MANATEE -- Manatee and Sarasota county government offices, along with local marine researchers, are working together to protect beachgoers from red tide moving north along Southwest Florida's coastline.
A beach condition report released Friday by Mote Marine Laboratory showed visitors in Sarasota and parts of Manatee experienced respiratory irritation caused by red tide's airborne toxins blowing ashore along with dead fish being found at several beaches.
Red tide blooms result when the water temperature and salinity reach a certain point. In higher concentrations, it can cause respiratory distress.
Manatee officials said red tide in Manatee has been minimal, although one of the beaches mentioned in Friday's report as experiencing "slight respiratory irritation" was Coquina Beach, on Anna Maria Island.
"Our Parks Operations Manager reported his crews still have not seen evidence of red tide on our islands, but will be monitoring regularly and removing any sea life that washes ashore," said Nick Azzara, county spokesperson.
Azzara said county staff had to remove a large number
of male mullet that washed ashore, but it is more likely due to mullet harvesting.
Dianne Shipley, media liaison for the Sarasota County Health Department, said signs have been posted at county beaches to warn visitors of red tide. In areas with red tide, people may experience coughing, sneezing, a scratchy throat or teary eyes. These effects should be temporary and go away when those affected leave the beach. Red tide can trigger symptoms and potentially cause serious illness for people with asthma or other chronic respiratory impairments.
"They need to be careful when they go to the beach and check beach reports before they go," she said.
Shipley said pet owners should also take precautions when bringing their pets to the beach. According to the Mote report, dogs that lick their fur or paws after swimming in red tide areas, or eat dead fish on the beach, may experience gastrointestinal illness or other symptoms.
Of the beaches affected in Sarasota are Siesta Beach, Nokomis Beach and Venice Beach. Hayley Rutger, spokesperson for Mote, said the appearance of red tide depends on winds and weather conditions.
"We're hoping it remains low and dissipates altogether," Azzara said.
Sarasota County staff members, working with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Offenders Work Program, removed dead fish from county-owned beaches Friday and will continue to clean up beaches today.
Residents and visitors can listen to Mote's beach report via telephone by calling 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437).
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7049.Twitter:@_1NickWilliams.