Charlotte County health officials issued a red tide alert near Whidden Key, east of Lemon Bay and Buccaneer Bend. The water sample was taken a week ago.
When Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani sees it, it reminds him of the last time a hurricane hit Southwest Florida. After Irma, a red tide went up and down the coast for about two years.
“It looks a little like a repeat of what happened. After Irma, we had a lot of rain associated with a hurricane that put a lot of nutrients into the water, other pollutants, gas and oil and stuff,” Cassani said.
No fish near shore yet, but photos show the gulf is a color wheel of red, brown, green, and blue.
“It seems pretty widely distributed right now near the coast,” Cassani said.
Cassani said it appears to be at the beginning of flowering.
Then, Cassani said, come the casualties in fish and other marine life.
Billy Rinehold, with Decks and Docks Lumber, took videos of the water surface. He said he saw consistent dead fish from Boca Grande to Sanibel.
And Florida Fish and Wildlife’s red tide map shows the groups hugging the coast.
Cassani explains why: “When you get close to the coast, which is really dangerous for coastal communities, that’s where the nutrients are often the highest, and it’s just in response to those high nutrients that the cell density continues to increase.”
Red tide has been found along the SWFL coast.
“I’ve had reports of fish kills from east of Charlotte Harbor to the south end of Sanibel,” Cassani said.
Looking ahead, what can we expect?
“It’s hard to predict how long it’s going to last, how bad it’s going to get,” Cassani said. “There are a lot of dynamic factors that affect the bloom. Unfortunately, if it’s something like Irma it’s going to be around for a while. And that’s very unsettling.”
Cassani said he expects some cold fronts to move through the area to push it back.
The public should exercise caution in and around these areas.
Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:
- Look for informational signage posted on most beaches.
- Stay away from water and do not swim in waters with dead fish.
- People with chronic respiratory problems should be especially careful and stay away from this place, as red tide can affect your breathing.
- Do not harvest or eat distressed or dead shellfish or fish from this site. If caught alive and healthy, fish are safe to eat as long as they are filleted and gutted. Rinse the fillets with tap or bottled water.
- Wash your skin and clothing with soap and fresh water if you have recently had contact with red tide.
- Keep pets and livestock away and out of water, sea foam and dead marine life. If your pet swims in red tide waters, wash them as soon as possible.
- Residents living in beach areas are advised to close windows and run air conditioners, making sure the air conditioner filter is maintained to manufacturer specifications.
- If outdoors near an affected location, residents may choose to wear masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.