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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Red tide proving deadly to manatees

Irritating red tide may have slackened for beachgoers, but it has become deadly for manatees.

As of Monday, 14 dead sea cows were found dead along Southwest Florida shores, including one off Anna Maria Island. The red tide bloom was suspected to be the cause of their demise, according to scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Red tide is caused by explosive growth of a marine organism called Karena brevis. The microscopic plants can create toxins that cause fish kills and create respiratory irritation in humans - and marine mammals such as manatees.

Red tide levels in the area were classed as "medium" late last week by FWC officials. Higher readings were recorded south of Manatee County, as well as in New Pass in Sarasota Bay.

Dead fish were present on the beaches last week, but the irritating airborne toxins had for the most part dissipated by late in the week, according to Bradenton Beach Public Works Director Dottie Poindexter. She said only a few dead fish were spotted on that city's beaches Monday, and crews were in the process of removing them.

The red tide bloom has been offshore for several months now, with sporadic "events" causing effects on and near shore due to prevailing westerly winds.