Fish kill tops red tide week 22, shoreline cleanup starts anew

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A gull tugs at a dead mullet on the beach along the Palma Sola Causeway Dec. 4. Islander Photos: Sandy Ambrogi

The turkey vultures circled overhead Dec. 3.

It would take another day for the smell of decaying dead fish to reach the Palma Sola Causeway approach to Anna Maria Island.

Mullet had become the latest victims of a red tide bloom. By Dec. 7, thousands of mullet, with red tide as the suspected culprit, swam in circles gasping for oxygen or laid dead in Palma Sola Bay and the waters in the nearby preserves.

Robinson Preserve was particularly hard hit.

Meanwhile, actual red tide levels decreased in Manatee County, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s testing information posted Dec. 5.

The FWC reported slight respiratory irritation in Manatee and Sarasota counties, as well as fish kills.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, wrote Dec. 5 in an email to The Islander the county was planning a cleanup within the preserves.

“We are going to provide only measured and limited cleanup of red tide effects with our preserves with our own employees out of concern for the sensitivity of the shoreline environments and our desire to minimize the cumulative impact of decaying fish,” he wrote.

Hunsicker discussed the possibility of a “dead zone” being created if dissolved oxygen drops to very low levels as decay occurs, resulting in even more fish and other aquatic life dying. This concern prompted the cleanup.

Hunsicker also said using government employees would minimize the risk to “well-meaning volunteers who may want to pitch in and help.”

Bradenton city employees jumped into action Dec. 5, raking, piling and disposing of dead fish from the Palma Sola Causeway.

And Bradenton residents Anthony Burls and Gerald Whipper cut their Dec. 5 fishing trip short and pulled their boat out at Kingfish Boat Ramp midmorning with a “here we go again.”

“Nobody’s catching anything,” Burls said. “Nothing much is moving out there. We did see some sheepshead and a snook. So they are OK.”

The fish kills followed an unusually high number of dolphin deaths along the Southwest Florida coastline since Nov. 21 and reports of seabirds dying around Clam Pass in Naples and Residents Beach on Marco Island.

The birds look healthy, then convulse or are unable to fly and die within hours.

Adam DiNuovo is the Audubon Society of Collier County bird stewardship manager. He has been ferrying sick birds from the beaches to the hospital.

More than 100 dead or sick birds have been brought to Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Collier County since mid-November. That doesn’t count the ones that died on the beach or in transit.

Necropsies are still pending, but red tide has not been ruled out as a culprit, according to DiNuovo. Tissue samples are at the University of Georgia and FWC.

“It’s the terns that are getting sick the most. The ones who go out to fish. The shorebirds, not so much. These birds are dying rapidly. They look fine, their body weight is fine,” DiNuovo told The Islander by phone.

“They all seem to regurgitate whatever they were eating before it hits them.”

At Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, the daily beach report Dec. 7 indicated slight respiratory irritation and some dead fish at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

The surf was calm and the water temperature hovered at 69 degrees as the red tide bloom continued.

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