Pinellas begins red tide cleanup on local beaches

Municipal workers remove dead fish from Pinellas beaches as reports of red tide come in from multiple locations along the county's Gulf coast.

As effects of red tide continue to move north along Pinellas County’s Gulf coast, officials are beginning efforts to clean up dead fish and other marine life from local beaches.

The work is expected to begin Tuesday or Wednesday, according to a press release from Pinellas County government.

A patchy bloom of red tide offshore has resulted in reports of respiratory irritation and dead fish coming in from locations stretching from Fort De Soto in Tierra Verde north to Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, as well as in the Intracoastal Waterway and Boca Ciega Bay.

Water samples taken by county environmental staff and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show concentrations of red tide ranging from low to high with the highest concentrations reported from the Isle of Capri in Treasure Island to the south and north to Sand Key in Clearwater.

According to FWC, low, medium and high concentrations can cause respiratory irritation and fish kills and both have been evident along the county’s beaches.

Forecasting models predict that the bloom will continue to move north over the next seven to 10 days along with onshore winds.

All the county’s beaches remain open and officials say that not all beaches will have problems due to red tide. For example, on June 15, high levels of respiratory irritation was being reported at Sand Key but only slight levels at Belleair Beach, which was only 3 miles away.

For information on the latest conditions, visit www.beachesupdate.com and habforecast.gcoos.org.

Lots of people are talking about problems on social media and the biggest problems seem to be smell and respiratory irritation.

Florida Department of Health Pinellas notified the public of possible health issues from red tide on June 11. Officials say the most prevalent problem is respiratory irritation that could include eyes, nose or throat irritation with symptoms similar to a cold.

Individuals with chronic breathing problems, such as asthma, could have more severe symptoms and should consider staying away from areas with red tide, officials said. The symptoms usually go away when a person leaves the area or goes inside.

DOH-Pinellas issued several recommendations for the public to follow in locations with red tide:

• Residents who live in beach areas are advised to close windows and run the air conditioning.

• If outdoors, residents might consider wearing a paper filter mask, especially if onshore winds are blowing. Weather forecasts show onshore winds continuing for the next week or so.

• Do not swim around dead fish

• Keep pets away from the water, sea foam and dead fish.

• Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish or distressed or dead fish. If fish are healthy, officials advise rinsing fillets with tap or bottle water. Throw out the guts.

About red tide

Red tide is not new. It has been documented in the southern Gulf of Mexico as far back as the 1700s and along Florida's Gulf coast since the 1840s. Fish kills near Tampa Bay show up in records of Spanish explorers.

Red tide is a bloom of higher-than-normal concentrations of a microscopic alga known as Karenia brevis, or K. brevis. It forms offshore and moves onshore due to wave action. It is naturally reoccurring and may or may not become a problem in any given year.

The cause of the blooms is not known and no one knows how long any bloom may last.

Red Tide blooms produce of brevetoxins that affect the central nervous system of fish, causing them to die, according to FWC. The toxins also affect birds, sea turtles, other marine animals and people.

“Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness,” FWC says.

Toxins can also accumulate in oysters and clams, which can lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in people who eat contaminated shellfish.

In past years, red tide has caused devastation to the county’s marine life and the tourism industry. A red tide bloom in southwest Florida persisted for more than a year in 2018. It resulted in massive fish kills and deaths of other marine life. It cost millions statewide to clean up the mess. It also had a big economic impact, especially for those in the tourism industry as visitors shunned the state’s beaches — even the ones clear of red tide.

Residents can report fish kills to FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute fish kill hotline. Call 800-636-0511 to report fish kills, diseased fish, or fish with other abnormalities. Residents can dispose of dead fish with their regular trash.

If you see a sick bird, a bird off balance or unable to walk or stand, call Birds in Helping Hands at 727-365-4592 or the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary at 727-391-6211.

For current conditions statewide, visit https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/. Call 866-300-9399 from anywhere in Florida to hear a recording about red tide conditions throughout the state. Callers outside of Florida can dial 727-502-4952.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.