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Watch: Red Tide, dead fish spread across most Pinellas County beaches

Jenni Schmidt and her boyfriend Eric Seigmund were volunteering at the Great Gay 5K and had to wear masks because the stench was so bad. [Jenni Schmidt]
Jenni Schmidt and her boyfriend Eric Seigmund were volunteering at the Great Gay 5K and had to wear masks because the stench was so bad. [Jenni Schmidt]
Published Sep. 16, 2018

After a clear Friday, Red Tide reappeared in Pinellas County Saturday morning, bringing with it countless dead fish washed up on beaches spanning from Clearwater to Fort DeSoto Park.

County crews and contractors worked through the day at those beaches and others removing dead sea life from the sand and water, said Kelli Levy, director of environmental management for the county. She said Saturday afternoon that she expected eoffshore cleanup by workers skimming floating fish off the water from boats to continue through the night and into Sunday morning.

"There are just too many to count," she said. "They're stacked up."

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Entrance fees were waved Saturday at Fort DeSoto, where Levy said waters on the gulf side of the park were tea-colored. Cleanup there was still in progress in the late afternoon, when officials reported a slight odor and strong respiratory irritation. A few fish were found on the channel side of the park about 3:30 p.m., she said, although waters were clear.

Late in the day, conditions were worst at Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille, where waters were reported to be dark and discolored, according to a chart on the county's environmental Facebook page. The stench and irritations at those locations were reported as strong, and cleanup was ongoing at 5 p.m.

"It's been a long day," Levy said, adding that crews have been working around the clock to combat Red Tide since it first hit in Pinellas on Sept. 8. "We've ramped up and have been adding boats on a daily basis."

The only clear beach the chart listed was Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs. Early Saturday, Levy had said Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore were unaffected. However, later in the day, a few dead fish and a slight odor had been found at each location, as well as at Sand Key Park and Indian Shores.

Many dead fish found in the morning in Clearwater had been cleaned up by 10 a.m., Levy said. However, around 4 p.m., city officials reported more, as well as dark, discolored water and a strong odor lingering in the air, causing slight irritation.

Since Red Tide started creeping toward Pinellas several weeks ago, Claire Selius has been in constant contact with officials about the conditions at Pass-a-Grille. The Great Gay 5K race, which she helped organize, was set for Saturday there.

Everything was looking good until this morning when she got to the beach and saw all the dead fish and could smell the air.

"My first thought was "When did this happen?' " Selius said. "I was worried a lot of people wouldn't show up because of it, too."

She was right.

Only 225 people showed up for the race, she said — 75 fewer than expected.

Jenni Schmidt was volunteering at race early Saturday and said the aroma was so bad, they passed out masks to participants. She estimated more than 100 were handed out.

"It was hurting my lungs," she said. "Getting out of the car it just assaulted you."

Schmidt said she couldn't stop coughing and felt a burning sensation in her chest, even when she was wearing a mask.

Pat Mucciarelli, who lives three blocks from Pass-a-Grille beach, had a similar experience when she took her regular walk there Saturday morning. She smelled something strange as soon as she opened the back door of her townhouse, she said.

"The closer I got, the worse the smell was," said Mucciarelli, 67. "I walked to the surf and there were all the dead fish. There was not a soul on the beach."

Levy said Florida Fish and Wildlife officials told her they don't expect much to change in the coming days.
"There is nothing in the near future that is going to change the conditions," she said. "The winds are pushing everything right into us, the currents are bringing it right into us."

Contact Megan Reeves at Follow @mareevs.