Pinellas’ fish kill cleanup starts as Red Tide keeps moving north

·3 min read

HONEYMOON ISLAND — Contractors removed two construction dumpsters worth of dead fish from the Pinellas beaches on Wednesday while concentrations of the Red Tide outbreak that killed them continued moving north up the coast.

Thousands of dead fish have washed ashore in recent days as Red Tide blooms drift north along the coastline, according to the county’s monitoring. Bloom concentrations of Karenia brevis — the scientific name of the bacteria that causes Red Tide — have turned up north around Clearwater Beach and Honeymoon Island.

DRC Emergency Services regional manager Jay Gunter, whose firm was hired by the county to clean-up the beaches, said more than 150 cubic feet of fish parts were removed on Wednesday, or enough to fill two construction-grade dumpsters.

County officials expect the bloom to keep moving north for another week. State data shows high levels of Red Tide off Madeira Beach and in the Intracoastal Waterway near War Veterans’ Memorial Park.

A dozen beachgoers visiting Honeymoon Island Park on Wednesday had to find their way through hundreds of rotting fish that had washed up onshore.

One of them was St. Petersburg’s Pat Fuller. She indulged her two visiting grandchildren, Jason and Stella, with one last beach day before they returned home to Virginia.

“I wouldn’t have come out if it was like 2018,” Fuller said, warily kicking away dead fish whenever they drifted too close, “but today isn’t so bad.”

The devastating Red Tide bloom of 2017-19 is what the tourism business fears the most. Pinellas spent more than $7 million removing more than 1,800 tons of dead marine life. The industry, which is trying to bounce back from the pandemic, doesn’t want to see a repeat.

Gunter said the fish kills crews are seeing on the beaches this year are nowhere near what they picked up years ago. But the crews will continue working until the fish kills end.

“We took care of it in 2018 and we’re going to take care of it this year,” he said.

It is still too soon for experts to project whether the Red Tide bloom will dissipate or worsen in the coming days. Nor can experts definitively say that the Red Tide bloom is being fueled by the April release of 215 million gallons of polluted wastewater into the bay from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant in Manatee County. But such a link is possible.

Health warnings issued by both Hillsborough and Pinellas officials remain in effect. Anyone visiting either coast is warned to avoid touching or swimming close to dead fish. Shellfish should not be harvested and any fish harvested from infected areas should be rinsed thoroughly with water.

People may experience a cough, scratchiness in their throat and irritation in their eyes and nose, similar to a cold, when they encounter Red Tide, according to the Florida Department of Health. Those with chronic respiratory issues, like asthma or emphysema, may experience a more severe reaction. Moving to an air-conditioned space can help bring relief.

If someone touches Red Tide, they should wash themselves with soap and water. Residents who find dead fish near their docks are advised they can use a skimmer to pick up the fish and throw out the remains in their regular trash.

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