Florida’s southwest coast is experiencing a flare-up of toxic red tide algae, leading residents to complain about burning eyes and skin as thousands of dead fish wash along the shores of the Sunshine State’s renowned beaches.
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 (454 kilograms) of fish have been cleared from beaches in St. Pete Beach since the start of the month, Mandy Edmunds, a park supervisor with the city, told the newspaper.
Red tide, a toxic algae bloom that occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico, is worsened by the presence of nutrients such as nitrogen in the water. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) warns people to not swim in or around red tide waters over the possibility of skin irritation, rashes and burning and sore eyes. People with asthma or lung disease should avoid beaches affected by the toxic algae.
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On Friday, the FWC reported that it had found red tide in 158 samples along Florida’s Gulf Coast, with the strongest concentrations along Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
“Bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were present in 79 samples from Southwest Florida: 26 in and offshore of Pinellas County, eight in Manatee County, 27 in Sarasota County, five in Charlotte County, four in Lee County, eight in Collier County, and one offshore of Monroe County. We continue to use satellite imagery (USF and NOAA NCCOS) to help track this patchy event,” the FWC shared.
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The latest sample map showed at least ten Pinellas County locations including Indian Rocks Beach, with red-level concentrations, which contain more than 1,000,000 cells per liter. Such concentrations can produce fish kills, discolored water, and respiratory symptoms in humans.
As spring break approaches, many tourists are wondering how red tide will impact their Florida vacation. They can see the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife most updated red tide reports here.
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.
“Red Tide is currently present on the beach and is forecasted to remain in the area in the weeks to come,” the Indian Rocks Beach Homeowners Association said in a letter. “It is unfortunate that it had to be canceled, but it is the best decision in the interest of public health.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.