One day, the red tide is not so bad, the next day it’s awful. Blame the weather

A look at red tide on Manatee County beaches Sept. 15, 2018

Red tide has again washed up several dead fish onto Anna Maria Island beaches in Manatee County on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.
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Red tide has again washed up several dead fish onto Anna Maria Island beaches in Manatee County on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

If you’ve braved the beaches in Manatee County only to find red tide symptoms not too bad one day and severe the next, the weather has a lot to do with it.

But make no mistake, the devastating algae bloom continues to persist.

According to the latest update from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission released Wednesday, red tide continues to affect 135 miles of Gulf Coast beaches from northern Pinellas County to northern Collier County to the south. It currently extends 10 or more miles offshore.

Multiple fish and other sea life kills continue to be reported. Manatee County shows signs of red tide decreasing, but samples also continue to show the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, in the highest concentration levels.

The number of storms in recent weeks rushing over Anna Maria Island resulted in a Catch-22 situation for the red tide still impacting the shorelines of Manatee County.

While it’s generally believed a good rainfall and strong offshore winds can help dissipate red tide, in reality it is only lessening the symptoms by pushing the odor of dead fish and potential respiratory irritation issues out to sea. However, through Stephannie Kettle, public relations manager at Mote Marine, Mote scientists explain how too much rain could make the red tide worse.

“A significant weather system could help to stir up the water column, possibly helping to disperse the cells. However, additional rains could bring additional nutrients into the coastal waters, which could help the red tide persist,” Kettle explained. “Much of the reason that the red tide bloom seems to wane and then come back, has to do with wind direction. Offshore winds can push the bloom a little bit offshore, as well as the aerosolized brevetoxins, providing relief from respiratory irritation and seeing clearer water at the beach. However, as winds shift back onshore, the bloom can move closer once again, and the winds can blow aerosolized brevetoxins back onto shore.”

In short, red tide can appear to be getting better but until samples show significant drops in the amount of K. brevis in the water, it’s still there and there is no way to know for sure when it will make a much-welcomed departure.

Thus far, Mote reports the recovery of 20 deceased bottlenose dolphins since August and 10 have been confirmed to have died from red tide toxins. The sheer number of dolphin deaths resulted in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare the deaths in Southwest Florida as an “Unusual Mortality Event.”

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Mote Stranding Investigations Program Manager Gretchen Lovewell has since been designated by NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional administrator as the on-site coordinator for the UME to provide on-site leadership and expertise, evaluate the response, coordinate data management, and compile results of data from partner organizations.

Mote has recovered 160 dead sea turtles since July and 47 manatees have died as a result of red tide since the beginning of the year in Lee, Sarasota, Manatee, Collier and Charlotte counties alone, keeping in mind that this particular bloom has been present since last October.

Seven have died as of Sept. 7, but none since then have been directly tied to red tide, with the cause of most of the deaths being reported as undetermined due to the remains being badly decomposed.

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“Once again, winds play a factor in the amount of deceased wildlife we see on our shores/beaches,” Kettle reports from her team. “Winds blowing offshore will keep deceased animals away, and as the winds shift back onshore, we start to see more reports of deceased marine life.”

Mote and their partners are also working to address the snook fisheries being devastated by red tide and plan to release 10,000 juvenile snook into affected areas during a two-year enhancement project once the red tide subsides.

Mote and Florida International University scientists are working together to find more effective red tide treatments for manatees affected by the red tide toxins.

As for the future?

“It is very difficult to predict what will happen in the future with an ongoing red tide bloom,” the Mote scientific team reports. “Mote continues monitoring efforts, in collaboration with other partners.”