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Red Tide is spreading across SWFL coasts, and it's not clear what's causing it

Posted at 9:03 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 21:03:18-05

CAPTIVA — Red Tide is raising concerns about tourism on Sanibel and Captiva.

The bacteria has been spotted in several areas along the coast, and now the Department of Health has put out warnings for visitors. You can see those advisories on signs posted at the Alison Hagerup Beach Access to Captiva Beach. Water tested there was positive for Red Tide. At least for now, you can’t see it or smell it, but we learned it is already affecting tourism.

We met fishermen on Blind Pass Bridge, and learned Red Tide had already changed their day.

“The Game Warden just came by and was telling us that right now snook, redfish, and speckled trout are all closed because of the red tide, just to protect their populations," said Patrick Schiller.

That means the fishermen have to throw those fish back. Professor Mike Parsons at Florida Gulf Coast University said he’s confirmed the Red Tide as well.

“We first started seeing Red Tide right around thanksgiving," said Parsons.

The map provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows several instances of Red Tide up and down Sanibel and Captiva islands. That includes an orange dot, which means a moderate concentration, right in Blind Pass, but the fishers said, if it’s there, they hadn’t noticed.

“We’ve been up to Cape Coral, we’ve been out here in Sanibel, and we’ve been up by Tampa and at this point I haven’t seen any evidence of a red tide," said Schiller.

Parsons said one way researchers have seen it is in birds.

“This past weekend, there were basically teeter-tottering cormorants walking around, stumbling around, and we think it’s due to being exposed to the Red Tide toxin," said Parsons.

The wildlife hospital CROW told us it received 60 of those birds to treat in the month of November alone.

There’s a theory that the increase in Red Tide could be coming due to the release of water from Lake Okeechobee, carrying nutrients to the coast, but Parsons said, it hasn’t been proven.

“Nobody has been able to really link it directly, link the two directly. It’s not as simple as a cause and effect," said Parsons.

Parsons said he’ll continue to track the bacteria, and the fisherman said for them, it’s not the end of the world.

“It’s a little disappointing, but you know, it’s better for the fishery in the future so, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do," said Schiller.

Parsons said it's a little unusual to see Red Tide this late in the year. He said we’ll only be in real trouble if the blooms get large enough where they become self-sustaining, meaning they don’t need outside nutrients to survive.