Reports about dead fish washing up on the shore of neighboring Sanibel Island had some of our readers concerned that Fort Myers Beach may experience red tide this coming holiday weekend. However, after speaking with Town Environmental Technician Rae Blake, we were assured that is highly unlikely.
“I checked with NOAA’s red tide tracker, and it looks like it’s all approximately 60 miles offshore, where its likely to stay,” Rae told us. “Red tide is moved around by currents and wind patterns, and those aren’t conducive right now to it moving into the near-shore area.”
Last week, Sanibel city workers cleaned up dead fish at Gulf Side City Park, Tarpon Bay Beach, and Bowman’s Beach, but said their mild case of red tide was expected to dissipate soon, something Blake agreed with.
“Right now they’re showing low to medium concentrations of red tide and the test sites off of Fort Myers Beach are coming up with very low concentrations,” she said.
Blake reminded us that red tide organisms are always present in the water, and it’s only when the microorganisms experience a population bloom that they become a problem.
“Red tide is the result of high concentrations of Karenia brevis, which are microscopic organisms that occur naturally in the water,” she said. “For some reason, when there are too many of them in one area, they freak out and release this toxin to kill all their neighbors. Unfortunately for us, it also kills fish and can cause respiratory problems in people.”
While some worry that nutrient pollution from Lake Okeechobee or watershed runoff may contribute to red tide blooms, Mote Marine Laboratory says that isn’t the case with Florida Red Tide.
“In contrast to the many red tide species that are fueled by nutrient pollution associated with urban or agricultural runoff, there is no direct link between nutrient pollution and the frequency or severity of red tides caused by K. brevis. Florida red tides develop 10-40 miles offshore, away from man-made nutrient sources. Red tides occurred in Florida long before human settlement, and severe red tides were observed in the mid-1900s before the state’s coastlines were heavily developed. However, once red tides are transported inshore, they are capable of using man-made nutrients for their growth.”
Beachfront communities keep a close eye on red tide by monitoring sites like the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission’s website found at bit.ly/FLredtide or NOAA’s at bit.ly/NOAAredtide.