Health officials are warning people to be cautious near North Beach at Fort De Soto Park after water samplers on Monday detected low concentrations of the organism that causes Red Tide, according to a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.
Results from the latest water samples show a “low” concentration of the Red Tide-causing karenia brevis just offshore of the northern tip of Fort De Soto in the Gulf of Mexico, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data updated at noon Wednesday.
At that level — between 10,000 and 100,000 cells per liter — people can have trouble breathing, and there’s also a chance for fish kills, according to the state wildlife agency that maintains Red Tide updates. Health officials urge the public to keep pets away from the water, and they also advise against swimming near or touching dead fish. People with chronic respiratory issues should avoid the area altogether.
“If you have respiratory issues or are experiencing issues like a burning throat or burning eyes, leave the area. That’s the most commonsense advice we can give,” said Maggie Hall, a spokesperson for the health department’s office in Pinellas County. “Keep in mind that some people are more sensitive than others.”
A separate low concentration reading was detected Monday on Anna Maria Island in lower Tampa Bay, according to Florida wildlife commission data. There’s a chance of respiratory irritation and fish kills there, too, according to the state.
Pinellas County’s environmental management team was out on the water on Monday taking samples. They detected “very low” levels during that time at both Pass-a-Grille and Fort De Soto, according to spokesperson Tony Fabrizio. At those levels (between 1,000 and 10,000 karenia brevis cells per liter) there’s a chance for possible respiratory irritation but no fish kills, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The group was out taking more samples Wednesday morning, though the results of those tests were not immediately available, Fabrizio told the Tampa Bay Times. They’ve been testing up to three days per week as a “significant bloom” is exploding across several Southwest Florida counties, Fabrizio said. State water samplers detected Red Tide blooms in 82 tests last week south of the Tampa Bay area, including one in Manatee County, 34 in and around Sarasota County and 38 in Lee County, according to the Florida wildlife commission. The areas still recovering from Hurricane Ian’s late September landfall are now roiling with the added health risks of a lingering Red Tide.
There’s a chance for the low concentrations of Red Tide to persist through at least Saturday in and around the Fort De Soto area, according to the latest forecast by the University of South Florida’s Ocean Circulation Lab.
“We are now seeing the extent of (Red Tide) along the west Florida shoreline, much of which, like the skies above Mauna Loa, is aglow in red,” Bob Weisberg, a physical oceanographer at the University of South Florida, wrote in an email, referring to the ongoing volcanic eruption in Hawaii.
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“Recent southerly winds are why Red Tide now appears, albeit at lesser concentration, off Pinellas County,” Weisberg wrote. “How this may pan out in the future remains unknown.”