Red tide bloom kills fish, besets humans

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A red tide bloom, dating back to Oct. 1, continues to beset Apalachicola Bay, contributing to fish deaths as well as short-lived respiratory distress to some individuals.

On Tuesday, the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring a local state of emergency after receiving reports from commercial fishers of strange behavior in bait fish, a sign of Karenia Brevis, or red tide.

The Florida Department of Health in Franklin County on Monday notified the public of a red tide bloom near Dog Island. A previous health alert for the red tide bloom near the St. George Island Lighthouse Beach and another location in between Tally Ho Road and Veronica’s Way at Bob Sikes Cut, had been issued a few days earlier and remains in place.

Karenia Brevis occurs in marine and estuarine waters of Florida and typically blooms in the late summer or early fall, first developing offshore and brought inshore by currents and winds. Although there is no direct link between nutrients related to human activity, such as sewage and runoff, and the initiation of blooms, once blooms are transported inshore, these nutrient sources can fuel them.

Karenia brevis produces neurotoxins that can sicken or kill fish, seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals, and can contribute to fish kills by depleting the water of dissolved oxygen.

According to the daily Fish Kill Database maintained by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a branch of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, fish kills were first reported on Oct. 1, many called in on the Fish Kill Hotline (800) 636-0511.

“Reports are summarized and do not necessarily reflect the observations of scientifically trained individuals,” the report notes. “Although (the hotline) follows up with each report initiator, (it) is not able to verify every account through direct observation.”

Reports on Facebook from everyone from residents and visitors to those monitoring turtle nest have flourished. The hotline has reported fish kills on St. George Island beaches, including the Plantation and state park, as well as the Hidden Beaches of Carrabelle, Little St. George Island and St. Vincent Island.

Fish listed as killed include pinfish, catfish, whiting, boxfish, sunfish, mullet, hogfish, ladyfish, juvenile snapper, croaker, black and red drum, silver perch, porgy, cowfish, and flounder, as well as stingrays and eels.

Toxins can also affect humans, causing respiratory irritation if aerosolized toxins are inhaled or shellfish poisoning if shellfish contaminated with toxins are consumed.

Some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms, while those with breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe symptoms. Usually symptoms go away when a person leaves the area or goes indoors, said the health department.

Health officials recommend people experiencing these symptoms stay away from beach areas and not swim around dead fish at this location.

“Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish and distressed or dead fish from this location. If fish are healthy, rinse fillets with tap or bottled water and throw out the guts,” reads the health department advisory. “Shellfish, including clams, oysters, and mussels can accumulate brevetoxins, which have no taste, smell, or color, and can’t be destroyed by cooking. If contaminated shellfish are eaten, people can become ill with neurotoxic shellfish poisoning.

“Fish are safe to eat as long as they are caught alive and only the muscle is eaten. The muscle of crustaceans, including crab, shrimp, and lobster, is not affected by red tide toxins and can be eaten,” it advises.

It also advises to keep pets away from water, sea foam and dead sea life. Residents living in beach areas are advised to close windows and run the air conditioner. If outdoors, residents may choose to wear paper filter masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.

Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 Hotline for reporting of illnesses, including health effects from exposure to red tide at 1-800-222-1222. 

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