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Red tide, dead fish persist in Tampa Bay region

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Posted at 1:13 AM, Jul 09, 2021

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Fish kills continue to show up throughout the Tampa Bay region, while experts are monitoring red tide.

Thursday, dozens of dead fish were spotted in Bayboro Bay, along with rays and blacktip sharks.

“I really haven’t seen a pile quite like that, the smell is formidable,” said Stuart Bowman, jogging by it. “I feel bad for the fish-eating the fish in the water.”

St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin tweeted city crews collected more than 10,000 dead fish, or about 6 tons, along shorelines and waterways the past week. They’ll continue the efforts.

“Earlier this morning there was also a loggerhead turtle that was discovered out here so we’re just continuing to see reports of significant amounts of dead fish up and down the coast of Tampa Bay, unfortunately,” said Maya Burke.

Burke is the assistant director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

“We’re not really seeing significant trends in terms of low dissolved oxygen and so this points to breva toxins that are the result of the that are the result of these high concentrations of red tide that are killing these fish species,” Burke said.

Burke said monitoring after Tropical Storm Elsa shows high levels of red tide throughout Pinellas County, Hillsborough County and Tampa Bay. Burke said it's early in the season to see red tide at these high concentrations.

“We did have some strong southeasterly winds that continued to push water up in Tampa Bay and just sort of continued to keep the red tide levels where they are or in some cases maybe a little bit higher,” Burke said.

FWC said red tide was present before the hurricane, and associated fish kills were documents. The agency stated, “It is possible that the recent wind and heavy rains could have exacerbated fish kills (either due to changes in water quality or due to ongoing bloom conditions), and/or that winds/currents could have concentrated dead fish in certain areas.”

The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and its partners are back to sampling and responding to new reported fish kills to learn if the deaths “…are due to red tide or the storm once we get samples back.”

Pinellas County said fish kills have been reported in St. Petersburg and around the Intra-Coastal waterway.

“It’s a broad fish kill, kills a lot of different types of fish and wildlife. So we’re seeing for example a lot of dead mullet, dead groupers, hard head catfish and some other species as well,” said Steven Murawski, Ph.D., a fisheries biologist and professor at the USF College of Marine Science.

Murawski said it’s not a short-term issue.

“It takes a while for this to work itself out so we’re likely to see more fish kills or at least a push of dead fish onto the beach for a while until basically we get either the bloom uses the nutrients in the water because it thrives on the nitrogen that’s in the water and so eventually these blooms play themselves out,” Murawki said.

Pinellas County said a Thursday flight showed patchy areas along the Gulf Coast and in Boca Ciega Bay, while satellite images show a red tide bloom along St. Petersburg’s coastline and within Boca Ciega Bay.

The county said water quality testing Thursday showed high levels of red tide at Treasure Island and Pass-a-Grille; medium levels of red tide at For DeSoto, Clearwater Beach, Sand Key, Indian Rocks and Madeira Beach; and very low levels at Fred Howard Park and Honeymoon Island. However, no beaches are closed right now and the county said the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County hasn’t issued any beach warning.

“The marine environment is a fragile environment and lots of these issues occur. We have to learn how to number one deal with them and number two we have to understand better how human activity can either amplify these things or damp them,” said Murawski.

Pinellas County said residents who find dead fish by their boat dock can dispose of them with the regular trash or call their local municipality for more guidance.