Tom Wrobel’s weekly walk along Redington Beach Thursday came with all the ingredients for a perfect evening: The air was crisp. Fish were jumping. Pelicans plunged into the clear Gulf waters.
“It was beautiful,” said Wrobel, 42. “The air had that fresh, almost pool-water kind of smell to it. No fishy smells. Nothing funky at all.”
In other words, no signs of red tide.
As of Wednesday, state water researchers had detected Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide, in 83 samples in and offshore of Southwest Florida. But of those, only three samples contained potentially harmful levels of more than 100,000 cells per liter: Two were in Manatee County, and one in Lee County, according to the most recent Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data.
It’s the first time since late February that Pinellas County has been clear of red tide blooms, state data shows.
“Conditions have calmed down a fair amount, but we continue to follow a few patches of cells within estuaries,” including Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor, said Kate Hubbard, the director of the state’s Center for Red Tide Research.
The county’s environmental management team last tested the water for red tide on Tuesday and every location saw low or very low levels of the organism that causes blooms, according to spokesperson Tony Fabrizio. The only exception was Madeira Beach, which had “medium” levels, or 100,000 red tide-causing Karenia brevis cells per liter. Fish kills and breathing issues are possible at that level.
But overall, beaches are seeing an improvement.
“We’re looking good as of Friday,” Fabrizio said. “In fact, the water color is great.”
Still, red tide conditions can change quickly: Onshore winds, which blow from over the Gulf of Mexico to the east, can carry red tide toxins near coastal beaches. Ocean currents can also shift quickly and bring red tide closer to coastal communities. Knowing that, residents and visitors may want to continue checking the county’s water sampling map on its website, Fabrizio said.
Pinellas County’s solid waste department hasn’t received any red tide debris, including dead fish, since last Friday, according to Fabrizio. It’s the same story for beachside cities like St. Pete Beach, where there have been no dead fish collections in several weeks, according to Mandy Edmunds, a parks supervisor with the city.
“We are currently clear of red tide,” Edmunds said.
Blooms are ‘here-and-there’
For Pinellas County specifically, “conditions have generally improved, but we continue to see bloom concentrations in a few areas, including within lower Tampa Bay and here-and-there along the coast,” Hubbard said in an email Friday.
Hubbard suggests using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s respiratory irritation forecast, which shows in real time beaches where red tide-related breathing problems are possible. Hubbard uses the tool to help pick good times and locations to enjoy the beach, she said.
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As of Friday afternoon, Treasure Island and Anna Maria Island had a low-to-moderate risk of breathing irritation from red tide, according to the forecast. Further south along the coast, though, beaches like Englewood in Charlotte County had a high risk.
Below: The latest red tide water samples from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
A short-term forecast from the University of South Florida is predicting another ocean current “reversal” over the next 3½ days, Hubbard said. That means some red tide cells could be flushed out of lower Tampa Bay, but it’s still too soon to tell. The red tide could end up going back into the bay or linger along the coastline.
After it was beginning to wind down, the bloom has slightly flared up again and the worst of it is currently south of Venice and offshore of Charlotte Harbor, said Yonggang Liu, director of the University of South Florida’s Ocean Circulation Lab.
The newest bloom is likely due to the new cells being transported from offshore below the surface, Liu wrote in an email. Overall, though, the concentrations have been lower than those measured earlier this month.
“In a longer term, this is a good sign for the west Florida coast,” Liu said.
Wrobel, the man who enjoyed a ride tide-free walk on Redington Beach Thursday, makes the hour drive from his home in Lakeland to stroll the coastline every week. His happy place is exactly 100 yards past the sandbar, just as the sun is hitting the horizon. That’s paradise.
Paradise was often out of reach over past few months as red tide made its unwelcomed return to Pinellas beaches. Wrobel’s lungs are particularly sensitive to the toxic algal blooms, and he wouldn’t make the trip when conditions turned sour.
“It’s been heartbreaking these last couple of years. All the dead fish washed up, it just kills me,” Wrobel said.
So Wrobel was thrilled with the nicer conditions Thursday night.
He snapped a few photos and shared them online so other beachgoers could hone in on his slice of paradise: “No smell or irritation,” he wrote.