CLEARWATER – There is no red tide in Pinellas County. That was the message from Kelli Levy, Environmental Management director, during an Aug. 7 County Commission meeting.
Levy talked about the latest information on a red tide bloom that runs from Collier to Manatee counties. The bloom has persisted for about nine months, carried largely by ocean currents. The latest area to be affected is Anna Maria Island.
But it is difficult to predict where it might go in the coming days and weeks.
“I can’t say it is not going to be in Pinellas County,” Levy said, adding that the currents were moving offshore and to the south along the beaches as of Aug. 7.
Previous movement along the beaches had been to the north.
Forecasts by the USF-FWC Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides External as of Aug. 8 for Pinellas to northern Monroe counties predict a “reversal from northern to southern transport of surface waters and southeastern movement of subsurface waters for most areas over the next three days.”
Red tide in Florida is not new. Levy said it had been recorded in Florida since the 1940s. It is a naturally occurring algae, which normally starts offshore and moves with the currents. The red tide organism, Karenia brevis, is not a problem until it begins to “bloom.” A bloom occurs when colonies of the algae grow out of control.
Levy said the best available science shows red tide blooms may be made worse and last longer due to large amounts of nutrients (pollutants) in runoff.
She said it is unknown if the red tide occurring off south Florida beaches has a direct connection to the blue-green algae being discharged from Lake Okeechobee.
When asked if the current bloom was more intense than past years, as evidenced by photos of large mammals, such as manatees, washing up on shore, Levy wasn’t sure. She referenced the red tide bloom in 2004-2005 that stretched from New Port Richey to Sarasota that devastated marine life.
She did say the current bloom was “unprecedented,” with a lot more publicity due to social media. She also said concentrations of the algae were extremely high.
While red tide is devastating to marine life, it also can mean disaster for beach communities. Not only do they have the expense of cleaning up the dead fish that wash up on the beach, the tourism industry takes a hit.
Visitors shy away from areas that smell due to dead fish and red tide also can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. People with respiratory conditions should stay away.
However, for now, Pinellas County beaches are clear of red tide and open for business.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission releases a red tide report twice a week – Wednesday and Friday. The report from Aug. 8 said red tide was observed at background to low concentrations in two samples collected from Pinellas. Previous samples from the county had been at background levels.
Low to high concentrations were observed in seven samples collected from Manatee County, background to high concentrations in 40 samples collected from or offshore of Sarasota County, very low to high concentrations in 13 samples collected from or offshore of Charlotte County, background to high concentrations in 69 samples collected from or offshore of Lee County, and background to high concentrations in 18 samples collected from or offshore of Collier County.
FWC said it continued to receive reports of fish kills in Southwest Florida. Over the past week, reports were received for multiple locations in Manatee County, Sarasota County, Charlotte County, Lee County, and in and offshore of Collier County. More detailed information is available at http://myfwc.com/fishkill.
Respiratory irritation also was reported over the past week in Manatee, Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties.
Additional information regarding the current status of algal blooms in South Florida is being consolidated and posted on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s website: https://floridadep.gov/dear/algal-bloom
To see the latest conditions, visit myfwc.com/redtidestatus.
Suzette Porter is TBN's Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.