The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been tracking a harmful algae bloom known as red tide off the Florida coast that has led to fish kills and respiratory irritation as travelers have been flocking to the Sunshine State in search of sunshine and warm temperatures.
The red tide was initially observed in the days after Hurricane Ian-impacted areas around Fort Myers and has grown throughout the winter.
Red tide current status
According to FWC's current sampling over the past week, the red tide organism, Karenia breves, was detected in 96 samples collected along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Officials say that red tide bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were present in 16 samples. One was offshore of Pasco County, one was in Pinellas County, two were in Manatee County, one was in Sarasota County, six were in Charlotte County, four were in Lee County and one was in Collier County.
Let's break down each region as we track the red tide in Florida:
Over the past week in Southwestern Florida, red tide was observed in background to medium concentrations in and offshore of Pinellas, Lee, Collier and Sarasota Counties, very low to medium concentrations in Manatee County, background to high concentrations in Charlotte County, and background concentrations offshore of Monroe County, according to the FWC.
Over the past week in northwestern Florida, red tide was observed at background concentrations in Santa Rosa County, and low and medium concentrations in and offshore of Pasco County.
East Coast of Florida
Red tide was not observed along Florida’s east coast over the past week.
Reported fish kills that are believed to be related to red tide were received in southwestern Florida over the past week from Manatee, Sarasota and Collier counties, according to the FWC.
If you’re in those areas, you can report fish kills by clicking here.
In addition to the red tide and fish kills, there have been reports of respiratory irritations along Florida’s southwestern coast in Manatee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties.
There are some helpful websites to track recent and current information at individual beaches, and show forecasts that use FWC and partner data.
NOAA scientists had been warning people about the risk of developing respiratory issues due to red tide.
"If you are starting in the parking lot, when you hit the dune crest going over to the beach at a place that has a risk, you're likely to be coughing at that point," explained NOAA oceanographer Rick Stumpf. "I can be quite miserable at the beach. If you have asthma, it could be worse, significantly worse."
Stumpf said that he feels like he has a cold when exposed to red tide. His nose runs, and his sinuses bother him. After leaving the beach and sitting in his car with the air conditioner running for a few minutes, the symptoms subside. Anyone with a respiratory illness could suffer worse.