Southwest Florida may be on the down side of the red tide bloom that’s tormented the Gulf Coast for more than a year.

But don’t break out the champagne yet.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Thursday, no evidence of the toxic algae was found in nearly all the water samples collected in the last eight days from Pinellas County to Collier County. A water sample taken Dec. 7 from Sarasota Bay indicated low counts — 10,000 but less than 100,000 cells per liter of water. Another water sample, taken well offshore of Fort Myers, showed low counts.

“I hesitate to say it’s gone completely,” FWC spokeswoman Kelly Richmond said Thursday. “But it’s the first time in a long time there’s been no high counts. That’s a good sign.”

The red tide algae — Karenia brevis^p — is natural to the Gulf, but when concentrations exceed 100,000 or more cells per liter of water problems arise, such as fish kills and respiratory irritations in humans.

In November 2017, researchers started tracking the recent red blooms that erupted offshore. By summer, the entire Southwest Florida coast reeled from the toxic algae.

Especially in the summer months high counts — a million or more cells per liter of water — fouled the air, led not only to large fish kills but also to the deaths of sea turtles, manatees and other marine mammals. The local tourism industry, restaurants, fishing guides and other businesses suffered from the prevalence and persistence of red tide.

Researchers need another two or three weeks of water samples before they can sound the all-clear, Richmond said.

Her hesitancy may be merited. According Mote Marine Laboratory’s Daily Beach Conditions Report at visitbeaches.org, “slight” respiratory irritations were experienced on Siesta Key and Manasota Beach on the north end of Englewood’s Manasota Key Wednesday. Dead fish washed up onto Siesta Key, the report stated.

To learn more about red tide, visit myfwc.com.

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