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Red tide is causing fish kills along Pinellas beaches

Red Tide found off Cayo Costa, near Fort Myers, in November
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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Red Tide found off Cayo Costa, near Fort Myers, in November

But winds from the north expected during a major cold front coming through on Thursday should push the red tide offshore or back to the south, away from Pinellas beaches.

Workers continue to scoop dead fish from beaches in southern Pinellas County after the latest outbreak of red tide. But we may see some relief when a cold front passes through later this week.

More than 1,500 pounds of dead fish were shoveled off Pass-a-Grille Beach since last weekend. The culprit is a bloom of red tide that has drifted north from the Fort Myers area since Hurricane Ian flooded inland parts of the state.

Kate Hubbard is director of red tide research for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"The bloom in particular is impacting beaches in the southern part of Pinellas County," she said. "So what we have right now is a fairly localized patch. It does extend further south, we've seen it move up north over time. We're continuing to track it."

Hubbard says it's hard to predict whether the bloom will get worse. But she expects winds from the north anticipated during a major cold front coming through on Thursday, should push the red tide offshore or back to the south, away from Pinellas beaches.

The latest outbreak of red tide affecting southern Pinellas County beaches can be traced back in part to Hurricane Ian.

There were no reports of fish kills until Ian struck southwest Florida. The storm flooded areas far inland, and pollution and nutrients washed into the Gulf when it receded, feeding offshore algae blooms.

"This year, the hard part was Ian passing through. It left a lot of destruction," Hubbard said. "And so I think it's going to take a while before we fully understand the impact of that on the ecosystem at large and taking it one step further, to thinking about what that might have done for algae and red tide."

High levels of red tide were reported last week at Maximo Park in southern St. Petersburg, with moderate concentrations at Pass-a-Grille, Treasure Island and John's Pass. People with respiratory conditions are warned to stay away from those beaches and stay inside with the air conditioning on.

A worker takes a sample of red tide
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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Researchers at the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission take samples of red tide

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.