State wildlife officials and environmental researchers are watching a large bloom of red tide north of the Tampa Bay area, trying to predict where it will go and the impact it will have on wildlife.
Currently, the bloom is estimated to be about 80 miles long and 50 miles wide in waters 40 to 90 miles off the shoreline between Dixie and Pasco counties.
“The circulation appears to be pretty stagnant,” said Jason Lenes, a researcher with the University of South Florida’s Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides. Over the next three and a half days, little movement is predicted, he said. The swath of algae hasn’t moved much over the past week.
It’s unusual for red tide to make it this far north. Typically blooms form off the southwest coast of the state, he said. This bloom may have formed there and then caught a northern current, only surfacing and becoming visible in the northeast section of the Gulf, he said.
“All of the west Florida shelf is connected,” he said. Currents typically flow north and south, he said.
Over the next few weeks, his group and scientists with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota will send underwater drones into the bloom to chart how big it is and how deep it goes. The data will provide a three-dimensional view of the bloom, he said.
People have reported seeing thousands of dead and dying bottom-dwelling reef fish, including grouper, hogfish, white grunt, triggerfish and snapper, officials said. Sea turtles and crabs also are falling victim to the naturally occurring algae, that typically forms hundreds of miles to the south and vexes beaches from Fort Myers to Sarasota and occasionally Pinellas County.
“At the moment it has a southward projection,” said Brandon Basino, spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s research institute in St. Petersburg.
He said this is the first reported red-tide-related fish kill reported this year. And the bloom, he said, is bigger than normal.
“Spatially,” he said, “this is the largest reported bloom since October 2006.”
Red tide is a high concentration of naturally occurring, harmful microscopic algae that typically form miles offshore. Often it drifts toward shore and can devastate marine wildlife and affect respiratory systems of human beach-goers.