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Red tide rears its ugly head, again. Sea turtles, fish and other sea life dying Fort Myers News-Press

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Red tide is back, but will it hurt season again?

While every season has its ups and downs, Melissa Schneider is feeling optimistic that this year will be "very, very different" from the devastating tide that hit last year.

Some area business representatives like Schneider, who is the marketing director for the Lani Kai Island Resort on Fort Myers Beach, are feeling relatively relieved about this year's wave of red tide after 2018's disastrous stint with the algae bloom. Last year's red tide washed into many areas of Southwest Florida, emptying beaches and hitting hoteliers' booking numbers hard. It didn't help that it came at the same time as a blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River and many area canals.

"I’m optimistic that this will be a short bout," she said. 

Red tide, which can cause respiratory issues in humans and animals, has hit Southwest Florida once again but to a lesser degree than that of last year. Experts have stated that the tide spell represents more of a normal year when compared to 2018. 

Recently: Respiratory irritation possible from Bonita Beach to Marco Island through the weekend, county says

Still, dead fish have washed up recently on Fort Myers Beach and some Collier County beaches.

Recent counts from around the coast have varied from normal to that of 1 million cells per liter or higher. Negative health effects for both humans and animals can occur when counts come in at 10,000 cells per liter. Red tide can also cause skin irritation and burning eyes for swimmers. 

Despite being more manageable so far, it isn't all sunshine and clear waters. Dead sea turtles and fish are popping up, and recent red tide concentrations could cause symptoms in beach-goers or coastal residents, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

After last year, red tide concern still lingers in Collier, Lee County

According to Brett Gooch, the general manager of 'Tween Waters Island Resort and West Wind Inn on Captiva and Sanibel Island, people are cautious following 2018's fiasco. 

"Everyone's got their ears up because of what happened last year," he said. "But that's kind of a case of recency bias." 

There hasn't been any noticeable dip in bookings so far, Gooch stated. 

Anita Cereceda, the Town of Fort Myers Beach mayor and local business owner, said that while the town is doing everything in its power to remove debris from beaches and mitigate the impact, there are still worries surrounding the algae. 

Previous coverage: Tropical Storm Nestor may have pushed red tide inland across Southwest Florida with onshore winds

"(Red tide) is always concerning," Cereceda said. "Nobody likes it ... It was just a couple of weeks ago that people were talking about how beautiful it was here and how clear the waters are and all of a sudden we get a blast of red tide ... I am hoping it will be short lived."

She said it's mostly the center of the island that has been impacted with a lot of algae, dead crabs and "stuff that gets good and smelly when the sun hits it."

Cereceda owns the Local Color and Pier Peddler shops in the Times Square area and The Islander on the south side of the island. 

"I have customers who are staying in rental homes in the middle of the island who have said in no uncertain terms how upset they were," she said.

Jack Wert, the executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that while this year's red tide is not a major "issue," some impact has been felt. 

Naples Beach Hotel reported that they have had an odor of dead fish around the business in the past few days, according to Wert. While the smell hasn't resulted in any cancellations so far, there has been a dip in food and beverage sales at the hotel. 

Overall, though, the businesses Wert has heard from have reported little to no changes in usual sales. He noted that with stone crab season just starting up, Grimm's Stone Crab in Everglades City has reported that the catch has been good so far. Grimm's operates and owns its own stone crab boat fleet.

So far this year, 2018’s red tide hasn't deterred too many visitors from coming to Collier County. 

When directly comparing the nine-month period of January to September in both years, Collier's number of overnight visitors has increased by 5%, hotel room nights have increased by 5.7% and visitor spending has increased by 7.5%, according to data collected by the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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Business community feels hopeful about new wave of red tide

For Jacki Liszak, the president and CEO of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and owner of the beach's Sea Gypsy Inn, it's pretty much "business as usual." 

According to Liszak, she's heard that a few area lodgings have reported cancellations but nothing major. At the Sea Gypsy Inn, she is aware of just one cancellation so far due to the red tide threat. She said the person called asking about the red tide conditions and said they already had respiratory issues.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach is "on top of it" when it comes to red tide, and they've "responded quickly to any issues," according to Liszak. 

NOAA: More funding needed to better understand red tide blooms in Southwest Florida

She also noted that people are more educated now on red tide and its possible impact, so they know how to react. 

"I'm very optimistic and very pleased with all of the information that is coming out from all the different sources," she said. 

Schneider said she feels "fortunate" that this year's red tide has come to Southwest Florida a little bit later in the summer.

"I'm optimistic that with the cooler weather, it will help eradicate any levels that are showing," said Schneider, who also stated she hasn't been aware of cancellations or notable booking declines at Lani Kai due to red tide. "It's not anywhere near what it was last year."

Reach Andrew Wigdor at awigdor@gannett.com and on Twitter @andrew_wigdor

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