TIERRA VERDE — A handful of anglers cast their lines off Fort De Soto’s fishing pier on Friday into Red Tide-infested waters.
In the sand below them lay dead snook and tarpon, grouper and horseshoe crabs, eels and pufferfish. The stench of dead marine life filled the air at Fort De Soto Park on Friday, one of the crown jewels of Pinellas County beach tourism.
One family waded out and tried putting their baby in the water. The baby cried.
They all drove past an 8 foot by 11 foot sign at the toll both with this warning in bold, italicized capital letters: RED TIDE.
None of those anglers or beach-goers wished to speak to a Tampa Bay Times reporter about why they had braved fish kills and Red Tide to visit the beach. Not many chose to join them on a summer morning in July.
While huge fish kills are being cleaned from St. Petersburg’s shoreline, Red Tide remains a problem for the Pinellas beaches as well.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Red Tide map shows high concentrations of the Karenia brevis cells that cause Red Tide were found along the county’s Gulf shores at Fort De Soto Bay Pier, Bunces Pass near the Pinellas Bayway, the 7th Avenue Pier near Pass-A-Grille Channel and as far north as Indian Shores Beach.
There were also areas of medium concentrations in water samples taken near Madeira Beach and Clearwater Beach.
The fish kills within Fort De Soto Park appeared to be mostly limited to the southern edge of the beaches, but the smell was everywhere.
While there are high concentrations of Red Tide found near Pass-a-Grille Beach, hardly any fish had washed ashore there.
Inside Fort De Soto, signs for Saturday’s Top Gun Triathlon — the biking is set to take place along the park’s roads, while the water will be used for swimming — remained in place on Friday. The organizers did not return calls for comment, but its Facebook page indicated the event will still be held.
Just outside the park, Peter Clark, president of Tampa Bay Watch in Tierra Verde, said the area is seeing far more dead fish over the last few days.
“There is a pretty strong Red Tide blooming right now,” Clark said.
Clark said the Red Tide is now killing fish in the Tierra Verde waters itself, whereas before dead fish from Tampa Bay washed ashore. He said he’s seen poisoned fish struggling on the surface of the water.
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This week, his walks outside have been met with the pungent odor of dead sea life. He urges residents to check the Red Tide levels of whatever beaches or waterfront spot they visit before they go out there.
Red Tide resources
There are several online resources that can help residents stay informed and share information about Red Tide:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website that tracks where Red Tide is detected and how strong it is.
Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 hotline to report illnesses, including from exposure to Red Tide: 1-800-222-1222
To report fish kills and get them cleaned up in Tampa Bay, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-800-636-0511 or file a fish kill report online.
To report them in St. Petersburg, call the Mayor’s Action Center at 727-893-7111 or use St. Petersburg’s seeclickfix website.
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism wing, runs an online beach dashboard at www.beachesupdate.com.
Pinellas County shares information with the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast tool that allows beachgoers to check for warnings.
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