Executive director of Sarasota Bay Estuary Program had warned about possibility that Hurricane Ian could produce red tide event
In an Oct. 11 report, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico and into Southwest Florida, David Tomasko, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP), warned about the potential of a red tide outbreak.
“[T]his storm has loaded nutrients out into the Gulf of Mexico in such a manner that we may be in the early stages of a massive algal bloom in the Gulf of Mexico, due to the combination of rainfall, all the wastewater overflows we’ve had (more than 18 million gallons in our two counties) and the urbanized nature of runoff that is generated in our watersheds,” he wrote, referring to Sarasota and Manatee counties.)
Tomasko added, “What helps is that the water cooled dramatically after the passage of Ian. However, Ian also caused an upwelling of deeper water that has a natural nutrient content higher than most surface waters. Those will likely offset each other to some degree, with the extent of any possible future algal bloom in the balance.”
Slightly more than a week later — on Oct. 19 — the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) issued a Red Tide Alert to notify the public of “elevated levels of red tide detected at area beaches.”
The advisory specified that those affected beaches were as follows: Turtle Beach on Siesta Key, Nokomis Beach, the Venice North Jetty Beach in Nokomis, Venice Beach, Service Club Park, the Venice Fishing Pier, Brohard Beach, and Caspersen Beach — all along the more southern stretch of the county’s coastline, closer to Ian’s landfall in Lee County.
Because of the elevated counts of red tide cells found in Monday’s beach water samples, the alert continued, DOH-Sarasota staff would be posting signage at those beaches to advise the public that red tide is present.
Some people exposed to red tide may experience mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms, such as eye, nose and throat irritation usually associated with the common cold or seasonal sinus allergies, the DOH-Sarasota advisory said. “Some individuals with existing breathing problems, such as asthma, might experience more severe effects,” it added.
“Usually, symptoms stop when a person leaves the beach or goes indoors,” the advisory continued. “Health officials recommend that people who are sensitive to red tide or experiencing symptoms avoid the beach or go into an air-conditioned space,” it said.
“If symptoms do not subside,” the advisory added, “contact your healthcare provider for evaluation.”
The advisory provided this list of recommendations:
- “Do not swim around dead fish.
- “If you have chronic respiratory problems, consider staying away from the beach,” as red tide can affect a person’s 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.” Examples of molluscan shellfish are clams, scallops, oysters, squid and octopi.
- “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 their air conditioners (having ensuring that their A/C filters have been maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications).
- “If outdoors, residents may choose to wear paper filter masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.”
Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 hotline for reporting illnesses, including health effects from exposure to red tide, the advisory notes. That number is 1-888-232-8635.
For more information about red tide, DOH-Sarasota encourages the public to visit the following websites:
- DOH-Sarasota weekly water-sampling results are posted at http://www.ourgulfenvironment.net.
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been sending out weekly updates on red tide for the state at https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/, including a sampling map that is updated daily.
In its Oct. 14 red tide update — the most recent prior to the publication of this issue of The Sarasota News Leader — FWC pointed out, “Sampling in Southwest Florida is still impacted by the passage of Hurricane Ian.”
Then the agency noted that, last week, the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, had been observed at background concentrations 30 to 40 miles offshore of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
It added that FWC had received no reports that week of fish kills or respiratory irritation suspected to be associated with red tide.
- Current beach conditions may be checked at Mote Marine’s website, https://visitbeaches.org/.