St. Petersburg, FL -- Researcher say a major fish kill in Pinellas County over the weekend is likely the result of a red tide bloom that is lingering 10 to 20 miles offshore and heading south.
"Smells like dead fish," said a beach-goer heading down the sand.
"There's been a lot of dead fish," observed another.
"It smells awful," agreed a friend.
And it may be just the beginning.
Hundreds of dead fish started washing ashore on Honeymoon Island this weekend, and, as we discovered as we took a ride with Fish and Wildlife officials Tuesday, there are hundreds of more still to come, floating about two to three miles offshore. They say it's almost certain to be pushed in by the waves and tide.
Part of the concern for biologists is the type of fish they're seeing.
On shore there have been lots of snapper and grunts, which usually occupy the middle of the water column. In the water, there were several dead catfish; a bottom dweller. That indicates the red tide could be creating problems for fish from the bottom to the surface.
Was it the culprit in this latest fish-kill?
"The answer is probably. It's likely," said Brandon Basino, a spokesman for the FWC Research Institute in St, Petersburg.
Researchers also point out the dead species of fish usually live several miles out, indicating the red tide itself still has not moved closer to shore.
"Perhaps if we saw Snook or Redfish washing ashore dead. Or more abundantly dying, that would pose more cause for concern," said Basino.
More likely, say researchers, the fish died 10 to 20 miles offshore and then floated in on the waves and current.
Researchers say they are studying the latest samples of the phyto-plankton. The latest results indicate that after three months, the red tide algae bloom may finally be breaking apart.
Basino is optimistic "that it will continue to pose less and less of a threat and hopefully we'll see it in lower concentrations. That's been the trajectory so far."
Still, the last time we had red tide off our coast that was this serious was back in 2005. Back then, it had an impact on the tourism industry, as well as local fisheries.
U.S. Rep. David Jolly wrote a letter to NOAA asking for the federal government to provide funding for continued research in the region, in order to try to find solutions to keep that from happening again.
To read more on where the bloom is and where it could be headed: http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/
For more information on Florida beach conditions, click here.
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