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Date of Issue: September 29, 2005

Red tide outbreak intensifies off Island

The nagging red tide outbreak that has plagued Southwest Florida for months flared up again over the weekend.

Dead fish and the accompanying smell as well as respiratory complaints were persistent along beaches from Anna Maria to Sarasota as prevailing winds blew the aftereffects of the bloom to shore.

Fish littered the shores and were packed into the bays, prompting workers and Florida Department of Corrections inmates to begin the arduous task of collecting the carcasses - a chore that will probably take days.

"The red tide has been very intensive since Hurricane Katrina blew past a month ago," said Dr. Richard Pierce, director of the ecotoxicology department at Mote Marine Laboratory, "and the onshore winds over the weekend made it more of an impact."

Pierce said researchers from Mote and the Florida Marine Research Institute with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission left Tuesday for a water sampling trip in the Gulf between Tampa and Charlotte Harbor.

"They'll be taking water samples out to 30 miles," Pierce said. "We should get a good grid of what's going on out there."

He said that turbidity spurred by Hurricane Rita's passage has adversely impacted the satellite imagery that the scientists usually utilize to track red tide movement.

Pierce said that the red tide outbreak has been widespread and "of interest because it is mostly in the estuaries and near shore, when it usually is in the Gulf and offshore areas."

Red tide is a microscopic, naturally occurring organism that is found in all the world's oceans. The Gulf of Mexico strain, Karenia brevis, inexplicably blooms periodically and can cause fish kills and respiratory discomfort in humans.