Mote Marine and FWC dealing with growing numbers of dead dolphins, turtles and manatees
On Aug. 13 — three days after Sarasota County staff reported 61.28 tons of fish altogether had been cleared from county beaches and boat ramps — Gov. Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency over the persistent red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico.
His order included Sarasota, Manatee, Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, the Governor’s Office announced.
“Today, I am issuing an emergency declaration to provide significant funding and resources to the communities experiencing red tide so we can combat its terrible impacts,” Scott said in a news release. “This includes making additional [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] FWC biologists and scientists available to assist in clean-up and animal rescue efforts, more than $100,000 for Mote Marine Laboratory and $500,000 for VISIT FLORIDA to establish an emergency grant program to help local communities continue to bring in the visitors that support so many Florida families and businesses,” Scott said.
The $100,000 grant to Mote, a news release explained, will enable the organization to deploy more scientists “to assist local efforts to save animals affected by the naturally occurring red tide, including manatees, dolphins and sea turtles.”
The release also pointed out that, since 2011, the state has invested more than $17.3 million in red tide research through the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, including more than $5.5 million for that agency to partner with Mote in studying the causes of red tide.
The news release further noted that the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County has worked withthe county staff to post signs at every beach and provided rack cards with information about red tide to the county and Mote, for distribution to the public.
Just two days after Scott’s announcement, the Sarasota County website reported, “As of 5 p.m. Aug. 15, 127.64 tons of debris has been removed from public beaches and boat ramps.”
Following Scott’s action this week, both Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin and Sarasota County Administrator declared States of Emergency because of continued effects of red tide on the community.
“The City Manager is authorized to declare a State of Emergency with approval from one City Commissioner,” an Aug. 15 City of Sarasota news release explained. “Mayor Liz Alpert, the District 2 City Commissioner, concurred [with Barwin’s plan] following the advice of [city] Emergency Manager Todd Kerkering. The declaration is a necessary step in securing possible financial assistance from the state or federal government,” the release added.
County Administrator Lewis’ Aug. 14 declaration said, “Sarasota County shall make available all public agencies, resources and facilities, to assist in meeting the response, recovery and mitigation needs created by the red tide algae bloom.”
As the city is home to Mote Marine Laboratory, Barwin pointed out in a statement, “[T]his experience is requiring us to be much more proactive sharing information and working to prevent a similar disaster in the future.” He added, “The state of emergency reflects our need to continue to respond effectively and efficiently to this public health and economic crisis. The City continues to coordinate with our partners at the county and state levels as we combat the effects of red tide and the threats it presents to the health and safety of our residents and guests.”
Small businesses that have been affected by red tide may be eligible for short-term, interest-free loans of up to $50,000 through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the city news release said. “Business owners with two to 100 employees may apply now through Oct. 12 at www.floridadisasterloan.org.”
The States of Emergency in the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County went into effect immediately. Under state law, they may not exceed seven days, “although [they] may be extended in seven-day increments as necessary,” the city news release points out.
Dealing with the effects
In a statement on the Mote Marine website, Hayley Rutger, the organization’s public information officer, notes that the current red tide bloom has persisted in the Gulf of Mexico since November 2017. “Toxins from the bloom have caused large-scale fish kills, sickened or killed some large marine species and caused beachgoers to cough, sneeze and experience other respiratory or eye irritation, sometimes causing them to avoid the affected shoreline areas.”
That statement also points out that U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, gained bipartisan support in Congress this spring for an $8-million appropriation “designated for the federal agency NOAA’s National Ocean Service to fight red tide impacts.”
In response to a Sarasota News Leader request, Rutger provided information that was current as of 3:10 p.m. on Aug. 14 regarding the impacts of red tide on wildlife.
“From the evening of Aug. 7 through the afternoon of Aug. 13,” she wrote, “Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program has been busy recovering 12 deceased bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota County, Florida.”
They recovered two dolphins the night of Aug. 7 on a Gulf of Mexico beach in Venice, she continued. “The morning of Aug. 8, they received reports of two more deceased dolphins, and one was recovered from the Intracoastal Waterway near Snake Island in Venice and the other was recovered from Caspersen Beach. The afternoon of Aug. 8, a fifth dolphin was reported along North Casey Key Road in Nokomis, and a sixth was reported floating off mid-Casey Key,” she added. Both were transported to Mote, she wrote.
“During the night of Aug. 8 into early morning of Aug. 9, Mote staff and trained volunteers worked to recover a seventh dolphin reported on Siesta Key,” Rutger continued. On Aug. 9, the eighth and ninth dolphins were recovered from Siesta and Casey keys, respectively, she pointed out.
Then, on the morning of Aug. 12, Mote staff members recovered the 10th dolphin, she added, “and with help from trained volunteers, they recovered the 11th dolphin.”
On Aug. 13, Mote staff recovered a 12th bottlenose dolphin, which was a neonate (newborn or unborn fetus), from Caspersen Beach, Rutger wrote.
Of the 12 dolphins reported to Mote since Aug. 7, she continued, seven were males.
“Mote staff are conducting or will conduct necropsies on all 12 dolphins at Mote’s main campus on City Island” in Sarasota, she added. “All 12 were found moderately to severely decomposed, complicating our efforts to examine and collect samples for analyses, but we are dedicated to learning all we can and sharing that knowledge for the benefit of dolphin populations,” she pointed out.
“We couldn’t have recovered these animals without help from those who reported them, and in some cases, assisted us on the scene,” Rutger noted. “For example, Venice Marine Patrol officers did an amazing job finding the third and fourth dolphins and towing them to shore, where colleagues from West Coast Inland Navigation District met them to deliver the animals to Mote, allowing our team to start working on the two from [the previous] night.”
She added, “Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Law Enforcement and Venice Police Department kindly assisted with the recovery and towing of the fifth and sixth dolphins to Higel Marine Park,” which is where Mote’s team met them, so it could transport the dolphins to City Island, she pointed out.
Beyond recoveries of deceased dolphins, Rutger continued, “Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program has recovered dead or rescued alive a total of 167 sea turtles so far in 2018 (114 since June 1), and has assisted FWC with several manatee recoveries …”
On Aug. 15, Melody Kilborn, the public information coordinator for FWC’s Southwest Region Office, told the News Leader that FWC has created a webpage on which it will provide updates on manatee mortality figures related to red tide. The link follows: http://myfwc.com/research/manatee/rescue-mortality-response/mortality-statistics/red-tide/.
In an email, she explained, “This list does not break down the numbers by county, but lists the county for each incident. However, I went through the list and it appears that there are 12 manatee deaths in Sarasota County attributed to red tide.”
The FWC figures, she continued, include manatees that are suspected to have been found deceased because of red tide, as well as red tide-positive manatees (samples tested positive for red tide).”
Kilborn also pointed out related information for the public:
- To report a fish kill, contact the FWC’s Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511, submit a report online, or download the free FWC Reporter app to your mobile device.
- If you see sick, injured or dead sea turtles or marine mammals, call 1-888-404-3922.
- To report a bird mortality visit http://legacy.myfwc.com/bird/default.asp.
Sarasota County keeping track of beach-cleaning stats
Sarasota County Communications Department staff is continuing to post daily updates on county crews’ clean-up efforts on the beaches. The information is available on the county’s Red Tide Status page.
For example, on Aug. 10 alone, the page noted, 29.46 tons of dead fish were collected on Siesta Beach, with another 28.82 tons removed from Lido and South Lido beaches. The amount recorded for Turtle Beach that day was 0.56 tons.
On Aug. 13, the page noted, 6.22 tons were removed from Siesta Beach, which topped all other locations in the list. The area from Brohard Beach to the Service Club accounted for the next highest amount: 4.65 tons. Manasota Beach was in third, with 2.43 tons.
The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County is advising the public not to swim “in water where dead fish are present.”
And where does the county take all those dead fish? In response to a News Leaderquestion, Ashley Lusby, the media relations officer for the county’s Emergency Services Division, replied, “[T]o the landfill.” That facility is located at 4000 Knights Trail Road in Nokomis.
County staff also continues to recommend the public check out Mote Marine’s beach condition updates before heading to the shore.
For example, the advisory for Siesta Key at 3:06 p.m. on Aug. 14 reported that the water color was “Dark,” the dead fish level was “Heavy” and the respiratory irritation was “Moderate.”
The notation regarding crowd size said, “Few.”
In comparison, just after 10 a.m., Venice Beach also had “Heavy” listed for the dead fish level and “Moderate” for respiratory irritation category. However, the crowd notation was “None.”