Red tide levels remain high in around Pinellas County

Gray circles show locations where red tide was not present or in background concentrations in water samples taken July 8-15. White circles are locations with very low concentrations, yellow is for low, orange is for medium and red marks locations with high concentrations.

Red tide has been causing problems around Pinellas for the last few weeks, but nothing as bad as conditions experienced after Hurricane Elsa passed offshore July 6-7.

Pinellas County staff as well as Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that red tide in concentrations ranging from high to low have been found in recent water samples along Pinellas County’s beaches, the Intracoastal Waterway and Tampa Bay.

Dead fish continue to be a big problem. Staff says the county’s contractor is using 16 vessels to try to scoop up the dead fish before they get to shore. As of July 15, crews had removed 902 tons of red-tide related debris.

Many are complaining about the strong odor around areas where dead fish are collecting. Respiratory irritation, the result of red tide toxins in the air, also is a problem, especially in areas with high concentrations.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas issued a red tide advisory last week for respiratory irritation associated with red tide. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing and tearing eyes.

DOH says people who experience symptoms should stay away from beach areas or go into an air-conditioned space. Irritation may vary by beach and throughout the day. Irritation is more likely when the wind is blowing onshore. People with asthma, emphysema or any chronic lung disease could be more sensitive.

DOH advises people and dogs to not swim around dead fish or other dead marine life, and pets should be kept away from sea foam.

Residents who live in beach areas should keep their windows closed and run the air conditioning. DOH says when outdoors, residents may want to wear a paper mask, especially when winds are blowing onshore.

Do not harvest of eat molluscan shellfish, such as clams and oysters, or distressed or dead fish. If fish are healthy, rinse the fillets with bottled water and throw away the guts.

According to information posted at visitstpeteclearwater.com/current-beach-conditions, as of 5 p.m. July 15, red tide levels and respiratory irritation were high at Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island in Dunedin. Levels were high and respiratory irritation was medium at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg.

Red tide levels were medium and respiratory irritation was slight at Shell Key, Fort De Soto, Egmont Key, Pass-A-Grille, Coquina Key Park, Treasure Island, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Indian Shores Beach and Indian Rocks Beach.

Red tide levels were low and respiratory irritation was slight at St. Pete Beach, Madeira Beach, Belleair Beach, Sand Key and Clearwater Beach.

However, officials point out that these conditions can change daily.

Water samples with high concentrations

In its report for July 8-15, FWC said red tide had been found in 132 samples taken in locations along the Gulf Coast and Tampa Bay. Bloom concentrations were detected in 86 samples: five from Pasco County, 28 from Pinellas County, 24 from Hillsborough County, eight from Manatee County and 21 from Sarasota County.

Water samples taken by county staff on July 16 found high concentrations at Clearwater Beach and Treasure Island. High concentrations were found in samples from Pass-A-Grille, Veterans Park Pier in Boca Ciega Bay, Pinellas Bayway South (Bunces Pass), Mullet Key, Gulf Pier, Fort De Soto Gulf Pier and Smacks Bayou at the mouth of Middle Tampa Bay on July 13.

Samples taken July 14 found high concentrations at Coquina Key Drive Southeast, east of Middle Tampa Bay, and at Indian Shores Beach and the southeast tip of Bayboro Harbor on July 12.

FWC reported high concentrations in samples taken July 8 at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg and Coquina Key. FWC also says samples taken July 9 and 12 found high concentrations at Snell Isle in Middle Tampa Bay.

Reporting dead fish

Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg, which has been hard hit by thousands of dead fish coming ashore, have activated online tools the public can use to report large numbers dead fish.

In St. Petersburg, visit https://www.stpete.org/residents/public_safety/red_tide.php.

The rest of the county can visit www.pinellascounty.org/redtide and click on “Pinellas County Red Tide Reporter.” Click on “Submit a Report” to add the location, type of problem, comments, contact information and photos. Location information can be provided by either typing in an address or creating a point on the map.

“This simple tool speeds up the response to clean up large quantities of dead fish,” said Public Works Director Kelli Hammer Levy.

The county asks that residents use the tool to report only hundreds or thousands of dead fish found in the open water or on public property.

County officials said residents with smaller quantities on private property can dispose of them through their regular trash or in a designated dumpster. Dumpster locations can be found at www.pinellascounty.org/redtide.

About red tide

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.

Red tide 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.

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

Karenia brevis produces brevetoxins that affect the central nervous system of fish, causing them to die. 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.

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.