Elevated levels of red tide on South County beaches prompt Health Department to post public advisories

Respiratory irritation can result from exposure to bloom

This is a Karenia brevis cell. Image courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory

Late in the afternoon of June 30, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) notified the public that elevated levels of red tide had been detected at South County beaches.

“Some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation like those associated with the common cold or seasonal sinus allergies,” a news release pointed out. “Some individuals with existing breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe effects.”

The locations where elevated levels of red tide were detected were Nokomis Beach, North Jetty in Venice, Venice Beach, Service Club, Venice Fishing Pier, Brohard Park, Caspersen, Manasota Key, and Blind Pass, the report added.

“Usually symptoms go away when a person leaves the beach or goes indoors,” the DOH-Sarasota advisory explained. “Health officials recommend that people who are sensitive to red tide or experiencing symptoms avoid the beach or go into an air-conditioned space. If symptoms do not subside, contact your health care provider for evaluation.”

Because of the elevated counts of red tide detected in the department’s June 28 beach water samples, the advisory pointed out, DOH-Sarasota staff would be posting signage on July 1 at the affected beaches to alert the public to the situation.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) red tide report on June 30 noted, “A patchy bloom of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, persists on the Florida Gulf Coast.”

Over the past week, that report continued, “K. brevis was detected in 114 samples, with bloom concentrations [exceeding 100,000 cells per liter] observed in four samples from Sarasota County, six samples from Pasco County, 11 samples from Pinellas County, 23 samples from Hillsborough County and four samples from Manatee County.

This is the red tide forecast for June 30 through July 3, provided by the University of South Florida in collaboration with FWC. Image courtesy FWC

Offering more details, the report said that, K. brevis was observed at background to medium concentrations in Sarasota County (in 13 samples), at background to high concentrations in and offshore of Pinellas County (in 29 samples), background to high concentrations in Hillsborough County (in 36 samples), background to medium concentrations in Manatee County (in 23 samples), and background to low concentrations in Lee County (in five samples).

These conditions at the North Jetty in Venice were noted in the July 1 report, just after 10 a.m., on the visit beaches.org website. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

The report did note that respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide was reported over the past week in Sarasota and Pinellas counties. For current information, it advised the public to visit https://visitbeaches.org/.

Fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were reported in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties over the past week, the report added. For more details on those incidents, it recommended persons visit https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/.

In its June 25 report, FWC noted red tide bloom concentrations exceeding 100,000 cells per liter were observed in one sample from Sarasota County over the previous week.

The June 25 advisory added that Karenia brevis was found in background to medium concentrations in Sarasota County.

FWC has been issuing twice-weekly red tide reports over the past months.

In its June 30 alert, DOH-Sarasota offered the following recommendations:

  • Do not swim around dead fish.
  • “If you have chronic respiratory problems, consider staying away from the beach as red tide can affect your breathing.
  • “Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish and distressed or dead fish. If fish are healthy, rinse fillets with tap or bottled water and throw out the guts.
  • “Keep pets and livestock away from water, sea foam, and dead sea life.
  • “Residents living in beach areas who experience respiratory symptoms are advised to close windows and run the air conditioner (making sure that the A/C filter is maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications).
  • “If outdoors, residents may choose to wear paper filter masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.”

The advisory added that the “Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 Hotline for reporting of illnesses,” including health effects from exposure to red tide, at 1-888-232-8635.

DOH-Sarasota also pointed out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a Gulf of Mexico harmful algal bloom (HAB) forecast that is updated twice weekly while the bloom persists. That may be found at https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/hab/gomx.html.