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Three Tampa Bay Times photographers share their Red Tide experience

They made pictures of fish kills, cleanup and wildlife among the dead.
Dead fish are transported on Southbound, Jessica and Toliver Tucker's shrimp boat, on Thursday, July 22, 2021, where Red Tide is decimating fish populations off Treasure Island.
Dead fish are transported on Southbound, Jessica and Toliver Tucker's shrimp boat, on Thursday, July 22, 2021, where Red Tide is decimating fish populations off Treasure Island. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jul. 31
Updated Aug. 3

Arielle Bader

It’s a shame to see all these different species of animals for the first time, dead on dry land.

In areas covered with layers of dead fish, I focused on framing the abundance of death in the scene. But the impact of Red Tide on people is also an important component of this story.

On the Gulf of Mexico side, determined vacationers did their best to enjoy their time on the beach in spite of Red Tide conditions.

Along Tampa Bay, city employees painstakingly worked to clean up tons of dead fish from along waterfront parks. In one instance a woman used her own boat to help with the effort.

Dallas Ard, 27, of Holiday, and Clayton Gilbert, 29, of Orlando, walk by a fish kill at Spa Beach near the St. Petersburg Pier. In spite of nasty conditions, including an overwhelming stench, curious people often show up to see Red Tide for themselves.
Dallas Ard, 27, of Holiday, and Clayton Gilbert, 29, of Orlando, walk by a fish kill at Spa Beach near the St. Petersburg Pier. In spite of nasty conditions, including an overwhelming stench, curious people often show up to see Red Tide for themselves. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
St. Petersburg city workers use pool nets to clean up dead fish from the water at Coffee Pot Bayou.
St. Petersburg city workers use pool nets to clean up dead fish from the water at Coffee Pot Bayou. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
A dead goliath grouper lay in the water among other dead fish at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg.
A dead goliath grouper lay in the water among other dead fish at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

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

Rita Hagberg removes dead fish from the water while on her boat at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg. Hagberg, a native Floridian, has lived by the water for 30 years and had never seen such a bad fish kill.
Rita Hagberg removes dead fish from the water while on her boat at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg. Hagberg, a native Floridian, has lived by the water for 30 years and had never seen such a bad fish kill. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
City employees use a backhoe to remove a dead goliath grouper from the waters at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg.
City employees use a backhoe to remove a dead goliath grouper from the waters at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

RELATED: Protesters call for stepped up government action after Red Tide outbreak

Douglas Clifford

Red Tide feels different this time. I witnessed fish dying at the water’s surface in the intracoastal off Treasure Island. The dead floated in large swaths at different stages of rigor mortis, some twitching in the final throes. I have never seen that before.

The stench was acrid, pungent and relentless. At one point, I was hanging the camera precariously over the dead fish and my strap fell into the soupy muck. I sterilized it but a hint of the odor remains.

This year I purchased a respirator, and I wore rubber boots. The respirator worked well to dull the smell but, as I drove home from St. Pete Beach, my car was loaded with the odor.

There is a larger variety of animals than last time including grouper, lady fish, snook, mullet, trout, eels and horseshoe crabs. As the fish lay in heaps their eyes seemed to follow me. Witnessing this death reinforces the message that we all need to work together to cure what led to this.

A batch of dead fish are skimmed from the surface of the intracoastal waterway using a trawler on a shrimp boat in Treasure Island.
A batch of dead fish are skimmed from the surface of the intracoastal waterway using a trawler on a shrimp boat in Treasure Island. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Dead fish remain crowded in nets after being collected by a trawler on a shrimp boat in Treasure Island.
Dead fish remain crowded in nets after being collected by a trawler on a shrimp boat in Treasure Island. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Tyler Tucker, left, and his father, Toliver Tucker, collect dead fish from nets into their shrimp boat while Jessica Toliver steers the trawler through the intracoastal waterway where Red Tide is decimating fish populations off Treasure Island.
Tyler Tucker, left, and his father, Toliver Tucker, collect dead fish from nets into their shrimp boat while Jessica Toliver steers the trawler through the intracoastal waterway where Red Tide is decimating fish populations off Treasure Island. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

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

Martha Asencio-Rhine

I covered Red Tide as an intern in 2018. It was my first experience with the strange phenomenon and I won’t ever forget the unbelievable sight that was thousands of dead fish on the gulf beaches.

This time I thought I knew what to expect. But the scope of destruction on both the beaches and the bay surprised me. The sight of thousands of diverse fish floating on Tampa Bay or lying on the shore, their eyes blank and unseeing, felt like a crime scene. If the sight doesn’t shock you, the smell will.

At Lassing Park I started coughing almost immediately. As I got closer to the water, I realized the insistent thrum in the air was from flies swarming among the rotting fish. I’ve seen herons walking among them, seagulls picking at them and dolphins dipping in and out of the water, stirring the bloated bodies of dead fish, while searching for their next meal.

Perhaps it feels especially cruel this time, considering how much being outside and surrounded by these bodies of water gave us an outlet and helped us cope during this pandemic.

A heavy fish kill covers the entire shore at Lassing Park in Old Southeast, St. Petersburg.
A heavy fish kill covers the entire shore at Lassing Park in Old Southeast, St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
A blue heron walks among dead fish on the shore at Lassing Park in Old Southeast, St. Petersburg.
A blue heron walks among dead fish on the shore at Lassing Park in Old Southeast, St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Thousands of dead fish dot the surface of the water on Tampa Bay, moving with the tide toward the St. Pete Pier.
Thousands of dead fish dot the surface of the water on Tampa Bay, moving with the tide toward the St. Pete Pier. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
A singular dead fish floats on the surface of the dark water at the St. Pete Pier.
A singular dead fish floats on the surface of the dark water at the St. Pete Pier. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]