At a press conference held at Crisp Park, 3600 Poplar St. NE, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 14, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said that the city was doing everything in its power to clean up the overwhelming amounts of dead sea life washing ashore in the wake of Tampa Bay’s current massive red tide blooms.
“This is a tough time to be near the water,” he said. “The odor sticks to you. It stays in your nasal passages. And then there’s the emotional toll of just dealing with all the dead animals – the fish that we all enjoy in so many ways in Tampa Bay and St. Pete.”
Kriseman said that the city had diverted multiple resources away from usual work to deal with the issue at a cost he estimated was “in six figures.”
While the city, county and even local residents have worked to clear more than 500 tons of dead sea life, according to the mayor, notably missing has been any support from the state.
“My office has not heard from the governor,” he said. “I’m not sure if the county has. So far, it’s been kind of silence.”
The mayor said that he and other city officials have made multiple pleas to the governor for resources.
“We don’t know when this is going to end, and our city teams can only do this for so long, as we are unfortunately compromising other city services,” the mayor said. “We are asking the governor, ‘Please, Pinellas County, St. Petersburg, we need your help.’ This isn’t about politics…we need his office to be paying attention to this. Even Rick Scott, when he was governor, declared a state of emergency related to red tide, sent resources down here. And more help is needed if we’re going to get these fish out of the water.”
Kriseman said the red tide fish kill is a “quality of life issue, it’s an economic and it’s a tourism issue. And it’s really impacting the lifeblood of Florida and our Gulf coasts.”
While the city and county work to clear public shorelines and waterways of dead fish, Kriseman said that they will not go onto private property for cleanup.
“If you have a home with a shoreline… you may bag your fish up – and we suggest you double-bag them – and put them in your residential solid waste container. But we also have roll off dumpsters here at Crisp Park, at Flora Wylie Park, and Lassing Park, at Demens Landing, at Grand View Park, at Bay Vista Park and at Maximo.”
As to the cause of the unusually large blooms and fish kills, Kriseman could only speculate.
“It’s human nature. We want to point fingers at someone or something that caused this. Maybe it was the incident at Pinney Point that contributed to this or exacerbated it. Maybe it’s the warm waters and climate change that are making it worse,” he said. “I suspect that Elsa may have pushed significant quantities of dead sealife into our bay, our waterways and into our canals, making this situation even worse.”
Kriseman emphasized that getting the fish out of the waterways is the top priority for the city, and that the most beneficial solution is to remove dead sea life before it comes onshore or washes into mangroves, where removal is more difficult.
“The longer these fish are allowed to be in the bay,” he said, “the worse it gets, because they give off nutrients that fuel this.”
Residents who see larger fish kills – such as dolphin or sea turtles – should report them to 727-893-7111, according to Kriseman. More information is available here.
City can also report fish kills through the See Click Fix app for the quickest response.
Red Tide Around the County
According to a release from the county on Wednesday, July 14, “red tide in some parts of Tampa Bay in the past few days tested at ten to 17 times the concentration considered ‘high,’ which can cause significant respiratory issues in people as well as fish kills.”
More than 600 tons of dead sea life has been removed around the county, according to the release, including in Tampa Bay, Boca Ciega Bay and the Intracoastal.
In addition to the high concentrations in Tampa Bay, the county reported that blooms also persist “along many beaches,” and advised residents to “follow health advisories for respiratory impacts.”
The county continues “large-scale” cleanup operations to “remove fish before they enter estuaries and canals.”
While concentrations along Pinellas beaches range from low to high, the impacts vary from day to day, according to the county. The Gulf beaches remain open and the county advises that “areas with lower levels of red tide are safe to visit, however, higher concentrations can cause health effects.”
Red tide can cause respiratory and other problems in people who are sensitive to it. The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas advises residents not to swim where they see dead fish. If you have chronic respiratory problems, be careful and consider staying away from areas where medium to high levels of red tide are reported.
Do not harvest or eat shellfish or distressed or dead fish in red tide locations, and keep your pets away from water, sea foam and dead sea life.
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, the FDOH – Pinellas says you may want to wear paper filter mask, especially if onshore winds are blowing.
Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 hotline for reporting illnesses, including health effects from exposure to red tide at 1-800-222-1222.
What You Need to Know
Pinellas County contributes to the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast tool for anyone considering a beach visit. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater maintains a beach status dashboard that also includes this information at beachesupdate.com.
Large fish kills have been reported in St. Petersburg and areas of the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Residents can report fish kills to FWC through the FWC Reporter app, by calling 800-636-0511 or by submitting a report online. Residents who find dead fish near their property can retrieve them with a skimmer and dispose of them with their regular trash or call their local municipality for additional guidance.
Fertilizer ban reminder: Red tide blooms can be worsened by excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. The county reminds residents that there is a ban on fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus through September 30, and phosphorus cannot be used any time of year unless a soil test confirms that it is needed.