Red tide counts growing along Southwest Florida coast; fish kills reported in Collier
Red tide is rearing it ugly head again off Lee and Collier counties, and concentrations are high enough to cause fish kills and breathing issues in humans.
Caused by the organism Karenia brevis, red tide occurs naturally in the Gulf of Mexico but is thought by many water quality scientists to be fed by excess nutrients running off the landscape.
"We have received reports of dead fish for several locations in Collier County including Barefoot Beach, Naples Bay near the Gordon River and by the Naples Pier," said Kelly Richmond, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman. "Mullet appeared to be the most affected species but other unidentified fish have also been reported dead."
Counts ranged this week in south Lee and Collier counties from normal background levels to more than 100,000 cells per liter, which is enough to cause fish kills and breathing issues in humans, marine mammals and sea turtles.
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"My Tarpon Beach sample had 130,000 Karenia cells per liter," said Rick Bartleson, a scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. "That may have come from the patch to the southeast since the wind is blowing that way."
A patch of red tide has been lingering off the coast of Sanibel for at least a week, and another has been offshore of Naples for several days, according to federal satellite reports.
Hundreds of dead fish washed up on several Collier beaches earlier this week.
Heavy east winds in recent weeks have likely kept any bloom conditions offshore, Bartleson said.
Onshore winds typically bring all the dead wildlife to the coast and can drive airborne particles a mile or more inshore.
A devastating red tide outbreak that stretched from the fall of 2017 through this past spring wrecked the local tourism, real estate and recreational fishing industries.
Hundreds of dead dolphins and sea turtles were recovered, and millions of pounds of dead sea life were collected along Lee County beaches.
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Dead fish, eels and even a whale shark lined local coastlines, and beaches and beach businesses were largely empty for months.
Water clarity along the coast has been good in recent months, but a red tide bloom could change that quickly if conditions persist.
"It's around," Bartleson said. "An east wind would help because (red tide) can't accumulate at the surface."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there will be breathing irritation in people with chronic respiratory illnesses and those who are sensitive to red tide over the next three days in the Naples area.
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The University of South Florida's College of Marine Science predicts that red tide will move to the northwest over the next few days.
Richmond said FWC is working with various groups and agencies to keep tabs on red tide.
"We continue to monitor and sample those locations and throughout Florida as well as working closely with our partners to ensure we can provide the most current data to inform the public," Richmond said.
Fish kills can be reported at MyFWC.com/FishKill, or by calling FWC at (800) 636-0511.
Connect with this reporter: @ChadGillisNP on Twitter.