Opinions are split on Hurricane Michael’s impact on red tide in the region.
One corner in the scientific community says the hurricane may have helped break up the harmful algae bloom plaguing more than 100 miles of Florida’s west coast.
Others say the hurricane will intensify the bloom. Wave action could have busted open the brevetoxins, making respiratory issues worsen, and the storm’s counterclockwise winds could have pushed the bloom back to the coast.
It may be a while before the experts know.
Aileen Marty, director of the Health Travel Medicine Program at Florida International University, believes the hurricane could have broken up the red tide and moved it off the coast.
However, if wind and wave action broke up the toxins, there could be a period with an increased concentration of red tide.
She also warned the red tide could worsen due to increased runoff from rains. If runoffs with fertilizers and other chemicals reach the red tide, conditions could exacerbate again.
Rains were little more than gusty showers around Anna Maria Island and through the Tampa Bay region Oct. 9-10, minimizing the impact of fertilizer and other nutrients in runoffs.
Tracy Fanara, a staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory, offered another perspective. She said Michael’s brush with the west coast may not have been close enough to bust up the HAB.
Also, she said Michael’s winds may have pushed the west coast bloom back toward the shoreline.
Mote scientists planned to collect samples the week of Oct. 15 to evaluate to gain a clearer perspective of the hurricane’s impact on the HAB.
Meanwhile, along Coquina Beach and on the bayside near the Coquina boat ramps in Bradenton Beach, Manatee County crews cleaned up scattered dead fish Oct. 11, after the storm passed.
Crews reported “signs of respiratory issues in the air, but with minor irritation” as they worked to clean the beaches, according to Carmine DeMilio, Manatee County Grounds Operation Manager,
Beachgoers observed scattered fish kills on island beaches. Sharon Bishop, of Bradenton, said she visited beaches Oct. 11 and “saw a lot of dead fish coming in.” She also noticed a “fishy smell,” according to her posting on The Islander’s Facebook page.
Mote’s report for Oct. 12 indicated some dead fish, dark water and slight respiratory irritation at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
Will the reprieve continue?
Before the storm, experts reported a decrease in the severity of the red tide.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, concentrations of Karenia brevis decreased in Manatee between Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, with some tests showing little or no signs of red tide.
Palma Sola Bay waters were negative for red tide Oct. 12, as were Cortez village waters that day. Very low concentrations were reported Oct. 12 at Bean Point on the northern tip of Anna Maria Island and at Coquina Beach.
People hoped the reprieve continued, despite reports of high concentrations hitting Pinellas beaches.
“I was hoping that Michael was going to wash the red tide all away,” Tamme Ongell wrote The Islander. She observed dead fish and horseshoe crabs in Bradenton Beach Oct. 11, after the storm passed.
Nicole Votero works at the Gulf Drive Cafe in Bradenton Beach and has watched the red tide’s effect on the beaches. She reported she only saw a green algae line, which showed up after the hurricane. “They came and cleaned it right up,” Votero said. “There was no smell or anything, just a green line.”
As is the nature of a bloom, red tide changes daily in location and intensity.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted high levels of red tide on Manatee beaches immediately after Hurricane Michael from the brevetoxins breaking up, but then, low levels.
Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, said, “We may not be totally devoid of red tide concentrations along the coast, despite the pass of the hurricane.
Red tide’s departure would come none too soon for islanders.
“It’s been more than 11 weeks since our businesses, residents and visitors started dealing with the red tide,” Terri Kinder, president of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, said Oct. 12.
“Everyone has been unsure about what the next day might bring. Now our winter residents are returning, as are more visitors. We want to get past this quickly now, so that we can enjoy this beautiful place,” Kinder added.