Studying how highest levels of red tide affect people along SWFL coast

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
dead fish from red tide

A recent map show the highest levels of red tide along Southwest Florida’s coast. But more research needs to be done to know just how it affects air quality and humans.

The last month of 2020 saw dead fish and high levels of red tide sprinkled across SWFL beaches.

Pilot Ralph Arwood with Lighthawk Conservation Flying shared video he shot on New Year’s Eve of dozens of dead fish on the Naples shore.

red tide map

“You knew with that out there, the fish just couldn’t get away from it, so it really wasn’t a surprise that they’ve started to wash in,” Arwood said.

While red tide is a nearly annual event, we still need more observation to know how toxins in the air affects humans.

Mike Parsons is a Marine Science professor at FGCU’s Water School. “We did put out one of our air sampling units at the Vester Field Station,” said Parsons.

Parsons and his team have installed a red tide sampler at their Bonita site. “It will be probably closest to red tide since it’s on the backside of Bonita Beach,” Parsons said.

FGCU is collaborating with Florida Atlantic University to the study, similarly to how they’ve done with blue-green algae testing in the past.

“It’s going to be very similar. Nasal swabs, blood and urine samples,” said Parsons.

They will be monitoring their health as well. “And then we will probably start setting them up in Cape Coral probably mid-January, because we’re still waiting to coordinate things,” Parsons said.

“Two of our Cape Coral sites potentially could be exposed by red tide or by the aerosols, and so we would be using those as that potentially one-two punch of measuring the brevetoxins from red tide and microcystsins from the blue-green algae bloom,” he said.

A new year that hopefully means answers on how new algae blooms will impact Southwest Florida.

Parsons said that they will stop the sampler in Bonita Springs next week. As for other locations, they will have to monitor them but have the capability to move samplers as blooms show up.

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