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Red tide greets spring breakers in Tampa Bay-area beaches

Medium to high levels of concentration are detected in beaches as far north as Clearwater and as far south as Sarasota, per FWC.

SARASOTA, Fla. — Thousands are flocking to the Tampa Bay area this weekend for spring break but red tide is welcoming them with medial to high-level concentrations.

The latest FWC map released on Friday shows elevated levels on beaches as far north as Clearwater and the Dunedin causeway, and as far south as Sarasota beaches like Lido Beach. 

"It smells. It's fishy, but I'm holding up fine," Michelle McCauley of Ohio said.

McCauley is among the people on vacation who said they were caught off guard by the latest algae bloom. 

Red tide is a harmful algal bloom, or HAB, that is created when plants in the sea grow out of control and cause harmful toxins. Those toxins can have negative impacts on people, marine mammals, birds, fish and shellfish.

Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, along with coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are all symptoms of red tide. Symptoms are more critical for people who have respiratory illnesses like asthma. 

The red tide surge is expected to stick around for a while, said USF Professor Emeritus and ocean physicist Robert Weisberg.

Weisberg said they're detecting chlorophyll, which could signal more algae on its way.  

"Chlorophyll is indicative of plant life and we don't know exactly what those plants are," Weisberg said. "We're kind of assuming right now that it is indicative of red tide organisms." 

In the city of Sarasota, contractors are on notice to start cleaning up the fish kills. Until then, Sarasota County health leaders are urging caution.  

Sarasota Health Department officials lifted the "no swim advisory" for Bird Key Park Beach Friday afternoon. But the red tide is still present at moderate levels. 

In Manatee County, teams have been actively monitoring and responding to the red tide along the coast since November. County officials said they have removed a ton of dead fish from area beaches.  

They also said in the last month alone, as the impact increased, crews have collected about 7,000 pounds of fish from the beaches and waterways. 

Back in Pinellas County, the annual Indian Rocks Beach Festival was canceled this year due to red tide. 

However, while some visitors are deterred from the symptoms, others on vacation from colder states like Maine or Ohio said they're willing the trade the snow for sand anytime even with a bit of disruption. 

Guy Nelson of Minnesota travels to Sarasota often. Despite red tide's presence, he's focused on quality time spent with his daughter.

"If I can see her and be here, I won't let it bother me," Nelson said. 

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