Hundreds of dead mullet lined the sandy floor of Robinson Preserve’s waterways fed by Tampa Bay on Tuesday morning. Others could be seen swimming upside down or in circles, disoriented and dying.
“It’s such a shame,” and “What a terrible waste,” could be heard by those walking across the bridges near the watch tower that oversaw it all. “How sad,” yet another walker said.
Staff at the park could only guess at what happened, citing the front that moved in overnight as possibly changing wind direction, sweeping the lingering remnants of red tide from the bay and into the preserve. One volunteer said he was there Monday afternoon and all was well. He arrived Tuesday morning to the sight of hundreds of dead and dying fish.
“It’s never happened here before,” he said.
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The presence of red tide was initially hard to detect, but as those enjoying the county’s most popular preserve spent more time on the back trails, the familiar symptoms of an itchy, sore sensation in the back of the throat left little doubt as to red tide being the culprit for those walking the preserve.
Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said everyone was hopeful red tide wouldn’t get that far, “But it doesn’t surprise me we have succumbed to the extent of the destruction that has found its way up to the Manatee River slightly and especially Palma Sola Bay, which is a source of entry into the preserve.”
Hunsicker said the fish kill was a surprise, however.
“These areas have not seen an incoming tide rush into our bays and I always felt that due to the limited flow inlets, we stood a better chance,” Hunsicker said. “Our closed estuaries were always vulnerable and we have been lucky up until now. It’s disappointing that red tide has reached our back bay areas, but not surprising.”
Hunsicker said his staff is still evaluating the situation to determine the extent of the damage, which could be significant because the mullet school in the bays and tributaries until low temperature fronts trigger their natural instinct to spawn offshore. What kind of cleanup will be needed, if any, is yet to be determined.
Hunsicker said any public access point affected by dead fish would be cleaned but for the most part, Mother Nature will dispose of the dead as only Mother Nature can do.
The latest mass fish kill comes on the tail of recent reports that the presence of Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for red tide, appeared to be dissipating offshore of Anna Maria Island. The latest update, which was released Nov. 30, showed no high concentrations and that it was generally decreasing in Manatee County.
Concentrations have been dropping for weeks, but Tuesday’s fish kill in the preserve is a reminder that it is still there and even low concentrations can be deadly to fish in smaller waterways.
Terry and Robert Taylor walk their dogs at Robinson Preserve a couple of times a week. With property on Anna Maria Island, they have been no strangers to the red tide menace that has been around since October of 2017, but began to significantly impact Manatee County over the summer.
“We normally walk a couple of times a week, but not today,” said Terry Taylor. “We had to turn back. It’s too depressing.”