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Red tide puts strain on local kayak businesses

Local tour guide Darrell Poole's video shot from Ted Sperling Park has reached 3.2 million views on TikTok.

Darrell Poole holds up a dead fish in front of the kayak launch at Ted Sperling Park.
Darrell Poole holds up a dead fish in front of the kayak launch at Ted Sperling Park.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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A Lido Key tour guide nicknamed Sea Biscuit recently went viral on TikTok, garnering over 3 million views on a video he took while kayaking at Ted Sperling Park on Lido Key.

The video was taken Monday, March 6 after a gory amount of fish kill due to red tide swept into Sarasota Bay. Hundreds of fish, from shiners to large sheepshead, can be seen floating lifeless on top of the water. 

On Tuesday, three out of the seven kayak concessionaires in the park were closed, and the others were issuing warnings with an option to cancel. Guests were told about the conditions and asked if they had asthma, emphysema or any other respiratory issues before checking in.

The timing couldn’t be worse for owners and employees.

“We’re looking at maybe 20, maybe a couple dozen people, as opposed to a hundred,” Tour Guide Steffan Simmons said.

But that was on Tuesday, and winds and tides change quickly. By Thursday, the fish kill had subsided and all seven kayak businesses were up and running again.

“We send scouts out in the morning, and if it’s bad, then we cancel that day. So far, we’ve only canceled two days, which were both this week,” owner of Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures Will Bither said. “It’s definitely day-to-day and not ideal for what’s supposed to be our busiest time of the year.”

Most of the concessionaires refused to comment on the effect red tide has on business or the TikTok post. The sentiment from at least one owner, who asked not to be named, was that the video is scaring people away and hurting business during a crucial time of high tourism season.

The owner also added that kayaking is a safe activity for people without respiratory issues, the best way to learn about red tide is getting out on the water, and no one is sending their guides out in harmful conditions. 

The Florida Wildlife Commission said it doesn't have a recommendation regarding kayaking, but replied via email in regards to swimming.

“In the last eight days, we have seen background-high levels of red tide in Sarasota Bay. Some people experience respiratory irritation (coughing, sneezing, tearing and an itchy throat) when red tide is present,” wrote spokesperson Carly Jones. “You should not swim in or around red tide because the toxin can cause skin irritation, rashes, burning and sore eyes.” 

@sea_biscuttt Remember this is a way of life for floridians supposedly. This is a wake up call. Stop being miseducated saying this is completely normal, itll only last a few weeks, give me a break. This is here for a while and there is no convincing me when all the facts and science lead and show that it will be here for awhile. Take care of the f”” ecosystem. How would you like it if someone came into your home and shit all over the place. #fypシ #redtide #wakeup #florida #enviorment ♬ original sound - DJ

Viral Sea Biscuit

When you hear Darrell Poole's accent, it’s apparent the Sarasota Paddleboard Co. employee is not from around here. Originally from Alexandria, Louisiana, Poole moved to Florida three years ago and started working as a tour guide at Ted Sperling six months later. 

He was given a nickname on his first day after telling a bad dad joke, “What does a ladyfish give a dogfish?” A sea biscuit. 

While Poole didn’t grow up in the area, he’s a country boy who’s used to being outdoors. His TikTok video was shot in a moment of anger and intended to be a call for change after a local Realtor posted similar footage with the comment, “This is the way of life.”

Darrell Poole is a kayak tour guide at Ted Sperling Park.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

“If you want to think this is the way of life, then you have a very grim outlook on life,” he said while navigating through dead fish in his kayak. “The way of life should be everything living and enjoying life.”

Red tide is a naturally occurring algae that can be documented back to the 1700s, but Poole wants to use his 15 minutes to point out how human activity exacerbates the blooms. 

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium backs up this claim on its website: “In short, we know human-contributed nutrients can affect a coastal red tide, and we must expand our data and monitoring efforts to confirm whether and how they did in each specific case.”

When red tide resurfaced toward the end of last year, Poole became a member of Captains for Clean Water. The nonprofit was started in 2016 by a couple of guys like himself, fishing guides fed up with water pollution and ready to take action. 

Poole's friend Sky Hayden's first draft of a logo of a manatee in a hazmat suit.

Now that Poole has a voice, he plans to use it. TikTok influencers have reached out about future collaborations, and he’s creating a T-shirt using the hashtag, #FightTheTide. The logo is a manatee wearing a hazmat suit, and all proceeds will go to local water keeper organizations. 

According to the FWC, three manatees were found dead in Sarasota Bay during February and March. One suffered a watercraft injury, and the other two may be added to the red tide suspect list but it will take weeks to determine if it was a possible cause of death. Regardless, red tide is  having a major impact on local wildlife. 

“My job as an eco guide is to be a voice for the wildlife, teach about the ecology and what we can do to help it out, what we can do to be better and hold other people accountable who constantly pollute our water,” Poole said. 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is the community reporter for Longboat Key and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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