Updated Dec. 21, 2018 – ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Bad weather may have brought the Christmas gift that Floridians have been asking for – the beginning of the end of red tide.
The bloom that began in Southwest Florida in October 2017 and arrived in Anna Maria Island waters on Aug. 3 had been getting weaker before the storms arrived, NOAA oceanographer Rick Stumpf said.
Concentrations of the toxic algae had disappeared or fallen to background or very low levels everywhere in the state except for two sites in Manatee County as of Dec. 17, according to Friday’s update from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“If we have a normal winter this year, this will be the end of the bloom.” – Rick Stumpf, NOAA
Since those samples were taken, heavy weather on Dec. 20-21 gave red tide cells a beating in the waves, likely dealing a serious blow to the 14-month bloom in Southwest Florida waters, according to Stumpf.
Red tide swims toward light and nutrients, and steady, rough weather can keep the cells from getting to their food and growing, he said.
The same storm-tossed water causes diatoms – good algae that produce oxygen – to grow and gradually overtake red tide, Stumpf said.
“If we have a normal winter this year, this will be the end of the bloom,” he said.
Forecasters predict medium levels of red tide through at least Monday, Dec. 24 at Palma Sola Bay, and very low levels around Anna Maria Island, according to the University of South Florida/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides.
Red tide is a type of algae that emits a neurotoxin when it blooms. Deadly to fish, sea turtles, marine mammals and shorebirds that feed on affected fish, red tide makes shellfish unfit to eat, and can cause respiratory irritation in people, especially those with asthma, COPD or other respiratory diseases.
A medium concentration of the harmful algae was detected on Dec. 17 in water samples at Palma Sola Bay and a very low concentration was found at Longboat Pass that day.
High concentrations of red tide detected in a sample at Palma Sola Bay on Dec. 13 were no longer present on Dec. 17.
No fish kills were reported in Manatee County last week, but respiratory irritation was reported, according to the FWC.