Red tide bloom producing respiratory irritation at county beaches and killing fish

Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff monitoring shoreline daily, director says

This is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/University of South Florida map with a forecast of red tide conditions from July 28 through July 31. Image courtesy FWC and USF

Respiratory problems associated with red tide were more pronounced by midweek on Siesta and Lido key beaches, Sarasota County staff reported.

In a July 28 video produced by county staff, Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department, stood on the Lido shoreline as she acknowledged the “increased level of red tide.”

Most of the red tide effect that day, she added, “is actually aerosol-based.” However, she also noted, “We are seeing a little bit of marine [debris] and dead fish wash up on some of our northern beaches today.”

Nonetheless, Rissler stressed, “We’re not seeing anywhere near the effects we saw in 2018.”

That was the worst period that the Sarasota County beaches had experienced in years, as county commissioners and members of the public have pointed out. The red tide bloom began in the fall of 2017, Mote Marine researchers have said, and it did not end until early 2019.

In a July 27 update, county staff reported, “Aerial surveys and satellite data from over the weekend indicate slightly improved conditions along some areas of the Gulf Coast, but data suggest that intensification may have occurred along Manatee and Sarasota counties. Discolored water was observed up to five miles offshore, and bloom patches may move offshore and then back onshore over the next several days.”

This is an aerial view of the Siesta Key shoreline, with red tide affecting the color of the Gulf of Mexico on July 27. Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
This is an aerial view of the Longboat Key shoreline, with red tide affecting the color of the Gulf of Mexico on July 27. Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Because of the elevated counts of red tide cells from beach water samples collected on July 27, staff of the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County adjusted beach conditions signage at the remaining county sites that had not been marked as of July 13 to indicate that red tide is present, county staff added in that update.

This is the signage used to alert visitors to the presence of red tide at a county-operated beach. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Thus, on both northern and southern beaches, visitors are warned of the presence of red tide.

In its midweek update, sent out on July 28, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported that while the bloom of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, “persists on the Florida Gulf Coast and in Tampa Bay,” conditions continued to show improvement in most areas, “relative to prior weeks.”

Over the past week, FWC added, Karenia brevis was detected in 109 samples. Bloom concentrations (those exceeding 100,000 cells per liter) were observed in 59 samples: 27 from Sarasota County, seven from Pasco County, 12 from Pinellas County, three from Hillsborough County, six from Manatee County, two from Charlotte County, and two from Lee County.

During the same period, the report continued, the algae was observed at background to high concentrations in and offshore of Sarasota County (in 32 samples), background to high concentrations in and offshore of Pinellas County (in 23 samples), background to medium concentrations in Hillsborough County (in nine samples), background to high concentrations in Manatee County (in 13 samples), background to high concentrations in Charlotte County (in seven samples), background to medium concentrations in and offshore of Lee County (in five samples), and background to very low concentrations in Collier County (in two samples).

On Florida’s Gulf coast, fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were reported in Sarasota, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Charlotte and Lee counties over the past week, the report noted. For more details, FWC directed people to this website: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/.

Respiratory irritation suspected to be related to red tide was reported over the past week not only in Sarasota County, the report said, but also in Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee and Lee counties.

This is part of the Mote Marine Beach Conditions report for Siesta Beach at 4:08 p.m. on July 27. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory
This is part of the Siesta Beach Conditions Report as of 10:30 a.m. on July 29. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

During a July 23 forum organized by the Suncoast Waterkeeper, which is based in Sarasota, and the Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, both David Tomasko, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, and Ed Sherwood, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, pointed out that manmade pollution can exacerbate red tide blooms, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In April, state officials allowed about 215 million gallons of wastewater from the former Piney Point fertilizer plant in Manatee County to be discharged into Tampa Bay in an effort to prevent potential destruction of private property on land. Tomasko and Sherwood connected that release to the current red tide outbreak.

Nitrogen, they pointed out during the forum, feeds the red tide algae, and the Piney Point discharge “put a huge load of nitrogen into lower Tampa Bay,” the Tampa Bay Times added in its report.

FWC and Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff encourage people who want details about conditions before going to the shore to check out this website, which has information provided by Mote Marine Laboratory: https://visitbeaches.org/.

Rissler further noted in her July 28 video report that PRNR staff monitors and evaluates each beach daily for the effects of red tide. The county has a beach cleanup policy that dates to 2013.

A few dead fish are scattered on Lido Beach on July 28. Image from a Sarasota County video

A county website report on July 28 explains, “The beach cleanup policy was approved by the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners … to provide direction for managing the removal of seaweed, dead fish and other marine debris left behind from storms and tidal changes. The policy allows Sarasota County to collect/remove marine debris manually or mechanically that span more than two-miles of public beach and are not naturally removed by tidal cycles. Status levels are used in daily reporting are none, minor, minor-moderate, moderate, moderate-major, and major.”

PRNR provides daily reporting of beach conditions on the county’s Red Tide Dashboard.

This is the July 28 Red Tide Dashboard report. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The county report also explained the terms used on the dashboard:

  • Major— debris over a 2-mile continuous section of beach is more than a truck with a 5-yard capacity can handle.
  • Moderate/Major— debris over a 2-mile continuous section of beach would fill one truck with a 5-yard capacity.
  • Moderate– debris observed over a 2-mile continuous section of beach measures approximately 2.5 to 5 yards.
  • Minor/Moderate— debris over a 2-mile continuous section of beach fills measures 2.5 yards.
  • Minor— debris over a 2-mile continuous section of beach measures less than 2.5 yards.
  • None — normal conditions.

If necessary, Rissler said, the county even has an arrangement with a contractor to bring in equipment to remove debris in the water.

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