Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Red Tide + Dead Fish = Stench

Photos by Jean Hall | Mass of dead fish at Tigertail Lagoon.


People with asthma can easily tell when the red tide count is high. They do not need to look at maps to show them if red tide is present nor check red tide websites. They experience difficulty breathing and scratchy throat.  

Yet according to a popular red tide reporting website, the conditions outside were perfect. At the time of press, they reported no algaeno dead fish, and no respiratory irritation cited. The report gave a false sense of safety until you went outdoors. When asked about the report’s accuracy on current conditions, they noted being dependent on volunteers for daily reports. The response to questions about accuracy included three other website sources for more information including FWC, NOAA and UFS. 

Photos by Jean Hall | Dead Lady Fish, mullets, and groupers are among the mass of dead fish on Sand Dollar Island.

Their beach conditions report was in opposition to the additional websites they referenced which stated ‘high’ red tide levels. They acknowledged the trained volunteers do not take water samples, stating upcoming redevelopments will include several functionality updates and an option for members of the community to share their own condition reports. 

On December 30, dead fish started showing up in numbers in various locations on Marco Island as reported by two television news stations. 

On New Year’s Day, Jean Hall, a shorebird steward, who was on the eastern side of Sand Dollar Island, reported rafts of dead mullets in the lagoon extending beyond Hideaway along with other species such as horseshoe crabs. The stench was horrible according to Hall. Conditions did not deter a large number of boaters on Sand Dollar Island.  

On January 2nd, Jean Hall and Audubon Shorebird Steward Brittany Piersma meup along Marco’s beaches and found more dead fish, reporting that just off the Tigertail parking area, mass of dead fish was found where the concessions used to be. 

A mass of dead Fighting Conchs were visible along Marco Island Beach and dead mullets, Lady Fish, Jacks and Groupersall had been reported to the FWC hotline. 



Submitted Photos | Starting in mid-November, Piersma has rescued sea birds showing signs of red tide. This American Oyster Catcher showed lethargy and not able to move—some showed signs of weight loss.

FWC’s website refers to a collaborative effort with USF’s College of Marine Science and NOAA. USF’s Predictions of Red Tides uses forecast models to predict and track algal blooms in this area. NOAA offers the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast as well. Note these are predictions and forecasts. USF’s model is a fourday report consisting of yesterday’s actual conditions and three-day forecast ahead. NOAA includes a disclaimer on their tables that “K. brevis concentrations are patchy in nature and levels of respiratory irritation will vary locally based upon nearby bloom concentrations, ocean currents, and wind speed and direction.” 

Residents on canals are reporting dead fish along with the pervasive smell raising the concerns of who cleans up the dead fish? These concerns have been raised in the past. 

Audubon Executive Director Julie Wraithmell stated, “Everyone has a role to play in this. The nutrients that are in red tide come from everything from septic tanks to fertilizer on lawns.”  

Adam DiNuovo, Shorebird Biologist for Audubon, Florida, is also very concerned with the red tide effect on shorebirds stating that “when red tide is reported on Florida’s beaches, municipalities’ greatest concern is “getting those dead fish off our beaches. 

DiNuovo stated, “Red Tide Warning signs or website reports don’t contain the full truth.” He added that “the reports refer to red tide as natural, suggesting there is nothing we can do about it. But red tide is occurring at a more frequent rate and the size of the blooms are biggerbecause of the harmful nutrients flowing off the land. Harmful nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizer combined with animal and human waste feed the growth of Karenia brevis red tide blooms as they move closer to shore.” 

Red Tide is sometimes reported as “background” with no indication of being close to shore. Just because you can’t see it or smell it, it does not mean it is not present in quantities that are harmful to marine life, shorebirds and even humans according to DiNuovo. 

In the summer of 2018, DiNuovo began taking sick birds to Von Arx Wildlife Hospital, and the report of sick birds falling from the sky at a rapid rate began attracting state and federal concern. Testing confirmed the presence of brevetoxin (Karenia brevis) in the tissues of dead birds.  

We all agree we need to do better making sure our water is cleaner as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. We suggest if you suffer from any respiratory ailment, be sure to check trusted websites like those testing water quality before you hit the beach. Reports of fish kills or respiratory irritation are important to accurately track red tide impacts. 



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