Red Tide Hits Pinellas County

The red tide trend that has been creeping up Florida’s west coast this summer has finally started to impact Pinellas County, with officials on the beach clearing tons of dead fish from beaches and waterways.

“The red tide showed up late last week and it has shifted from day to day in intensity and location,” said Mike Clarke, Public Services Director for St. Pete Beach. “It’s switched in with some storms and switched back out with the tide.” 

Clarke said that there were low levels of red tide on Tuesday, September 11 near the Don Cesar Hotel and heavier concentrations near Upham Beach. St. Pete beaches remain open, however. 

“The public can use their own judgement as to if they would like to be on the beach or not,” said Clarke. 

Denis Frain, the harbormaster at Gulfport Municipal Harbor, says while red tide has not hit Gulfport, the city has a plan to clean up the water and beaches if needed. “We – [Gulfport Public Works Director] Tom Nichols, [Gulfport Fire] Chief Marenkovic and the city manager – we have weekly meetings, phone conversations with the county,” said Frain. “We’re always on standby.” 

Drain also gets information from boaters who use the marina. 

“I’ve got people giving me reports everyday. Some of the local captains that come in, I ask them if they’ve seen any red tide or not,” said Frain. “I’ve heard of cases of red tide, but not necessarily in Boca Ciega Bay adjacent to Gulfport.”

If red tide does come to Gulfport, washing up dead fish on Gulfport Beach and in the water, Gulfport city workers will clean up smaller messes, transporting dead fish to landfills. Larger amounts of fish will be handled by contract workers, paid for by Pinellas County. Gulfport Beach would be closed. The contract workers are funded by a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

While Gulfport city workers will only take care of small red tide messes on public land and waterways, contract workers can be used to remove dead fish from private properties. 

“If [the residents have] got a problem, they can just give us a call and we’ll set that up for them,” said Tom Nicholls, Public Works Director for Gulfport. 

City and contract workers are only authorized to dispose of dead fish.

“When it comes to turtles, dolphins and other sea mammals, we have to call the FWC,” said Frain. 

Pinellas County’s red tide status update for September 11 showed levels for Karenia brevis, the microorganism responsible for red tides, present in varying levels along the county’s beaches and waterways, from Clearwater to Fort De Soto. While most of St. Pete Beach showed “medium” levels, reports from Gulfport’s beach were marked “very low.”

According to the county’s website, “Red tide is a type of harmful algae bloom caused by an increase…in the concentration of certain microscopic algae in the water column…While K. brevis is a naturally occurring organism, nutrient enrichment of our coastal waters can make blooms worse and longer lived.” 

According to the site, “K[arenia] brevis does produce toxins that can be mixed with airborne sea spray. People may 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.”

If Gulfport citizens see dead fish, they can call the public works department at 727-893-1089 or message Gulfport’s Facebook page, said Frain. If turtles or sea mammals wash up on the beach, citizens can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission at 1-800-404-3922. Find more information, including regular red tide reports, at pinellascounty.org/environment/watershed/red-tide.htm.

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