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Environmental leaders say red tide bloom could last for months

Dead fish due to red tide in Pinellas County, Florida on 7/13/2021
Red tide leading to fish kills in Pinellas County waters
Posted at 5:35 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 23:39:49-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Some Tampa Bay area environmental leaders are calling the current red tide bloom the worst we’ve seen in 50 years in the bay area and it may be here to stay for a while.

Red tide in some parts of Tampa Bay in the past few days tested at ten to 17 times the concentration considered “high.” When red tide reaches high concentration, it can cause significant respiratory issues in people, as well as fish kills, according to Pinellas County leaders.

One of the biggest concerns is how early this red tide bloom developed. With several months of hot weather ahead, the bloom could continue to cause fish kills for months.

“Here we are in July,” Pinellas County Public Works Director Kelli Hammer-Levy, explained, “We haven’t even gotten to the hottest months of the year. What does August look like? What does September look like? In 2018, the red tide issues didn’t hit us until August.”

At Bada Bing Water Sports in downtown St. Petersburg, jet skis and kayaks sit untouched due to the growing red tide bloom.

“It’s affected our business tremendously being on the water,” owner Douglas Byrd said.

Byrd is doing everything he can to prevent laying off his employees. Every day he watches as crews scoop up dead sea life, only to be replaced by thousands more.

“It’s impossible. There’s just so many dead fish and it keeps on happening,” he said.

At nearby Driftwood Cafe at the St. Pete Pier, business isn’t as negatively affected, according to employee Hailey Hanrahan. Yet, her new normal consists of constantly explaining to tourists why they’re seeing so many dead fish.

“Honestly, I don’t even know what normal is any more. We just play it day by day,” Hanrahan added.

In just the past month, crews in Pinellas County have picked up 614 tons of dead fish. That’s the equivalent to the weight of 36 fully loaded school buses.

At a meeting Tuesday, state DEP and FWC leaders committed to investing more money into cleanup and prevention measures. Shawn Hamilton, the interim Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection offered state support to Tampa Bay leaders.

“We’re committed to continue doing everything we can to identify additional sources," he said.

Pinellas County has already invested a million dollars on cleanup and officials tell ABC Action News they’re applying for grants to keep those efforts underway.