Red tide creeping south, high levels impacting Sarasota and Manatee counties

Red Tide

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (WFLA) – Red tide has been plaguing Tampa Bay and parts of Pinellas County for weeks. Now, the harmful algal bloom is making its way south.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s latest red tide sample map shows high concentrations of red tide from Anna Maria Island down to Turtle Beach on Siesta Key.

Officials with the Department of Health in Sarasota County posted red tide warning signs at all 16 beaches in the county.

“Red tide causes respiratory irritation, so as soon as we see the cell counts going up, we become worried and we want to make sure that the community understands that it can cause cold-like symptoms or even flu-like symptoms,” said Steve Huard with DOH Sarasota. “The great thing about it is, if you just remove yourself from the area, those symptoms typically go away very quickly,” he continued.

Further north on Longboat Key, dead fish is starting to wash ashore. Town officials tell 8 On Your Side they haven’t seen a great accumulation of dead fish so far.

Local restaurants along Sarasota Bay, however, say the fish kills are already impacting business. One of the chefs at Mar Vista restaurant tells 8 On Your Side the shoreline was covered in hundreds of pounds of dead fish. The largest was a 38-inch snook.

Photo courtesy: Michael Hall

“As the sun comes out and it gets hotter and hotter throughout the day, the smell gets worse and worse. The longer it sits there and builds up throughout the week, it will be putrid coming down here,” said Michael Hall who works on Longboat Key.

Suncoast Waterkeeper founder Justin Bloom has been keeping a close eye on how the harmful algal bloom is impacting the area.

“We are very concerned and Tampa Bay is very sick right now. This is the worst that anybody that I have been speaking with and in my recollection we haven’t seen it this bad in decades,” said Bloom. “We are really concerned about this fish kill basically further feeding red tide and making it worse. It is a vicious cycle and we don’t really see conditions improving in the near future in Tampa Bay,” he continued.

Bloom says the worst-case scenario would be a red tide bloom similar to what the Suncoast saw back in 2018.

“I don’t know how you get worse than that and I think that is what we are afraid of. Just from an environmental perspective, from a human health perspective, from an economic perspective.. those wounds are still felt by this community. They are still feeling that pain from a few years ago and are very concerned about it recurring,” said Bloom.

Hall, who got into the waterfront restaurant industry back in 2018, admits he is deeply concerned about conditions reaching a similar level.

“This will hurt everybody. Business from the wait staff down to the dishwashers. It is horrible,” said Hall. “It took a couple years to come back from the last one,” he continued.

FWC’s next complete red tide status report will be released this Friday.

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