Red tide fading across Southwest Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ida

Chad Gillis
Fort Myers News-Press

A red tide that's lingered along the coastline for several weeks is nearly gone after Hurricane Ida raged through the Gulf of Mexico and sent high wave action toward Southwest Florida. 

Measurements in the Tampa Bay area south to Sarasota have shown red tide levels of 1 million cells per liter and higher recently, but Thursday's report shows only background concentrations from the bay area south to Lee County waters. 

"It did get bad on the south shore of Tampa Bay for about two weeks, but then, as we usually do, we had these east and southeasterly winds that blew everything over to St. Pete," said Tampa-area fishing guide Matt Santiago. "But honestly it's back to normal, and I'm sure the storm probably helped." 

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Before making landfall in Louisiana last weekend, Hurricane Ida tore through the Gulf of Mexico, sending massive waves and even some rain to Southwest Florida. 

Wave action from cold fronts is typically what breaks up red tide outbreaks over the winter and early spring, experts say. 

Santiago and others in the area say red tide in Tampa Bay was starting to diminish and that Hurricane Ida was hopefully the final punch. 

Red tide report today

Fish kills and breathing irritation in humans start when counts reach 100,000 cells per liter, or about 10% of the concentrations that have been found along the coast recently.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, of FWC, is the agency in charge of tracking red tides outbreaks and reporting those results to the public. 

FWC's latest report shows a small area of red tide still present in the Clearwater area. Red tide has stayed at normal, background concentrations in Collier County.

A particularly nasty red tide bloom that spanned from the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2019 engulfed the Lee County region and killed million of pounds of sea life, all of which had to be removed by bulldozers, rakes and hands. 

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An anglers jumps a tarpon in Tampa Bay recently. A red tide outbreaks that's been lingering there and along the Southwest Florida coast for weeks is fading in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Matt Ercoli

Storm runoff could refuel red tide bloom, trigger a new one

Matt Ercoli operates charters from Lee County to Tampa Bay and said the red tide bloom was fading even before the storm. 

He said runoff from the storm could refuel the bloom or trigger a different one. 

"I've got guys fishing Boca Grande and in Tampa Bay," Ercoli said. "The north bay must have a little (red tide). Hurricanes can have a flushing effect, but the problem with rain is you get a lot of runoff and it fertilizes the water in a month or two weeks." 

Although red tide seems to be waning, the Center for the Rehabilitation for Wildlife, or CROW, on Sanibel has been getting a steady flow of patients thought to be sick from red tide. 

"We have admitted 11 wading birds, seven shorebirds/seabirds, six smaller shorebirds (sandpipers, etc.), and one raptor (an osprey) with suspected red tide poisoning," CROW spokeswoman Haillie Mesics wrote in an email to The News-Press. 

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Santiago said the fishing in his region has been solid in recent weeks.

"Our residential fish are all over the place," Santiago said of Tampa Bay waters. "Red tide pushed out, I don't think it killed them, but it pushed out a lot of our sardines and threadfin herring to the Gulf of Mexico, and that's our go-to bait. But now there's not one threadfin herring in the bay." 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.