Samples of water collected by Pinellas County and Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) on Tuesday indicate low to medium levels of the red tide organism (Karenia brevis) in multiple St. Petersburg and Clearwater area beaches.
Red tide is a higher than normal concentration of microscopic algae that can produce toxic chemicals. It can affect marine life and people. The airborne toxins can lead to respiratory irritation.
FWC said it’s safe to swim, but doing so can cause some people to suffer skin irritation and burning eyes. It can also contaminate shellfish. And if the red tide is really bad, the smell of dead and rotting fish and other marine life may be a deterrent to even going on the beach.
In its latest update on May 9, the FWC said that in Southwest Florida, K. brevis was observed in five samples from Pinellas County, three samples from Hillsborough County, three samples from Manatee County, one sample from Lee County, and three samples from Collier County.
K. brevis was not detected in Northwest Florida or along the East Coast of Florida.
In Southwest Florida over the past week, fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were reported in Pinellas, Manatee, Lee, and Collier counties, as well as respiratory irritation, suspected to be due to the red tide in some folks in Pinellas County.
Elevated levels of Red Tide in parts of Tampa Bay
The Tampa Bay Times notes that with parts of Tampa Bay showing elevated levels of red tide organisms last week, Hillsborough County health officials are advising people against swimming in certain areas.
There is good cause for concern by officials. One area where samples showed medium levels of red tide organisms was near the Hillsborough-Manatee border where more than 200 million gallons of wastewater were discharged in early April from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property.
“It’s sort of a worst-case scenario for us right now going into the rainy season,” said Ed Sherwood, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
Runoff from storms typically washes pollution into the water. But the Piney Point release makes this season different. “It’s basically been seeded or fertilized already,” Sherwood said.
The local health department has already sent out a health advisory – advising people not to swim close to dead fish, to be careful or stay away from the water if they suffer from chronic respiratory problems and — if they catch healthy fish in the area — to rinse fillets with clean water and throw out the guts.