Red tide floods Southwest Florida coasts with dead fish, breathing issues

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Every coastal community in the WINK News viewing area is seeing red tide. From Sarasota down to Marco Island, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s red tide map continues to show new dots signifying low to high concentrations of the algae.

This isn’t exactly the welcome mat Fort Myers Beach wants to lay out for its visitors. Not only can you see the signs of red tide, but you can also feel them in the air you breathe.

Dale Dhuey, a visitor from Wisconsin, loves a good stroll down the beach, but he’s lately had to dodge dead fish on the way.

“There’s just, there’s just dead fish everywhere,” Dhuey said. “If I had known how bad it was today, we probably wouldn’t have came.”

Small to medium-sized fish float in with the surf and create what’s known as wrack lines.

“I was stunned when I saw this,” Dhuey said. “We saw some big fish this morning, but this is incredible. There’s no words for it.”

Large dead fish on Fort Myers Beach. (Credit: WINK News)

“Never, ever seen anything like that,” said Jim Zahnder, from Buffalo, New York.

“You wonder to yourself, ‘How bad is the red tide out there affecting large fish like that?'” said Mike Fenton, visiting from Connecticut.

Dhuey and many other beachgoers say they have experienced red tide, but never to this magnitude.

“We’ve seen a few dead fish other years, but today is… there’s just thousands of dead fish,” Dhuey said. “It’s terrible.”

“The fish and everything that we see today is the most extreme that we’ve actually seen evidence of it,” said Indiana couple Carrie and Kevin Lambright.

“I’ve experienced red tide,” Zahnder said. “This year, it’s stronger. People have coughs; it’s a respiratory thing.”

The red tide organism Karenia brevis produces brevetoxins that affect the central nervous system of these fish. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells, releasing those toxins into the air and leading to respiratory irritation. Some people feel it, and some don’t.

“We’re not at all; we’re good!” the Lambrights said.

“My wife’s been coughing, and I’ve been coughing,” Fenton said.”We’re actually leaving now because I got, like, a scratchy throat.”

WINK News asked FGCU Water School Professor Dr. Mike Parsons if the current red tide is cause for concern.

“It means one of two things. One of them would be they were exposed to a lot of brenda toxin, the red tide toxin. Or second thing could be they experienced low oxygen conditions where they actually suffocated,” said Parsons.

FWC’s red tide map continues to show more orange and red dots in our area, indicating medium and high red tide concentrations.

WINK News’ red tide map.

“Whereas if you looked a month ago, you were to see more of those red and orange dots north of us. So I don’t know if it’s if it’s really just this mass that moved south with the winds and the currents, or if we’re gonna start to see it spreading out more like we saw after Irma,” said Parsons.

Is the current red tide linked to Ian? The simplest answer, we don’t know.

“So typically, red tide starts at the end of September or early October. And it typically ends at the end of January, early February. So red tide started right after Ian, but it started like it typically does. So we don’t think there was necessarily anything unusual there,” Parsons said.

Parsons says red tide is constantly evolving, so it’s a moving target making it even more difficult to analyze, but they’re working on it.

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