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Storm reels in Longboat Key fish kills

Key’s beaches clean while canals still reek of dead fish washed up following Hurricane Matthew.

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  • | 7:53 a.m. October 12, 2016
Longboat Key beaches free of red tide stain while some canals inland still reek  of dead fish washed up following Hurricane Matthew. Canal cleanup is underway.
Longboat Key beaches free of red tide stain while some canals inland still reek  of dead fish washed up following Hurricane Matthew. Canal cleanup is underway.
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Longboat Key beaches were scoured of red tide by storm winds and waves.

Island canals were not.

Longboat Key officials went to work Monday on a fish kill cleanup in select canals north of Putter Lane where the heaviest concentration of dead fish washed up. The cleanup will move north until as much of the dead fish are removed as possible, according to a town report.

A handful of Longboat Key canals are still burdened with redolent red tide remains, said Juan Florensa, Public Works Department director. Red tide occurs in the fall when algal blooms grow out of control while producing harmful respiratory effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds.

“There’s a certain amount of dead, stinking fish in the canals,” Florensa said. “The beaches were cleaned up. No one is complaining about the beaches. But we’ve gotten complaints about the canals and are monitoring the canals on a daily basis.”

The canal cleanup was planned even before Bay Isles Harbor Association President Tim Clarke wrote Longboat Key Town Hall over the weekend to complain on behalf of 67 property owners.

“I am writing to protest the town government’s poor response to the current severe outbreak of red tide,” Clarke wrote.

Clarke accused town officials of “bureaucratic incompetence” for doing nothing in three weeks to staunch the stench.

“The stench of these fish is permeating our entire neighborhood,” Clarke wrote. “There is no escaping it … not even in one’s home.”

Mayor Jack Duncan, who lives on a waterfront condo in Bay Isles near Clarke’s home, believes the complaint is overblown.

“What an incredible exaggeration and distortion of the facts,” Duncan wrote in an email to Clarke. “The smell of dead fish, as a result of this year’s ‘red tide’ bloom, has been mild in our area. To imply that you can smell the dead fish in your residence, I’d have to say is a complete and utter exaggeration.”

It is the second time in five weeks Longboat Key received unexpected benefits from a passing hurricane.

Longboat Key’s brush with Hurricane Hermine the first week in September left it with more sand to deposit in its beach renourishment projects. It briefly flooded some north end streets,  but damage was minimal.

Hurricane Matthew was even more beneficial. Over two days, it not only left more sand for the dredge to redistribute, it broke up the red tide along Longboat Key beaches.

A week after 43.89 tons of red tide-stricken dead fish were removed from Longboat Key beaches, winds and waves from Hurricane Matthew helped scour the sandy strands encircling the isle. Rotting carcasses, prevalent just a week earlier, were gone from plain sight Friday.

“Red tide seems to dissipate in rough water or high winds,” said Longboat Key Town Manager David Bullock as he monitored the storm from his office via Hurrevac, a storm tracker from the National Hurricane Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Center.

Only the outer storm bands of Hurricane Matthew touched the gulfside beaches Friday on Longboat Key after brushing close to the state’s Atlantic coast on Thursday. The Category 4 storm packed 150-mph wind gusts at its fiercest points, according to the National Weather Service.

Not so on the Gulf Coast. On Friday, when Longboat Key was expected to feel the greatest effects of the storm, warm tropical breezes heavy with moisture occasionally stiffened into 25 mph gusts, according to the National Weather Service.

However, Bullock said a severe storm could in mere minutes easily remove all the sand painstakingly placed on Longboat Key beaches the past few months.

“She’s much more efficient than we are,” he said of Mother Nature.


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