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Red tide looms at unusual time of the year, experts say

FWC released its latest report showing medium to low levels of red tide along parts of Tampa Bay's coastal region.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Spring break is days away for many people, and some Tampa Bay area beaches are dealing with red tide.

Medium to low levels was detected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in different spots along coastal beaches. Offshore in the gulf and along southwest Florida beaches had reported high concentrations of red tide detected.

Credit: FWC

Among the impacted beaches are Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and Johns Pass Park.

People out at Johns Pass on Wednesday afternoon said they were coughing due to the effects of red tide.

Hubbard's Marina and other local businesses are preparing for spring breakers to pack the beaches this month.

"In general, we see a lot of different people, families and younger people," Captain Jason Porton explained. 

Porton takes people out on dolphin and fishing tours. He said recently he can tell red tide is present.

"Being out on the water, I can tell you it’s a daily fluctuation," Porton said.

Experts explained red tide blooms like what we're seeing normally does not happen this time of the year, calling it unusual. 

According to the FWC's latest report, 12 bloom concentrations were present in Pinellas County, one offshore in Hillsborough County, three in and offshore in Manatee County and 22 in and offshore in Sarasota County. 

Red tide was also reported at very low to medium concentrations in Pinellas County, background to high concentrations in and offshore in Hillsborough County, very low to medium concentrations in and offshore in Manatee County and background to high concentrations in and offshore in Sarasota County.

"What we’re seeing in the past few weeks since the hurricane is a major flare-up. The worst we’ve seen since the hurricane," a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University's Water School, James Douglass, said.

Douglass explained contributing factors are the conditions out in the Gulf. It's recommended when red tide is present, that you avoid beaches impacted. 

"During red tide, there is a lot of dead fish, it’s easy to step on a fish spine and hurt your foot and there are a lot more bacteria in the water," Douglass said.

The FWC reports that fish kills related to red tide were found in Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Officials also say that respiratory irritation for people related to red tide was reported in Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

"Red tide toxin can irritate your lungs and cause short-term effects and maybe even long term that we’re not aware about," Douglass said.

Porton said if you have a water excursion booked during spring break, bring something to cover your face.

Another factor that fuels red tide is human pollution. Experts and local businesses are asking you to be mindful of that.

"Keep this place clean, keep this place beautiful," Porton said.

Scientists at USF's College of Marine Science studying red tide forecasting said it's hard to predict exactly when and where red tide will be.

With the current red tide bloom, USF scientists believe it is likely going to hang around the Tampa Bay area with the potential for it to worsen in the next three to four days.

To check the latest red tide status, visit FWC.

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