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Red tide not gone, but we’re seeing decreased effects for now, expert says

Offshore winds keeping red tide effects away from beaches for now, Mote scientist says

Dr. Richard Pierce, Mote Marine Laboratory senior scientist and program manager for ecotoxicolgy, said winds from Hurricane Michael moved the red tide bloom further offshore.
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Dr. Richard Pierce, Mote Marine Laboratory senior scientist and program manager for ecotoxicolgy, said winds from Hurricane Michael moved the red tide bloom further offshore.

Polly Ruddle and her mother-in-law stood in the sand on Cortez Beach on Wednesday morning, watching Ruddle’s husband paddle a bright green canoe into the small waves of the Gulf of Mexico.

They were vacationing, along with her husband’s two children, for the first time on Anna Maria Island from their home in Seven Oaks, Kent, in the United Kingdom.

“We love it here, it’s just amazing,” Ruddle said, admiring the shoreline.

She said she saw no signs of red tide Wednesday — no smell, no dead fish and no one in her family was suffering from any respiratory issues. They saw birds dive into the water and they also felt comfortable wading and paddling in the Gulf.

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Richard Pierce, Mote Marine Laboratory senior scientist and program manager for ecotoxicology. confirmed Wednesday there are decreased cell counts and an offshore wind is keeping the effects of red tide out of the immediate area.

But it’s not gone — just pushed further offshore.

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Before they arrived on Anna Maria Island on Tuesday, Ruddle had been keeping an eye out online, tracking red tide conditions on the beach. But Wednesday, she said, seemed to be off to a clear start.

“I feel confident that today is a lovely, clear day,” Ruddle said.

Despite red tide, data researcher of tourism numbers believes Manatee County will bounce back.

Between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Gulf of Mexico coast beaches on Anna Maria Island were almost entirely clear of dead fish, with no smell.

Pierce said though Hurricane Michael didn’t totally disperse the bloom that has stuck off the state’s west coast for a year, as it approached, the storm’s winds took the bloom further offshore.

“Because of the anticyclonic wind motion, the winds were going offshore so it pretty well took the effects and a lot of the red tide offshore with surface water moving away. As it passed, the winds shifted around back from the west so we did have some onshore movement of red tide and some irritation as well,” Pierce said.

Now, with winds mostly offshore, the area is not seeing as much of the effects, including the strong odor and dead fish that tend to wash ashore when the algae is present in the water.

Mote Marine Laboratory will receive nearly $2.2 million in state funding to develop technology that could one day forecast and combat red tide blooms.

Wednesday morning winds were from the south and southeast, according to Mote Marine Laboratory’s Beach Conditions Reporting System.

The FWC red tide current status map showed waters tested around Anna Maria Island on Oct. 15 had background to low levels of red tide causing Karenia brevis cells in the water.

In Friday’s FWC weekly update, Manatee County had background to low concentrations of the algae cells with reports of respiratory irritation. The weekly change from Oct. 6 to Oct. 12 for Manatee County was 5 to 25 percent lower.

One badly decayed dead fish was spotted on an Anna Maria beach, near Palm Avenue. While stopping to take in the view at Manatee Public Beach, Valerie Morawski said she and Michael McClanahan saw one dead fish near Bean Point.

“But other than that, it’s perfect,” Morawski said.

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One badly decayed dead fish was spotted on an Anna Maria beach, near Palm Avenue, Wednesday morning. It was the only fish spotted along the stretch of beach despite red tide’s persisting presence in the Gulf of Mexico. Sara Nealeigh snealeigh@bradenton.com

Morawski said she has been coming to Anna Maria Island for 10 years. She used to live in Ocala before moving to West Virginia and spent time on the Atlantic coast beaches, but prefers the Gulf coast, even with some concerns about red tide.

“I was a little bit (concerned), but nothing’s going to stop me from my favorite place in the world,” Morawski said.

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Though the water still has a darker tint than most are used to seeing off the island’s beaches, the color has improved since red tide first started staining waters near Manatee County more than two months ago. Morawski said she felt comfortable enough going into the water this week, even if it was darker.

While the area is enjoying a break from red tide conditions, Mote’s Pierce said if the winds shift the effects could return to the shores. While they don’t really know where the algae could be going, satellite imaging shows the bloom a few miles off Florida’s coast.

Since August, red tide has strongly impacted sea life, business, tourism and the environment on Anna Maria Island.

One section of the bloom stretches from about Clearwater to Venice, he added, but it is patchy along the coastline.

In general, a hurricane’s winds could have further dispersed the algae, but the rain that comes with the storms also brings nutrients into the water that feeds the bloom, Pierce said. So even pushed offshore, it could still be fed by those nutrients.

“At this point, it’s just a wait and see what happens. Does it come back on shore, does it increase or has it been dispersed enough so that it’s not going to continue to increase? We just don’t know at this time,” Pierce said.

Beach conditions by location

Coquina Beach: Shortly after sunrise Wednesday, a few people could be spotted walking or biking the coastline of Coquina Beach South. Though the red tide algae bloom is still in the Gulf, there were no signs of dead fish or any odor typically associated with the bloom.

Mote’s Beach Conditions report showed some red drift in the moderately-colored water, with no dead fish but reports of slight respiratory irritation Wednesday morning.

FWC’s red tide current conditions map showed low levels of the red tide algae in nearby waters.

Cortez Beach: Around 8:15 a.m., several people were fishing or walking along parts of Cortez Beach. No dead fish were in their path and there was no smell. Water color here was also darker than usual prior to the red tide bloom reaching Manatee County.

There were low levels of K. brevis cells in the waters off the beach on Oct. 15, according to the FWC red tide current status map.

Manatee Public Beach: Crowds were starting to gather as families set up their tents and couples walked the shoreline around 8:45 a.m. There were no dead fish and no odor. The water color was darker than spotted at the southern end of the island, but it was an improvement on earlier red tide reports.

According to Mote’s, Manatee Beach had moderate water color, no dead fish and some red drift and reported slight respiratory irritation.

Anna Maria: One dead fish was badly decomposed on the sand just a few hundred feet south of the Sandbar Restaurant near the Palm Avenue access point Wednesday morning. By 9:30 a.m. there was still no noticeable smell.

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