SARASOTA — The Florida Department of Health issued cautionary toxic red tide warnings Tuesday.
Pick your beaches carefully.
While reports of bad red tide blooms haven’t hit Englewood or Venice, it’s been a problem to the north near Sarasota, Bradenton, and around Tampa Bay in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
“Some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation like those associated with the common cold or seasonal sinus allergies,” health officials cautioned. “Some people with existing breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe effects.”
While natural to the Gulf, when concentrations of the airborne toxins of red tide algae, Karina brevis, exceeds 100,000 cells per liter of water, people can experience respiratory problems.
Also, higher concentrations of the algae can kill fish and other marine life like dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.
Officials provided a list of beaches Tuesday that have seen recent reports of elevated concentrations of red tide.
The health department listed Manasota and Blind Pass beaches on Manasota Key in Englewood; Caspersen, Service Club, Brohard Park and Venice beach in Venice; North Jetty and Nokomis beaches on Longboat Key in Nokomis; and Siesta Key, Turtle, the Lido beaches and around Bird Key and the Ringling Causeway in Sarasota; and on Longboat Key.
Mote reported slight irritation and no fish kills in Englewood and Venice, but some dead fish in Nokomis and moderate respiratory irritation and “many” dead fish at Siesta Key to the north.
Mote Marine Laboratory at visitbeaches.org reports conditions on public beaches daily.
The good news is that Coastal Wildlife Club and other sea turtle patrol volunteers have not complained about scratchy throats nor other symptoms of red tide on Manasota Key or other local barrier islands.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at myfwc.com posts a map with the results of water testing for red tide within the last eight days.
The map Tuesday showed high concentrations — more than 1 million cells per liter of water — in samples from Longboat Key south to Turtle Beach, north of Osprey.
Samples from Nokomis Beach south to Manasota Beach contained medium concentrations.
Low counts were taken from Blind Pass and Englewood Beach on Manasota Key.
For the first time in months, no signs or background counts turned up in water samples taken from Lee and Collier counties.
Tampa Bay scarlet
If there is a hot spot for red tide this summer, it’s Tampa Bay. The bay is choking with high concentrations of red tide and subsequent fish kills.
The intense bloom in Tampa Bay spurred state officials into immediate action.
On Tuesday, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton and Florida Department of Environmental Protection interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton gathered stakeholders for a roundtable where they discussed Florida’s multifaceted efforts to combat red tide.
Hosted at the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, FDEP officials highlighted funding allocated to bolster local response efforts mitigating the impacts of red tide in the greater Tampa Bay area. The state is now “in the process of executing grant agreements with Pinellas and Hillsborough counties,” a press release stated Tuesday.
“While red tide has existed for centuries, we know that excess nutrients in our coastal waterbodies exacerbate and encourage the presence of harmful algal blooms, including red tide,” Florida Chief Science Officer Mark Rains said.
While he acknowledged he’s no biologist, Robert Weisberg, a physical oceanography professor at the University of South Florida, said Tuesday he speculates nutrients left over from the Piney Point spill are feeding and intensifying red tide blooms in Tampa Bay and surrounding waters.
In March and April, more than 200 million gallons spilled from a retention reservoir in Manatee County that was storing polluted, nurtrient-rich water. Initially, Weisberg said, the pollutants rapidly fed an algae bloom that has since died.
“It makes sense to me,” Weisberg said, explaining how he believes the red tide algae is “recycling” the nutrients left on the bottom of Tampa Bay from the Piney Point spill. Red tide, he suggested, creates its own food from the nutrients resulting from fish kills.
Weisberg noted how recent red tide blooms have drifted north from Collier and Lee counties, to Charlotte Harbor and Sarasota County, now into Manatee County and Tampa Bay.
Red tide exists naturally in nutrient-poor water 20 or more miles offshore where “resting populations” live in water columns or sediments in the Gulf, according to the FWC. When red tide moves inshore where waters are higher in nutrients, the cells multiply, state researchers say.
This fall, Weisberg said he expects offshore blooms to intensify when they drift towards shore. Whether they become intense like the blooms that choked Southwest Florida in 2018 is another question.