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Emergency Services dealing with massive red tide fish kill

Bill DeYoung

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The Monday-morning view at Bayboro Harbor, on the University of South Florida St. Pete campus. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

Amber Boulding

Nobody wants to think about dead fish, especially in the high concentrations that turn up in the water, and along the shore, during a red tide bloom.

Amber Boulding, the City of St. Petersburg Emergency Services Manager, has been dealing with nothing but dead fish since the current outbreak began, producing them in devastating numbers.

As of last Thursday, Emergency Services had collected 15 tons of the smelly stuff – it’s officially “debris” – with more than half of that turning up in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Elsa (high winds offshore tend to drive whatever’s floating out there toward the coastline).

“There’s fish everywhere,” Boulding said, “and with every tide more fish can come in. Or with a shift of the winds. And our crews are stretched thin out there. We’ve pulled them off of their normal positions to be out there, picking up fish, trying to keep the shorelines clean and the waterfront clean.”

The Office of Emergency Management is a division of St. Petersburg Fire Services.

“Emergency Management is all hazards,” explained Boulding. “So whether that happens to be hurricanes, tornadoes, mass casualties – we’re the catch-all for anything that overwhelms the normal local response.

“Normally, red tide wouldn’t be us, but since it’s all levels of government at this point, multiple jurisdictions, multiple city departments bringing in other vendors – my team has come in now to help coordinate it.”

Both the city and Pinellas County have contracts with separate “debris contractors.” If the rotting fish were scooped up in the water, they’re hauled off to an incinerator and used to create energy for the city.

If the fish come from the shoreline, and are sandy, off they go to the landfill.

The county website monitors red tide concentrations through daily water samples taken at different places offshore – both in the Gulf of Mexico and inside Tampa Bay.

On Saturday, the National Weather Service issued a beach-hazards warning for the southern areas of Pinellas County; there are airborne toxins in red tide, which can cause coughing and irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat.

Red tide is also harmful to sea turtles, plus dolphins, manatees and other marine mammals.

When will it end? Even scientists don’t understand when red tide will occur and what damage it will cause.

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

“I can report on what the city is seeing and what the city is doing, but I can’t predict what red tide is going to do,” said Boulding.

“What I do know is that it can be here today and gone in a few days. It’s the motion of the water – and if we were to get another big storm, the offshore winds could push it right back out. We saw that in 2018.”

That was a devastating red tide bloom. And anyway Boulding – not a scientist, by her own admission – and her team can only try to contain the damage.

“Counting the fish and the tonnage is such a moving target,” she said. “You can really get bogged down by just trying to track that. So we’re looking at tactics at how we can more effectively track that and be able to report it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Peggy naruns

    July 12, 2021at3:14 pm

    Thank you for cleaning up as much of the dead fish I thank every one who worked on it!

  2. Avatar

    Charles Hewison

    July 14, 2021at8:44 am

    I would like a discussion on the Red Tide. Why is it called Red ? What causes it? It’s period, how long is it expected to last? What areas are affected? Possible prevention tactics?

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