ST. PETERSBURG — For the first time, state biologists have detected "high concentrations" of Red Tide algae off Pinellas County’s beaches.
Fortunately, it’s 10 miles offshore, west of the Pass-a-Grille North Channel, rather than close in where the beachgoers might inhale its noxious fumes.
"This was the first observation of ‘high’ concentrations offshore of Pinellas County," the bi-weekly report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg noted.
Biologists found one fish kill on a Pinellas beach Wednesday, according to institute spokeswoman Kelly Richmond. They found 10 dead pigfish on Redington Beach, she said. That’s a far cry from the thousands upon thousands of snapper, snook and other fish that have clogged canals and littered beaches south of Tampa Bay.
There was good news in the report for those counties that have been hit hardest by the algae bloom this summer.
"Relative to last week … parts of Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties showed decreased cell concentrations, and none of the samples processed from Charlotte County over the past week contained ‘high’ concentrations," the report said.
It’s hard to say where the algae will end up next. The latest prediction from the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science says surface waters should move to the northwest, while sub-surface waters should go southeast.
The ongoing toxic bloom, which now covers 145 miles of Gulf of Mexico coastline, began in November. It has become the worst Red Tide in a decade, cutting a wide swath through the region’s marine life — fish, turtles, manatees and dolphins — even as it kills the waterfront economy.
A similar bloom of a freshwater blue-green algae is plaguing Lake Okeechobee and its adjacent waterways, and even shut down beaches in Martin County, on the state’s Atlantic side. But the two blooms are not directly connected with each other.
Nobody knows what causes the microscopic Red Tide algae to suddenly multiply by the millions and turn the water the color of rust. The blooms have been documented as far back as the days of the Spanish conquistadors. The species, Karenia brevis, was named in 2001 for Karen Steidinger, who spent decades studying the algae in her St. Petersburg lab.