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Red Tide floats toward Pinellas

Published August 4, 2006

The Red Tide that has plagued Lee and Collier counties since last month is slowly moving north, and scientists say it could reach Pinellas County’s beaches before the summer is over.

Samples collected this week at Blind Pass Beach on Manasota Key had very high cell counts,  while high concentrations were found at Manasota Beach, which is on the border between Sarasota and Charlotte, according to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Mote scientists expect the Red Tide to reach the Sarasota area by next week.

“It’s moving north,” Mote spokeswoman Nadine Slimak said Friday. “But it’s not near you guys yet.”
Beach visitors in the Englewood area reported seeing dead fish and some experienced respiratory irritation, Mote scientists noted.

Red Tide is the common name for a bloom of microscopic algae, officially called Karenia brevis, that releases a toxin that can kill fish and cause coughing, sneezing and watery eyes in humans.

Last month, Mote and FWRI convened a summit of scientists to discuss Red Tide. They also posted an online survey so the public could comment on research priorities.

By far, the top priority listed was to determine why Red Tide blooms start, why they continue and why they end. The people who filled out the surveys also want to know whether nutrient pollution in storm runoff is making Red Tide worse.

Last year’s Red Tide outbreak was believed to the worst since 1971. Scientists blamed it for smothering vast stretches of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and killing manatees, sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins.

“Last year it was really bad with the smell,” said Sean Miller, beach service manager at the Sirata Beach Resort Hotel in St. Pete Beach. “There was just a lot of coughing and sneezing with the staff and guests.”

Miller said the hotel is ready should Red Tide return this year. “We will have little pamphlets for the customers if it actually hits, and they can get them from the concierge,” he said. “But we’re not informing anyone unless it actually does happen, because we don’t want to scare people.”

St. Pete Beach officials “are really hoping it won’t come,” because it hurts the town’s tourist-based economy, said city spokeswoman Natalie Strong.

Although the current outbreak stretches from Collier County to southern Sarasota County, it’s not one long, unbroken carpet of harmful algae, said Slimak of Mote Marine.

“It’s really patchy,” she said. So far, the highest concentrations are still in the waters around Pine Island Sound in Lee County.

[Last modified August 4, 2006, 21:37:14]

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