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Pinellas Cleaning Up Beaches As Red Tide Arrives

Red tide arrived in Pinellas County over the weekend with numerous reports of dead fish along beaches from Fort DeSoto to Clearwater. 

The reports started on Friday and by Saturday afternoon the city of St. Petersburg said hundreds of thousands of dead fish were washing ashore. Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and Redington Beach were also affected by fish kills, odor or water discoloration.

On Monday, Clearwater spokesman Jason Biesel said the city's beaches had only had minor fish kills on the north side of the island. 

Because of how red tide has affected other parts of Florida in recent months, the city has been prepared for its eventual arrival.

“We have crews in place, we’ve been ready for this, we’ve been waiting for this,” Biesel said.

Cleanup crews in Clearwater have been going out three to four times a day since they started seeing the dead fish.

“They go out early in the morning, and if there are any fish kills we have it cleaned up no later than 8 a.m.,” Biesel said. “They make sure the beach is clean and ready for when people visit, where they won’t even know any fish kills were on the beach.”

Red tide has been affecting Florida’s shores for almost a year, and in August, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in seven counties. This released money and resources for cleanup efforts and to help businesses recover.

Tourism is the state’s top industry.

Beisel said business in Clearwater hasn't been effected yet, but red tide is hard to predict, so the future is uncertain. He said hotel reservations increased over the summer with vistors escaping from beaches that were being hit by the bloom further south.

Ken Hautman, general manager of Caddy’s on the Beach in Treasure Island, said slower business over the weekend could have been due to a combination of red tide, the first Sunday of NFL Football, and kids going back to school.

Hautman said the County is doing a great job with the cleanup.

“They were out here from day one that they saw any dead fish on the beach, making sure that it was taken care of,” Hautman said.

While millions of dollars have been allocated to fighting and cleaning up red tide and blue green algae, Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, said it's not enough. A federal bill he sponsored was passed last year by the U.S. Senate that would devote more federal resources to combating algae blooms.

But Nelson said it's still waiting for House approval.

"They desperately need to pass that bill," he said. 

The measure would give the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency authority to declare a severe algae bloom as a nationally significant event.

That would trigger federal resources available to those affected by the outbreak, and would also authorize, though not guarantee, $110 million over the next five years for research into the causes and control of large algae blooms and hypoxia — low-oxygen zones.

Nelson is also calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the long-term effects of toxic algae on people's health.

"It'll kill a fish, it'll kill a marine mammal. We know that it causes respiratory problems, particularly for people with asthma," Nelson said. "We know also it causes irritation of the ears, nose and throat -- and coughing.

"But the long term effects -- we don't know," Nelsons said. "And to date, the CDC has still not responded to my request that they get on this right away. That is inexcusable."

North Redington Beach sees effects of red tide as dead fish wash up onto shore.
Stephen Splane / WUSF Public Media
The Florida Channel
North Redington Beach sees effects of red tide as dead fish wash up onto shore.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Bethany Hanson is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news reporter for spring 2018.
Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.