Florida algae crisis: Dead sea turtle count at 400; Lee County opens fish disposal sites

Chad Gillis
The News-Press
Dead sea life is washing up on the shores of Southwest Florida. Deaths are most likely caused from a red tide outbreak that is off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

The number of dead manatees and sea turtles continues to climb as red tide strangles the life out of coastal Southwest Florida waters. 

Bloom conditions started in November, and 400 stranded and dead sea turtles have been pulled from Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Sarasota county waters. 

Lee County leads the way with 165 stranded and dead sea turtles. Collier accounted for 97 of those turtles. 

A manatee that likely died due to red tide poisoning was retrieved from the Cape Coral Yacht Club on Tuesday while hundreds of residents and visitors were expressing their anger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at a meeting nearby. 

More:Hundreds of sea turtles washing up dead on SWFL beaches; red tide likely killer

More:Army Corps of Engineers meets with Cape Coral residents about algae crisis

More:Red tide likely killed whale shark that washed up on Sanibel

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"There was one dead female manatee," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Michelle Kerr. "The cause of death is not determined yet, but it was found in a location with high concentrations of red tide. There was speculation that the manatee had a baby, a calf with her. She did not. She was actually found in a mating herd." 

The FWC found the manatee, tied a rope to its tail and dragged it to the boat ramp before a truck hauling a trailer was lowered into the water to retrieve the carcass. 

The red tide has been lingered along the coast since November and may persist into 2019 since it's typically broken up by cold fronts. 

It's been centered mostly around Sanibel and northern Lee County waters but at times has reached from the Tampa Bay area to the Florida Keys. 

Fish kills were cleaned up in Collier County on Tuesday as well. 

Counts have ranged from natural background levels to 1 million cells per liter and higher.

Fish kills and breathing irritation in humans can start when counts reach 10,000 cells per liter, according to the FWC. 

A report released by FWC Wednesday shows counts of 1 million cells per liter from Sarasota to Naples. 

To the south, in Estero Bay, Florida Gulf Coast University marine researcher Bob Wasno lead a trip of 27 high school students and found varying conditions. 

At first, he said, he was seeing baitfish and mullet — fish that had likely died days before and were being washed in with the tide. 

Then he captained the boat to the south end of Lover's Key State Park. 

"There’s lots of dead everything here," Wasno said. "I’m watching a sea trout die right at my feet. There’s mullet, snook, pinfish, seasnakes, small grouper, and there’s a lot of it. And it's looking very, very fresh."

Local beaches have been pretty sparse this week due largely to poor water quality conditions. 

Signs at beach accesses on Fort Myers Beach advertise that the town's community pool on Oak Street has dropped its admission fee because of the toxic waters. 

"Because of the conditions at the beach, at this time the city manager and mayor and City Council chose to offer some type of water relief for our visitors and residents," said Sean DePalma, the town's parks and recreation director. "The fee is waived today and probably will be" for the rest of the week. 

DePalma said the pool is seeing about 55 more visitors than on the same day last summer. 

At the north end of Fort Myers Beach, at Bowditch Point Park, a German couple sat in beach chairs near a band of drift algae. 

"This is the first time we've seen it like this," said Wolfgan Butenschoen, who is staying with his wife in Cape Coral for three weeks. "We read about it while we were still in Germany, about all the things on the beach. Now we're worried about the dolphins." 

Butenschoen said he and his wife plan to stay for all three weeks. 

"I think we are supporting the area by staying," Butenschoen said. "And we will come back." 

Connect with this reporter: Chad Gillis on Twitter. 

Where to put dead fish

Lee County opened up the following locations Wednesday for fish disposal: 

Lynn Hall Memorial Beach Park

950 Estero Blvd. 

Fort Myers Beach 

Crescent Beach Family Park

1100 Estero Blvd.

Fort Myers Beach

Bowditch Point Beach Park

50 Estero Blvd.

Fort Myers Beach

Seven7th Street Beach Accesss

Seventh St. W.

Boca Grande

Lynn Hall Memorial Beach Park

950 Estero Blvd.

Fort Myers Beach

Bowditch Point Beach Park

50 Estero Blvd.

Fort Myers Beach

Causeway Islands

19931 Sanibel Causeway Road 


Bonita Beach access 10

26082 Hickory Blvd.

Bonita Springs


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