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Red Tide is still out there, Tampa Bay, but so far fish kills aren’t as bad

Pinellas County had picked up 1,753 tons of dead sea life and debris as of Monday.
William Lund, 21, top along with his friend Cameron Martiner, 20, both of Tampa, try their luck with the waves along Honeymoon Island Wednesday in Dunedin.
William Lund, 21, top along with his friend Cameron Martiner, 20, both of Tampa, try their luck with the waves along Honeymoon Island Wednesday in Dunedin. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Aug. 5
Updated Aug. 5

The patchy Red Tide bloom that has drifted around the Tampa Bay region and the gulf coast for weeks is still here, according to water sampling data.

Conditions have cleared up inside the bay, which in early July was the epicenter for fish kills from the toxic bloom. Recent samples did not show elevated levels of the organism in Red Tide there.

High concentrations continue to be found in the gulf off several Pinellas County beaches, including Madeira Beach and Indian Rocks Beach. The bloom is expected to remain around the area into the weekend, according to a Red Tide forecast from a lab at the University of South Florida.

Related: With Tampa Bay in grip of Red Tide, shrimpers turn their nets toward death

Pinellas County spokesman Tony Fabrizio said nearshore fish kills in need of clean-up “have declined over the last week or so.” Pinellas had picked up 1,753 tons of dead sea life and debris as of Monday, he said. Crews collected about 1,862 tons during the last significant Red Tide in 2018.

People walk along the shore at Pass-a-Grille Beach, Wednesday in St. Petersburg.
People walk along the shore at Pass-a-Grille Beach, Wednesday in St. Petersburg. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

The conditions around the region are part of a widespread bloom that has drifted off west Florida since December, according to scientists. High levels have also been found off Sarasota during the last week.

Related: Florida’s deadly manatee crisis could flare again this winter

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board, meeting in Bonita Springs, received an update on Red Tide early Wednesday.

Because the bloom is patchy, conditions can shift quickly, said Gil McRae, director of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

“It’s day-to-day to get up in planes and out on boats” to monitor the bloom, he said.

The state updates its sampling map as frequently as possible, McRae said, but processing results can take time. The Conservation Commission’s vice chair, Mike Sole, asked whether the map is timely enough to help residents and visitors understand where Red Tide is bad.

“It’s timely enough for broad-scale patterns,” McRae said. “Is it timely enough for an individual canal or an individual segment of a beach? Not always.”

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium also maintains a website with updated beach conditions. Pinellas County recommends visitors check beachesupdate.com.

Commission Chair Rodney Barreto toured the gulf off Sarasota County this week in a helicopter and said he saw Red Tide offshore with people relaxing on the beach nearby. The toxic algae, in addition to killing fish and other marine life, can cause humans to suffer breathing problems and other ailments.

Related: Red Tide isn’t just bad for fish, as a Tampa Bay man learned in the ER

How an individual section of shoreline looks or feels is dependent on winds, and specifically whether they are blowing fish or the effects of a bloom toward land, according to McRae.

“You can have a line of Red Tide offshore and even fish kills offshore but those people on the beach have no idea it’s out there depending on which way the wind is blowing,” he said.

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Red Tide coverage

Tampa Bay has Red Tide questions. Here are some answers.

Is it safe to eat seafood? Here’s how Red Tide affects what you eat.

Can I go fishing? The state is limiting saltwater fishing.

Piney Point: The environmental disaster may be fueling Red Tide.

Red Tide resources

• The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website that tracks where Red Tide is detected.

• 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 dead fish for clean-up in Tampa Bay, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-800-636-0511 or file a fish kill report online.

• 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.

How to stay safe near the water

• Do not swim around dead fish.

• Those with chronic respiratory problems should be careful and stay away from places with a Red Tide bloom. Leave if you think Red Tide is affecting you.

• Do not harvest or eat mollusks or distressed and dead fish from the area. Fillets of healthy fish should be rised 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.

• Beachgoers can protect themselves by wearing masks.

Source: Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County