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Red Tide Continues in Northwest Florida

Carisa Stewmon

Red tide blooms continue to be present in Northwest Florida.

According to its midweek update issued Wednesday afternoon, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported that bloom concentrations of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis — or K. brevis,  was observed in or offshore in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties.

There is a medium concentration of the red tide in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties, which indicates that between 100,000 and one million Karenia brevis cells per liter have been discovered in the water. Samples were collected within the past eight days from Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County and from Henderson Beach and beneath the Brooks Bridge in Okaloosa County.

Swimming in affected areas is still safe, according to the FWC. Red tide can cause skin irritation and burning eyes. People with respiratory issues should use caution.  

Previous red tide reports have shown a higher concentration in Walton and Bay counties. Kelly Richmond, spokesperson for FWC Research Institute said collecting samples in those areas has been “a little bit more spotty” since Hurricane Michael made landfall in the panhandle last week.

“One of the labs in the area got blown out,” said Richmond. “Not all of our samples come from FWC staff. They come from government agencies and volunteers and we’ve been receiving fewer samples after the storm.”

Hurricane Michael could have had an effect on red tide moving west, said Dr. Jane Caffrey, professor in the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation at the University of West Florida. 

Credit Romi White
Dead fish were observed near the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier and toward the west-end of the beach on Oct. 10 when this photo was taken.

“There’s a lot of different things going on in the ocean,” she said. “It’s possible the storm could break up the red tide.”

What’s more important is that single-cell organisms — such as K. brevis — need nutrients and light. A hurricane may increase nutrients creating better conditions for growth of the dinoflagellate, Caffrey said.

But it’s not just red tide that residents should be cautious of. Cyanobacteria, otherwise known as the blue-green algae has been a serious environmental problem in lakes, streams, and oceans South Florida, Caffrey said.

“We should be doing more monitoring (of cyanobacteria),” she added. “Both red tide and cyanobacteria can have harmful effects to humans. Unfortunately, monitoring by the state has seen severe cutbacks in recent years."

Scientists have reported that global warming can affect the size and intensity of storms such as Michael. The same goes for bacteria in two big ways, Caffrey said.

"One is warmer temperatures will affect the growth rate of harmful algae bacteria," she said. "The other is the way we have water coming into the coastal zones. We have a lot more rainwater, a lot more extremes. This will all influence the phytoplankton and red tide organisms." 

In the southeast region of the state, red tide persists with “patchy concentrations” of K. brevis. High concentrations of the bacteria were observed in Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

For more information about red tide, visit myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.