Residents along Florida’s southwest coast are experiencing a flare-up of the toxic red tide algae, which is causing burning eyes and breathing problems.
Dead fish are washing up on beaches, and a beachside festival has been canceled, even though it wasn’t scheduled for another month.
The current bloom started in October, and concerns are rising that it could continue to stick around for a while.
The red tide algae is a toxic bloom that occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico, but it worsens in the presence of nutrients such as nitrogen in the water.
Red tides have been appearing along Florida’s Gulf Coast as far back as the 1840s, state officials say, but scientists still find it hard to predict when they will appear.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is warning people not to swim in or around red tide waters over the possibility of skin irritation, rashes, and burning and sore eyes. The microscopic algae also take a toll on the fish, eels, birds, and other marine species that it kills.
Since last Monday, workers have removed two tons of ocean debris – mostly dead fish. Other species have been killed too, including a loggerhead sea turtle and a manatee found dead in Boca Ciega Bay.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Friday reported that it had found red tide in 157 samples along Florida’s Gulf Coast, with the strongest concentrations along Pinellas and Sarasota counties. The City of Clearwater said it has picked up more than three tons of fish.
The annual BeachFest in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, sponsored by a homeowners’ association, was canceled after it determined, with help from the city and the Pinellas County Health Department, that red tide likely would continue through the middle of next month when the festival was scheduled.
Nearly two tons of debris, mainly dead fish, were cleared from Pinellas County beaches and brought to the landfill, county spokesperson Tony Fabrizio told the Tampa Bay Times. About 1,000 pounds of fish have been cleared from beaches in St. Pete Beach since the start of the month, Mandy Edmunds, a parks supervisor with the city, told the newspaper.
Experts warn that red tide may linger for some time. ‘I cannot say when it’s going to go away,’ Bob Weisberg, the former director of the University of South Florida’s Ocean Circulation Lab, told the Tampa Bay Times.
‘It could very well be that this thing may linger.’ People with asthma or lung disease should avoid beaches affected by the toxic algae.
Despite the inconvenience caused by the red tide, some visitors to Florida’s Gulf Coast still find the experience enjoyable. ‘It smells,’ Michelle McCauley, a vacationer from Ohio, told WTSP this week. ‘It’s fishy, but I’m holding up fine.’
‘We would rather have that than the snow, so it’s great being down here,’ Cheryl Hones, from Toronto, said to WFLA.