Red Tide’s Effects Reek into Gulfport, St. Pete Beach

On the morning of Sunday, September 16, the effects of the recent red tide algae bloom were present in large quantities along the entire tide line in St. Pete Beach including directly in front of the Don Cesar at Pass-a-Grille. By 8:30 a.m., work crews and a large industrial-sized tractor were arriving to collect and dispose of the dead sea life. Photo by Debbie Wolfe.

It was uninvited but came anyway.

It visited Pass-a-Grille and other Gulf beach communities last week, and Gulfport on Monday; by Tuesday, September 18, it was mostly gone.

However red tide, a harmful and mostly saltwater algae bloom, and all of its dreadful effects made an appearance that could not be ignored. Pinellas County monitoring reported Gulfport at a “medium” level on Monday, and by Tuesday,  levels were back to “low.” 

Natural rust-colored blooms are most commonly comprised of what is called Karenia brevis and have been documented since people have been keeping historical records. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, blooms most often occur during the summer months and particularly along the coasts of Florida and Texas.

Blooms can produce a toxin that affects the central nervous systems of a wide variety of marine wildlife in sometimes gory and even life-threatening ways, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website. The toxin often results in the deaths of fish of all varieties and sizes, invertebrates such as scallops, sea turtles, mammals like dolphins and manatees, and birds.

And, when a bloom is bad enough, dead sea creatures can wash up onto beaches in large quantities with the tides and accumulate in the currents against seawalls. As a result, even healthy humans and their pets can experience respiratory, eye and skin irritation. For those who routinely have related health issues, it’s exponentially worse.

This is what recently occurred along Pinellas County’s shorelines in a visual and pungent way.

In fact, according a variety of Facebook posters, the recent olfactory experience was so strong it was blown on the wind for as much as a mile inland. 

It has also created a cleanup nightmare.

On private property, people are using garbage bags and litter pickers to collect dead sea life for disposal. In public areas, government entities often use engine-powered tractors sporting industrial sized implements like front-end loader buckets and landscape rakes to tackle larger accumulations.

Through Saturday, September 15, Pinellas County had removed about 172 tons of red tide debris for this bloom, said Gulfport Director of Public Works Tom Nicholls.

On the afternoon of Monday, September 17, a City of Gulfport worker uses a tractor to clear away dead sea life caused by the recent red tide algae bloom. The tractor was used at the municipal beach and this waterfront area adjacent to the city’s boardwalk located along Shore Boulevard between Williams Pier and the Casino in front of Salty’s Bar and O’Maddy’s Bar & Grille. Photo by Debbie Wolfe.

Local Reference Resources

Nicholls recommends that people visit the following Pinellas County website to learn how to handle dead sea life; when to request cleanup help; and, who to contact to report the impact of red tide on fish and wildlife: pinellascounty.org/environment/watershed/red-tide.htm.

And, red tide can come and go. According to the Visit St. Pete-Clearwater website, red tide blooms typically form offshore and sporadically affect coastlines and beaches based on on-shore winds. To monitor the current quality of local beaches, reference visitstpeteclearwater.com/current-beach-conditions.

Because red tide consists of many variables, plenty of government entities at the local, state and national levels along with non-profit groups and individuals participate in a wide variety of scientifically based monitoring activities, collect data and generate reports in an effort to predict then track the presence of blooms and their effects.

For frequent local red tide update reports measuring concentrations ranging from “not present” to “high,” visit pinellascounty.org/environment/watershed/red-tide-2018.htm.

Florida Health has created a guide relating to medical issues associated with red tide: floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/red-tide.html.

City of Gulfport staff meet daily to discuss the most recent government-based red tide monitoring reports, along with information obtained from local boat captains, to plan appropriate actions like cleanup operations or the posting of usage warnings for public areas, if needed, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. The city frequently updates their official red tide information page at mygulfport.us/redtide.

Along the break wall at the 49th Street South terminus, Gulfport city workers use nets during cleanup operations on Monday, September 17 to capture dead sea life that collected there as the result of the recent red tide algae bloom. In the area was a dead loggerhead turtle, which was reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife authorities. Photo by Eagle Finegan.

 

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