issues. So asthma sufferers should avoid the area.

The same health effects could be experienced at Ben T. Davis and Cypress Point, which is where officials put up caution signs. The best way to avoid or alleviate those symptoms is to go indoors or leave the area.

Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report.

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

There are several resources that can help residents stay informed and share information about Red Tide:

Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 hotline to report illnesses, including from exposure to Red Tide: 800-222-1222

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism wing, runs an online beach dashboard at www.beachesupdate.com.

The agency asks business owners to email reports of Red Tide issues to pr@visitspc.com.

Pinellas County shares information with the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast tool that allows beachgoers to check for warnings.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website that tracks where Red Tide is detected and how strong the concentrations.

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How to stay safe near the water

  • Beachgoers should avoid swimming around dead fish.
  • Those with chronic respiratory problems should be particularly careful and “consider staying away” from places with a Red Tide bloom.
  • People should not harvest or eat mollusks or distressed and dead fish from the area. Fillets of healthy fish should be rinsed with clean water, and the guts thrown out.
  • Pet owners should keep their animals away from the water and from dead fish.
  • Residents living near the beach should close their windows and run air conditioners with proper filters.
  • Visitors to the beach can wear paper masks, especially if the wind is blowing in.

Source: Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County