For immediate release: October 30, 2015
Contact: Kelly Richmond, FWC 727-502-4784
Red tide confirmed in Florida: What you need to know
Red tide is a naturally occurring, higher-than-normal concentration of microscopic algae. In Florida, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis. This organism produces toxins that can affect the central nervous system of aquatic organisms such as fish and marine mammals. Red tide toxins also pose a human health risk. The toxins can aerosolize and be carried to beaches with onshore winds, leading to respiratory irritation in people. Toxins can accumulate in shellfish and result in illnesses if contaminated shellfish are consumed. Shellfish harvesting areas are closed when blooms are present.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) researchers are currently monitoring two blooms along Florida’s Gulf coast, one located in northwest Florida and the other in southwest Florida.
“We confirmed the presence of both blooms in September, and they have persisted since that time,” said Alina Corcoran, FWC research scientist. “The bloom in the Panhandle is currently affecting Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties. In southwest Florida, patchy blooms have been confirmed along Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties. Extensive fish kills and respiratory irritation have been associated with the bloom in the Panhandle but in southwest Florida the effects have been less.”
Red tide public health tips:
People in a red tide area can experience varying degrees of eye, nose and throat irritation. When a person leaves an area with a red tide, symptoms usually go away.
People with severe or chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic lung disease are cautioned to avoid areas with active red tides.
In some red tides, dead fish wash ashore; during these conditions it is advised that beachgoers avoid swimming in water where dead fish are present.
Pet owners are advised that red tide poses a risk to animals brought to the beach. If a pet swims in a red tide patch at the beach, rinse off its fur and paws as soon as possible with fresh water. Also, do not let pets eat fish or drink water from the red tide.
Recreational harvesting of bivalve mollusks such as hard clams, oysters and mussels from approved shellfish harvesting areas is banned during red tide closures. To determine whether harvesting of shellfish is permitted in an area, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Aquaculture website.
FWC researchers work closely with partners, including Mote Marine Laboratory, the University of South Florida, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and NOAA, to track blooms, share information and develop products that help to inform both citizens and scientists about bloom conditions.
“Citizen scientists play a vital role in tracking blooms. Volunteers can provide the majority of water samples for bloom tracking in regions like the Panhandle,” said Corcoran.
For updated red tide status reports, to track blooms or learn more about red tide, visit MyFWC.com/RedTide. To report fish kills to the FWC, contact the Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511 or submit a report online.
Additional red tide resources:
Red tide facts and information pocket guide and Fact sheet
Florida Department of Health
Shellfish Harvesting Area Status
Mote Marine Laboratory Beach Condition Reporting System at Mote.org/Beaches
USF Collaboration for the Prediction of Red Tides (CPR)
NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System (HAB-OFS)
Red tide sparks tourism concerns
Eric Glasser, WTSP 5:40 p.m. EST December 9, 2015
St. Petersburg Beach, FL — Pictures of dead fish washing ashore in the Bay area are not the images that tourism officials want popping up on social media.
But red tide, say marine scientists, is now here. And how long it will last, they admit, is a mystery.
Visitors like Kathy Keleher who came to St. Petersburg from Canada to experience its cuisine and culture have seen the images of bloated fish now floating in Boca Ciega Bay.
“And then it’s gross, and it stinks,” said Keleher, “I don’t expect that at all. I expect beautiful white sandy beaches and clear water and palm trees. Not that,” she said.
It’s not what those who rely on tourism want people texting their friends and relatives back home.
“No, I mean it’s horrible for business obviously,” said Wade Parrish, head chef at O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille in Gulfport.
“You know, the smell would be a deterrent for people to come out here and sit outside and enjoy the wonderful view that we’ve got here,” said Parrish.
Bob Weisberg with the University of South Florida’s Marine Sciences lab in St. Petersburg, says red tide, or Karenia Brevis as they call it, can kill fish and even cause respiratory distress for people and marine mammals in high enough concentration.
“There is very little we can do about the red tide,” said Weisberg, describing it as simply too large.
“This particular plant can get a foothold, and when it does it then dominates,” said Weisberg, “which is what’s happening right now,” he said.
The red tide algae, says Weisberg, makes its way inland from deep in the Gulf of Mexico riding along strong underwater currents.
Scientists, he says, could better predict how long it might stick around if they were able to take more offshore observations.
Unfortunately, he says, the estimated $300,000 cost to consistently send a boat out into the Gulf of Mexico to take those readings is regularly cut out of the state budget.
Commonly, red tide will begin to dissipate this time of the year, said Weisberg.
But he also warned that there have been some seasons when the algae bloom has survived well into the summer.
For a closer look at the underwater current charts Weisberg and his colleagues at USF use to try to predict the direction red tide may be moving, click here.