Summer of Red Tide reaches the Panhandle

Bay County tests positive for the toxic algae, along with Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and other northwestern Florida counties.

Panama City Beach wasn't experiencing all the same problems as southwestern Florida on Sept. 18, 2018, but Bay County samples showed medium concentrations of Red Tide. [Joshua Gillin | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Panama City Beach wasn't experiencing all the same problems as southwestern Florida on Sept. 18, 2018, but Bay County samples showed medium concentrations of Red Tide. [Joshua Gillin | Florida Beach Insider photo]

Red Tide has come to the Panhandle, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reporting the toxic algae’s presence in northwestern Florida counties in its Sept. 19 status update.

The Sept. 19 report found medium concentrations of the algae, known by its scientific name Karenia brevis, in Bay County. The agency first reported concentrations of Red Tide around Bay County in its Sept. 14 update.

Northwest Coast Red Tide Counts September 11 through 18, 2018

Although the area beaches seemed largely unaffected earlier this week, fish kills had been reported in Bay and neighboring Walton counties. (Go here to report a fish kill in your area.)

READ MORE: Answers to questions about Red Tide

The latest update found low, very low or background concentrations in isolated samples from Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Gulf and Franklin counties, and also in Pasco County north of Tampa Bay. Read the northwestern Florida report here.

The concentrations in the Panhandle are far lower than in southwestern Florida, which has been dealing with Red Tide for months. A bloom has been plaguing an area from Manatee to Collier counties, most recently inching north to Pinellas County.

Southwest Coast Red Tide Counts September 11 through 18, 2018

READ MORE: Is Red Tide affecting Florida's seafood? It's best to ask before you eat.

Normally the algae exist in the Gulf of Mexico in microscopic amounts, but when conditions are right they multiply rapidly and spread across the water’s surface, staining it a rusty color that gives the phenomenon its name. Then winds and currents carry it toward shore.

The bloom can kill marine wildlife, including fish and manatees. Usually the toxins cause only mild irritation and coughing in humans, but they can produce serious problems for people with asthma and other respiratory problems. There have been some media reports of respiratory issues among swimmers and beachgoers in northwest Florida over the past few days, but these recent status updates confirmed the algae is present.

READ MORE: Red Tide can affect birds along the shore.

Health officials advise against eating shellfish from Red Tide areas because the toxins can accumulate in their bodies, poisoning humans. Shorebirds apparently are being sickened by eating fish that have been affected by the algae.

No one knows the true cause of Red Tide, but as it moves closer to shore it can be prolonged by nitrate pollution that flows into the waterways from overfertilized yards and leaky septic and sewage systems.

There was no evidence of Karena brevis in samples from Escambia, Dixie, Citrus, Levy, or Hernando counties in the Sept. 19 update. No samples from Wakulla, Jefferson, or Taylor counties were tested.

READ MORE: Africa's dust may be partly to blame for Florida's Red Tide.

The status update predicts net southern movement of surface waters and net southeastern transport of subsurface waters over the next three days for most areas in the southwest part of the state. Northwest Florida will largely experience net eastern transport of surface and subsurface waters.

The FWC will post its next Red Tide status update on Sept. 21.

WHERE (AND WHAT) IS RED TIDE? Visit our Visitor Information section for more about Red Tide.

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This article was written by one or more Florida Beach Insider staff members.