Red tide is on the move in Florida. What to know about the toxic bloom along the coast
With reports of dead fish on the sand and “intense” amounts of breathing irritation, the effects of red tide amplified last week around Anna Maria Island and Manatee County’s coastline.
Blooms of the toxic algae were carried near shore in October and have affected beaches since then.
Manatee County’s Gulf beaches saw a brief reprieve from the bloom’s effects around the holidays. But the often patchy nature of red tide blooms, along with their ability to be moved quickly by wind and currents, means that conditions can change rapidly.
Several weeks ago, red tide conditions were worse for Pinellas County beaches. But now the denser patches of algae has drifted southward into Manatee County waters, following predictions by University of South Florida’s Ocean Circulation Lab.
Last week, slight to intense levels of respiratory irritation were reported by lifeguards at Coquina Beach and Manatee Public Beach, and slight to moderate irritation was reported on the north end of Anna Maria Island. Dead fish were also reported around the island.
In all, red tide was detected in 67 samples around Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida last week, up from 39 last week.
Manatee County had the highest number of water samples at bloom level (red tide concentrations of medium and above). At bloom level, respiratory irritation and fish kills are more likely.
Red tide algae was found at medium levels at both ends of Anna Maria Island, near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and in Lower Tampa Bay, as well as at very low concentrations northeast of Anna Maria and northwest of Robinson Preserve.
Red tide forecast
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts the respiratory threat from red tide. On Thursday, NOAA warned of a moderate risk of respiratory irritation on the coasts of Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties over the next 36 hours.
The respiratory risk is most likely when winds are blowing on or along the shore.
USF’s red tide-tracking forecast predicted that medium levels of the algae would circulate around Anna Maria Island as well as near the mouth of Tampa Bay into last weekend. Very low to low levels were predicted for other parts of Manatee County’s coastline.
The forecast predicted very low to low levels of red tide algae around Pinellas County, with a small area of the county’s Gulf Coast beaches that could see medium levels. On Sarasota County’s coast, very low to high amounts of red tide could be present in the coming days, forecast maps showed.
Red tide safety tips
The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County offers the following red tide safety tips:
Look for informational signage posted at most beaches.
Stay away from the water.
Do not swim in waters with dead fish.
Those with chronic respiratory problems should be especially cautious and stay away from these locations as red tide can affect your breathing.
Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish or distressed or dead fish from these locations. If caught live and healthy, finfish are safe to eat as long as they are filleted and the guts are discarded. Rinse fillets with tap or bottled water.
Wash your skin and clothing with soap and fresh water if you have had recent contact with red tide.
Keep pets and livestock away and out of the water, sea foam and dead sea life. If your pet swims in waters with red tide, wash your pet as soon as possible.
Residents living in beach areas are advised to close windows and run the air conditioner, making sure that the A/C filter is maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications.
If outdoors near an affected location, residents may choose to wear masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.
Red tide resources
Several online resources make it easy to check whether a particular county, beach or coastline in Southwest Florida are currently affected by a red tide bloom.
NOAA’s Red Tide Respiratory Forecast is updated several times a day with the level of red tide risk at specific beaches along the Gulf Coast, from Pinellas County through Collier County. Visit habforecast.gcoos.org.
Mote Marine Laboratory’s Beach Conditions Report is updated frequently by lifeguards and includes reports of red tide conditions, including respiratory irritation and dead fish, as well as other hazards on local beaches. Visit visitbeaches.org.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issues weekly red tide reports with conditions by county and maintains a map of red tide sampling around the state. Visit myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide.
University of South Florida’s Red Tide Prediction and Tracking center provides short term forecasts of red tide’s movement around Tampa Bay and the west coast of Florida. Visit ocgweb.marine.usf.edu/hab_tracking.