Deaths of rare sea turtles and manatees attributed to red tide toxin

TAMPA BAY, FL – After a brief period of improvement last weekend, Pinellas County officials say red tide conditions have now worsened along the Pinellas coast, resulting in the death of manatees threatened and endangered sea turtles.

Pinellas County water quality monitoring on Tuesday showed medium and high cell counts of K shortthe organism that causes red tide, from Pass-A-Grille north to Honeymoon Island.

However, after cleaning up more than 3.4 million pounds of dead marine life and debris over the past month, the county did not activate its cleanup contractor on Monday and Tuesday because there were no fatalities. large number of fish on those days.

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Instead, marine biologists and conservationists were appalled to see the red tide affect some of Florida’s most vulnerable marine species.

Sea Turtle Trackers, a group that patrols the beaches of St. Pete Beach and Shell Key Preserve, protecting sea turtle nests buried in the sand, said it found two juvenile Kemp’s tortoiseshell sea turtles dead last week . According to National Geographic, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the most endangered sea turtle species in the world.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also found nine dead manatees last week in red tide areas off the coast of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The manatee is classified as threatened under the federal endangered species law.

From Jan. 9 to July 22, the FWC said it found 32 dead manatees in the red tide zone, which includes Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. So far, examinations have confirmed that nine people have died from red tide toxins. Two were killed by a collision with a boat and eight are too decomposed to determine the cause of death.


Related story: Sharks move through key Longboat channels to avoid red tide: report


Between June 17 and July 22, 14 manatees were found dead in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Five are too decomposed to determine the cause of death. The FWC is awaiting autopsy results on the remains.

Marine biologists at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium were so concerned about these statistics that they announced on July 21 that they planned to accelerate construction of a manatee rehabilitation center at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs.

“I’ve never seen it look so bad, and I’ve been studying manatees, believe it or not, for over 50 years,” said Dr. James Powell, executive director of the aquarium’s research institute. .

Madeira Beach resident Nicole Morris of Save Florida’s Beaches posted a video to the group’s Facebook page this week that she says shows manatees pushing the carcass of a member of their aggregation near Indian Rocks Beach on July 23.

“The source who sent us this video confirmed that she was dead and the others were pushing her around,” she said. “I have no words at the moment. This has to change.”

And it’s not just manatees. Morris also posted a video this week on the group’s Facebook page showing seven sick dolphins found in the coves of Madeira Beach. She notified the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the FWC.

“There were no live fish in sight and there is zero visibility in the water,” she said. “They couldn’t breathe and were very lethargic.”

On July 1, a dolphin that once entertained visitors to St. Pete’s Pier – performing leaps out of the water and swimming to the pier to greet watchers with squeals and hisses – was found dead on Vinoy beach.

Residents who had watched the dolphin’s antics for years said they were devastated.

As of July 28, the FWC said there were no signs of the red tide abating on the Pinellas Coast and Tampa Bay and the red tide health advisories remained in effect.

Over the past week, K.short was detected in 109 water samples with bloom concentrations of 100,000 or more cells per liter of water found in 59 samples: seven in Pasco County, 12 in Pinellas County, three in Hillsborough County , six in Manatee County, 27 in Sarasota County, two in Charlotte County and two in Lee County.

Bloom concentrations of 100,000 to 1 million are considered average red tide levels and can cause respiratory irritation; shellfish harvesting closures and likely fish kills.

Concentrations above 1 million mean red tide levels are high and may result in no-swimming warnings and beach closures.

As of July 28, high concentrations were found at Clearwater Pass, Indian Shores, Treasure Island, Bay Dock in Sarasota Bay, Stump Pass Beach in Englewood, Nokomis Beach in Nokomis, Siesta Beach in Siesta Key, Turtle Beach in Sarasota, South Lido Park, La Contessa Pier in Redington Beach and Archibald Beach in St. Petersburg.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Red Tide Respiratory Prediction Tool indicates that people with respiratory conditions may have difficulty breathing at La Contessa Pier, Siesta Beach, Nokomis Beach and Turtle Beach.

Before heading to the beach, residents can check red tide conditions by clicking on the FWC Daily Sampling Map or the Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Beaches Update.

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