Red tide levels in Tampa Bay are at their highest in years, study finds

Research compiled from the FWC and NOAA shows that red tide levels have not been so high since 1971 in Middle Tampa Bay.

TAMPA, Fla .– Red tide cleanup efforts have been suspended in Pinellas County, but the impacts of toxic algae blooms continue to impact the Tampa Bay area.

If you thought this year’s red tide was the worst you’ve seen in Tampa Bay, research now shows you’re right.

In the graph below, data compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA show the impacts of the red tide in the Tampa Bay area over the decades, dating back to 1956. Scientists at the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) say this year’s peak red tide algal blooms are no coincidence.

“This year, combined with the decrease in precipitation, as well as the nutrients that we saw from Piney Point entering the system, this made it a perfect mix for the red tide to develop in the bay,” said the Dr Marcus Beck, a program scientist with TBEP.

Beck compiled the FWC and NOAA data into graphs to make it easier to understand and show how severe the red tide has been for Tampa Bay in 2021.

“Anytime you get an excess of nutrients in the berry, it usually causes excessive algae growth,” Beck said. “In the case of Piney Point this year, when we saw several hundred tonnes of nutrients entering the bay, we kind of suspected that it would elicit an algal response.”

An algal response is what Beck says is exactly what happened. The TBEP said red tide conditions have been significantly better in recent weeks, but there are still many unanswered questions behind the blooms themselves.

RELATED: No, There Is No ‘Scientific Consensus’ On The Impact Of The Piney Point Red Tide

“There is still a lot that we don’t know,” said Maya Burke, deputy director of TBEP. “Unfortunately this bloom has been very vibrant and very patchy, which makes it difficult to predict and understand. I would say conditions change very frequently.”

Burke said these unanswered questions make it difficult to predict whether the red tide will worsen again in 2021. What scientists are able to see: A link between nutrient spills and red tide blooms.

“It’s important to make the connection that this year was an anomaly in terms of nutrient pollution entering the bay,” Beck said. “We’re seeing things that aren’t normal for the bay, and it doesn’t take really complicated science to make those connections.”

Earlier this spring, sewage leaks were discovered at the old Piney Point facility in Manatee County.

RELATED: Eating Fresh Fish and Seafood During Red Tide: Is It Safe?

Authorities decided to pump millions of gallons of nutrient-rich sewage into Tampa Bay to prevent a devastating site collapse, but environmentalists have since blamed the water for being used as fuel for recent red tide blooms. .

“The numbers this year are much higher than they’ve been in the past two years,” Beck said. “Specifically, since 1971, this was the last time we had such high values.”

Stormwater and wastewater treatment was not regulated in Florida until 1981.

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