Since the toxic red tide algae bloom came to Longboat Key's waters in early August, crews from the town have been systematically responding to complaints and cleaning fish kills in canals and on beaches.
Longboat Key officials said they have spent more than $41,000 and collected 165,000 pounds of dead marine life since then.
But with the red tide moving northward toward Pinellas County, town officials say they are seeing fewer dead fish and are hopeful the worst of it is behind them. As of press time Tuesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported high concentrations of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide, in Sarasota County, but showed concentrations had reduced to a lower concentration in Manatee County.
“We are not through it yet, but we have had some relief,” said Town Manager Tom Harmer, at a Sept. 11 town commission meeting.
Red tide is an algae bloom that comes and goes in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, bringing with it the dead fish, associated odors and itchy and watery eyes plus sneezing and related respiratory problems. Red tide is a natural phenomenon that has been experienced in the area for centuries, but the recent outbreak was unusual in its span — from Pinellas to Collier counties — and its duration.
Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said the town began cleaning its beaches and canals Aug. 6. Brownman said his department has spent 777 man hours removing red tide debris from local waters and beaches and will continue to do so on an as-needed basis. Because of the difficulty getting to the dead fish, much of the work has been done manually.
Tides have also added a degree of difficulty to the clean-up. In the morning, for example, a large number of dead fish are visible along the shoreline and canals. By the afternoon, however, those fish have been washed back out into the Gulf.
“It’s a constantly changing event,” Brownman said.
Labor comprises a majority of the red tide cleanup costs, $34,390.56 of the total, but Brownman said it did not affect Public Works' regular duties, and normal town operations were not impacted.
Harmer said the town has been keeping track of all expenses related to red tide in the event the town is eligible for reimbursement from state or federal agencies in the future.
Longboat's no-swimming ban was lifted in Longboat on Aug. 31. It had been put in place Aug. 23 because of enterococcus bacteria, which can cause illness in the young, elderly, or those with weakened immune systems.