Red tide taking a toll on fish in Lemon Bay

Charlotte Sun-HeraldOctober 12, 2012 

As if the stench and coughing caused by red tide algae is not enough, South Manasota Key property owners now are seeing dead fish drawn into Lemon Bay coves and marinas on the high tides.

"The fish started showing up Saturday," said Pam Orozco of the Chadwick Cove Marina and Resort. Hundreds of fish floated up in the marina cove with the incoming tides from Stump Pass.

"They keep coming," she added.

And the concentration of the toxic algae is thickening. This makes life -- and business -- unpleasant for Orozco and the five to six people who live on boats year-round at the 28-slip marina.

The concentrations of Karenia brevis -- the red tide alga -- are at low to medium levels, according to the latest samples collected and analyzed Tuesday by Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con

servation Commission.

The highest concentrations -- more than 100,000 cells of algae per liter of sea water -- were discovered off Venice Beach Monday. Fish kills have been reported from Manasota Key north to Casey Key, FWC red tide biologist Jennifer Wolnycorrect spelling said Wednesday.

Red tide now is being detected off Pinellas County, between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. However, not enough samples have been collected to determine if it's the same bloom that's plaguing southern Sarasota and Charlotte counties, Wolny said.

Locally, Gulf waters saw a major bloom in January 2007, and a January 2005 red tide bloom that lasted 13 months. Researchers have been tracking the present outbreak since Sept. 14, but Wolny said, "It's really the beginning of this bloom, and it's hard to put it into historic perspective."

Ken Conner, a 14-year Don Pedro islander, has been tracking the red tide and subsequent dead fish washing up on the barrier island. He said Wednesday fish kept washing up and the air was foul.

Both Sarasota and Charlotte counties have been cleaning up dead fish from public beaches.

Sarasota County spokesman Curt Preisser said Sarasota has removed more than 7 tons of fish from public beaches.

Cleaning the public beaches isn't helping Orozco or other waterfront property owners who see dead fish washing up in their backyards. Orozco and her neighbors have taken it upon themselves to clean up the dead fish -- and that's all she and others may expect.

"I called 911 and they scolded me," Orozco said. "I don't have a specific person who needs medical attention. We've tried to get ahold of the health department. You can't reach anyone."

Both Sarasota and Charlotte County officials say their counties' cleanups are restricted to public beaches.

"Our priority is Englewood Beach," Charlotte County Natural Resources Manager Andy Stevens said Tuesday. "We have no intention or direction to clean up waterways affected by the red tide."

Neither Preisser nor Stevens knew of any time when his respective county pulled dead fish from waterways in the wake of a red tide. Stevens said Charlotte County does not have the resources to do so.

However, officials say they do consider cleaning private-property beach fronts if the health department issues a serious health alert.

Tom Higginbotham, Sarasota County Health Department environmental health administrator, cautioned people with asthma or chronic respiratory impairments to avoid going to the beach. He urged them to stay indoors to avoid the irritations from red tide in the air. People with asthma or chronic respiratory impairments may experience heightened symptoms associated with red tide when winds are blowing onshore.

Red tide samples also are tested for enterococcus bacteria, which occur naturally. With the dead fish, high concentrations of the bacteria can erupt. Higginbotham said high concentrations can cause illness if people come into contact with the bacteria.

The bacteria levels hadn't reached that threshold for an alert, he said.

Most of the fish floating up in Englewood have been relatively small. But Zoe Bass -- who oversees Coastal Wildlife Club sea turtle patrols -- photographed a goliath grouper Tuesday that washed up on Manasota Key. It was longer than the 3-foot stakes used to mark sea turtle nests.

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