FWC reporting more ‘bloom concentrations’ of red tide over past week in Sarasota County

Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System providing data to beachgoers through Red Tide Respiratory Forecast

On March 1, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported that bloom concentrations of the algae that causes red tide — Karenia brevis — had been found in 22 samples of water collected in and offshore of Sarasota County over the previous seven days.

“Bloom concentration” is the designation for a sample with more than 100,000 cells of the algae per liter, FWC explains.

Only Lee County had a higher number of bloom samples than Sarasota County, FWC added, for the given timeframe. For Lee County, the figure was 25. Collier County tied Sarasota County with 22.

Twelve bloom concentration samples were collected in Pinellas County, FWC pointed out, with only three such samples reported from in and offshore of Manatee County.

Altogether, bloom concentrations were found over the past week in 94 samples collected in Southwest Florida, the agency noted.

Further, background to high concentrations of Karenia brevis were found in and offshore of Sarasota County, although only very low to medium concentrations were reported in and offshore of Manatee County, the agency reported.

Additionally, very low to high concentrations were detected in and offshore of Charlotte County, FWC noted, while background to high concentrations were found in and offshore of Lee County.

Fish kills and respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide were reported over the past week, as well, in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, Lee, Collier and Pinellas counties, FWC said in its March 1 update.

For the period of March 1 through March 4, a map showed, FWC and the Ocean Circulation Lab at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science were forecasting mostly medium and high concentrations of Karenia brevis along the Southwest Florida coastline.

In its previous red tide update — issued on Feb. 24 — FWC noted that bloom concentrations of Karenia brevis were detected in 123 samples “from and offshore of Southwest Florida” over the previous seven days.

That report said 27 of those samples were collected “in and offshore of Sarasota County.” Another 22 samples were taken in and offshore of Lee County, it added, with nine coming from in and offshore of Collier County and seven from in and offshore of Manatee County.

The report further noted that background to high concentrations of red tide had been reported in and offshore of Sarasota County over the previous seven days.

FWC’s Feb. 22 update cited the collection of 18 bloom concentration samples in Sarasota County over the seven days leading up to that report.

In contrast, in its Feb. 1 report, FWC said only one bloom concentration sample had been collected in Sarasota County.

The Sarasota News Leader has read and received reports of fish kills in the area of Big Sarasota Pass over the past week.

On Feb. 24, a person in Siesta Village wrote on the Nextdoor app that a “massive fish kill” was coming in with the tide in Big Pass. “Going to be a tough spring and summer,” the person added.

A woman who lives in Southgate in Sarasota responded, “We live inland near Phillippi Creek and it’s been here in a major way for six months at least. I’ve been coughing every day, especially when I walk over the bridge and smell it (you don’t always have to see dead fish to know it’s there). It is not only the pollen that has caused this. Have lived here several decades and it’s never been this bad over such a long period of time.”

This week, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) released news about its Red Tide Respiratory Forecast, which the organization described as “a beach-level risk forecast activated during red tide conditions that tells beachgoers what red tide impacts are expected to be at individual beaches at different times of the day.”

In its March 1 news release, GCOOS explained, “This Forecast is produced using ocean current and wind projections produced by the National Weather Service that are combined with cell counts of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes Florida red tide, gathered by a team of volunteers along Florida’s west coast. The Forecast shows:

  • “The day and time for the potential risk of respiratory impacts to beachgoers.
  • “Forecasts in 3-hour increments projected over 24 hours that are updated with the latest wind models every 3 hours.
  • “Wind speed and direction.
  • “The day and time of day water samples were collected.
  • “The day and time of day that the forecast model was produced.”

The release also pointed out, “Human respiratory impacts happen when K. brevis is present and winds blow onshore or alongshore. Most people experience minor respiratory irritation – coughing, sneezing, teary eyes and an itchy throat — when red tide is present and winds are blowing onshore. These symptoms go away when they leave the beach.”

However — just as the staff of the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) has explained, the GCOOS release cautioned that people with chronic lung problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), “can have severe reactions when they breathe in airborne red tide toxins — even ending up in emergency rooms. Health officials advise that these people should avoid red tide areas altogether and take all medications as prescribed, including having access to rescue inhalers. People with chronic lung disease should leave the beach if they begin experiencing respiratory problems, even if red tide is at very low or low concentrations. New findings also indicate that people with a history of migraines and/or chronic fatigue syndrome should also avoid the toxic aerosols.”

A News Leader check of the GCOOS forecast late in the morning of March 2 found that 10 of the county’s beaches were marked as having “Moderate” red tide respiratory problems. North Lido, Lido Casino, Siesta, Service Club Park in Venice, the Venice Fishing Pier and Caspersen Beach were all marked with a “Low” level of respiratory irritation.

The only county beach characterized with “High” respiratory irritation was Manasota Key.

GCOOS “is the Gulf of Mexico regional component of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) and the only certified system dedicated solely to the Gulf of Mexico,” the release notes. “The GCOOS mission is to provide timely, reliable, accurate and on-demand data and information on the open ocean and coastal ocean waters of the Gulf of Mexico to ensure a healthy, clean, productive ocean and resilient coastal zone.”