Is red tide here? Tools to help beachgoers plan ahead

Karl Schneider
Fort Myers News-Press

Reports of red tide patches up and down the Southwest Florida coast have started trickling in, just as the Christmas and New Year's holidays begin, where beaches are a popular destination for residents and visitors.

In the past week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found background to high levels of Karenia brevis, the organism in red tide, in 54 samples in and offshore of Lee and Collier counties. FWC defines background levels as having no effects while high levels can potentially cause respiratory irritation, fish kills and water discoloration.

FWC also reported fish kills and respiratory irritation in Lee and Collier.

On Monday, Lee County’s health department sent out four health alerts relating to the presence of red tide. Blooms were reported at Lighthouse Beach Park and Tarpon Bay Road Beach on Sanibel, the South Seas Plantation Beach Access on Captiva, Lynn Hall Park on Fort Myers Beach and Lover’s Key State Park in Estero.

“Some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms,” the alerts said. “Some individuals with breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe symptoms.”

Lee County Department of Health spokeswoman Tammy Yzaguirre provided a list of recommendations beachgoers should keep in mind if visiting a beach when red tide is present.

The department recommends that beachgoers:

  • Do not swim around dead fish at this location.
  • If you have chronic respiratory problems, be careful and consider staying away from this location as red tide can affect your breathing.
  • Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish and distressed or dead fish from this location. If fish are healthy, rinse fillets with tap or bottled water and throw out the guts.
  • Keep pets and livestock away from water, sea foam and dead sea life.
  • Residents living in beach areas are advised to close windows and run the air conditioner (making sure that the A/C filter is maintained according to manufacturer's specifications).
  • If outdoors, residents may choose to wear paper filter masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.

Beachgoers concerned with red tide also have a handful options to check current statuses before heading out.

More:Red tide patches move along Southwest Florida coast

More:Researchers warn red tide is back in Southwest Florida

FWC’s Red Tide Current Status

One of the more widely distributed resources is FWC’s daily sampling maps. Data from the previous eight days of sampling is shown on an interactive map.

Points on the map are color coded with details of the levels of red tide found in the samples. The markers show the user the location of the sample, the date the sample was taken and the cell count of Karenia brevis.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission updates its red tide maps with daily sampling data.

Website: myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide

GCOOS HAB Forecast

The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) produces an experimental harmful algal bloom forecast website detailing wind speed and direction based on data from the National Weather Service. It combines the wind data with red tide cell counts found in recent samples.

Each sampling marker also shows risk levels to help the user determine how prevalent effects from red tide could be.

The map is simple to use, just navigate to the website and click on the appropriate marker near the beach destination of your choice.

Website: habforecast.gcoos.org

More:Exposed to red tide? Scientists seek volunteers to learn long-term health effects

NCCOS HAB Monitoring System

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science produces daily satellite images with its monitoring system. The agency’s website provides images from the past two weeks so users can see how any blooms are moving around Southwest Florida.

The satellites can detect the presence of chlorophyll in the water, providing a kind of heat map of any harmful algal blooms.

NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science produce daily satellite images showing the presence of harmful algal bloom off the coast of Southwest Florida

Website: coastalscience.noaa.gov/research/stressor-impacts-mitigation/hab-monitoring-system/red-tide-from-satellite-for-southwest-florida

SO•COOL and MOTE Beach Conditions

The Sarasota Operations Coastal Oceans Observation Lab and Mote Marine Laboratory provide yet another map helpful for beachgoers. While not specifically dedicated to algae blooms, the website provides a plethora of information for beaches along Southwest Florida and the Panhandle

Air and water temperatures can be found on each map marker as will as any reports of respiratory irritation and dead fish.

Most reports are posted at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Website: visitbeaches.org

Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to kschneider@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk