Health officials in Pinellas warned Friday that respiratory issues could be caused by a Red Tide bloom off the county’s coast.
The state also reported a bloom concentration of Red Tide off Sand Key, further north and closer to Clearwater Beach than had been previously detected.
The county, meanwhile, said its own monitoring on Friday found high levels of Red Tide — greater concentrations than had been announced previously — off Sand Key, Indian Rocks Beach and Madeira Beach, as well as in the Intracoastal Waterway by Isle of Capri in Treasure Island.
Fish kills have been reported off the shore recently, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, including off Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, Gulfport and Tierra Verde.
The health alert mirrors another sent last week by Hillsborough County, when signs of an algal bloom turned up in middle and lower Tampa Bay.
“Some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms,” the advisory from the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County says. “Some individuals with breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe symptoms. Usually symptoms go away when a person leaves the area or goes indoors.”
Pinellas tourism leaders, whose industry has suffered during the pandemic and are hoping to bounce back this summer, are following the reports of Red Tide with concern. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s public tourism agency, said dead fish are being found in greater amounts from Indian Rocks Beach to Sand Key Park.
“The latest forecast continues to show the Red Tide moving north toward Clearwater Beach and Honeymoon Island,” the agency said.
Tourism officials remember the devastating toxic Red Tide bloom of 2017-19, the worst in years, which killed fish and kept people away from beaches. For months, the gulf’s dead washed up on Florida’s western shore, including manatees and dolphins. The bloom severely impacted beach tourism. Pinellas spent more than $7 million cleaning up fish. Crews picked up more than 1,800 tons of dead marine life, taking it to the landfill and incinerator.
Pinellas government officials issued another announcement early Friday about Red Tide, saying there had been “minor fish kills ... in onshore, offshore and in inland waterway locations as the bloom has moved north to Sand Key.”
“The county has a plan in place to conduct cleanup if the situation worsens,” said county spokesman Tony Fabrizio, later that afternoon. Residents who find dead fish near their docks are advised they can use a skimmer to pick up the fish and throw out the remains in their regular trash.
People living here have dealt with Red Tide for centuries, according to the county. Algae feed on nutrients, like those in hardware store fertilizers. Fertilizers with nitrogen and phosphorus cannot be used or sold in the county through Sept. 30, according to another Pinellas spokesperson. Phosphorus is not supposed to be used at any point unless a soil test shows the need.
The emergence of the patchy Red Tide bloom comes about two months after 215 million gallons of wastewater were released into Tampa Bay from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property near the Hillsborough-Manatee county line.
Scientists say they do not have data yet that would confirm whether the algae is feeding upon contaminants from the discharge. The Red Tide would not have popped up here as a result of the Piney Point release, according to researchers and state officials. But excess nitrogen from the polluted water could be a fuel source for the organisms after they arrive.
Red Tide resources
There are several online resources that can help residents stay informed and share information about Red Tide:
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism wing, runs an online beach dashboard at www.beachesupdate.com.
The agency asks business owners to email reports of Red Tide issues to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pinellas County shares information with the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast tool that allows beachgoers to check for warnings.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website that tracks where Red Tide is detected and how strong the concentrations.
How to stay safe near the water
Beachgoers should avoid swimming around dead fish.
Those with chronic respiratory problems should be particularly careful and “consider staying away” from places with a Red Tide bloom.
People should not harvest or eat mollusks or distressed and dead fish from the area. Fillets of healthy fish should be rinsed with clean water, and the guts thrown out.
Pet owners should keep their animals away from the water and from dead fish.
Residents living near the beach should close their windows and run air conditioners with proper filters.
Visitors to the beach can wear paper masks, especially if the wind is blowing in.
Source: Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County