Red tide getting worse in Southwest Florida

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro
Published: Updated:

Red tide lines Southwest Florida’s coast from south Lee County into Sarasota.

And the bloom appears to be growing.

Health officials in Charlotte County issued an alert for the presence of a red tide bloom near Whidden Key, east of Lemon Bay and Buccaneer Bend. The water sample was taken a week ago.

When Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani sees this, it reminds him of the last time a hurricane came through Southwest Florida. After Irma, a red tide bloom went up and down the coast for about two years.

“It looks a little bit like a repeat of what happened. After Irma, we had tremendous, tremendous amount of rainfall associated with a hurricane that put a lot of nutrients in the water, other pollutants, gas and oil and things,” Cassani said.

There aren’t any fishkills near the coastline yet, but photos show the Gulf is a color wheel of red, brown, green and blue.

“It looks pretty broadly distributed right now near shore,” Cassani said.

Cassani said it looks to be at the beginning of the bloom.

Then, Cassani said, comes the casualties in the fish and other sea life.

Billy Rinehold, with Decks and Docks Lumber, took videos of the surface of the water. He said he saw consistent dead fish from Boca Grande to Sanibel.

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani speaks about water quality. (CREDIT: WINK News)

And Florida Fish and Wildlife’s red tide map shows the clusters hugging the coastline.

Cassani explains as to why: “When it gets close to the shore, which is really jeopardy for coastal communities, that’s where nutrients are often the highest, and it just responds to those elevated nutrients continues to increase cell density.”

WINK News didn’t spot any cluster of dead fish on Sanibel but the water is in constant motion and the bloom moves just the current flows.

Red tide has been found along the SWFL coast.

“I’ve gotten reports of fish kills all the way from eastern Charlotte Harbor all the way down to the south end of Sanibel,” Cassani said.

Going forward, what can we expect?

“It’s hard to predict how long it will last, how bad it will get,” Cassani said. “There’s so many dynamic factors that affect the bloom. Unfortunately, if it’s anything like Irma is going to be around for a while. And that’s very disturbing.”

Cassani said he hopes some cold fronts pass through the area to knock it back.


If you are considering going to the beach, you can check for conditions on this website.

The public should exercise caution in and around these areas.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Look for informational signage posted at most beaches.
  • Stay away from the water, and do not swim in waters with dead fish.
  • Those with chronic respiratory problems should be especially cautious and stay away from this location as red tide can affect your breathing.
  • Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish or distressed or dead fish from this location. If caught live and healthy, finfish are safe to eat as long as they are filleted, and the guts are discarded. Rinse fillets with tap or bottled water.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and fresh water if you have had recent contact with red tide.
  • Keep pets and livestock away and out of the water, sea foam and dead sea life. If your pet swims in waters with red tide, wash it as soon as possible.
  • Residents living in beach areas are advised to close windows and run the air conditioner, making sure that the A/C filter is maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications.
  • If outdoors near an affected location, residents may choose to wear masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.

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