Toxic Algae Bloom Spreading North in Florida

More South Florida beaches closed and fish washed up dead as the toxic algae bloom known as red tide spread north on the state's east coast Wednesday.

By Larry Barszewski

More South Florida beaches closed and fish washed up dead as the toxic algae bloom known as red tide spread north on the state's east coast Wednesday.

The state said Wednesday that new test results showed red tide's presence off Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Dead fish were reported along the entire coastline of Palm Beach County, which first showed signs of red tide on Saturday.

"Throughout the day, we've gotten consistent reports of dead fish along the coastline, north county and south county. It seemed regional," said Deborah Drum, Palm Beach County's environmental resources management director. "Fish kills are not uncommon when you have a red tide situation. This isn't a total surprise."

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said they will have biologists and staff investigate and begin the clean-up of one of those fish kills, at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. They will also test for the Karenia brevis toxin to see if red tide was the culprit.

The county closed its beaches at Boca South Inlet Park in Boca Raton and at Ocean Inlet and Gulfstream parks in Boynton Beach because of rising complaints by lifeguards there of allergy-like symptoms related to red tide, such as coughing, irritated throats and wheezing.

"Respiratory conditions were about the same as they were yesterday, except further down south," said Eric Call, the county's parks director. The red tide had been most heavily concentrated, at low to moderate levels, along the county's coastline north of Lake Worth. Most of those beaches have been closed since Saturday.

The city of Boca Raton's beaches remain open, although officials there said they will "continue to monitor the situation closely." While most county beaches are closed, the picnic and other areas of those parks remain open.

Call could not say when closed beaches would reopen.

"Each day, we will make an assessment as we're monitoring samples, gauging respiratory conditions," Call said. "We'll certainly reopen them as fast as we can."

Test results expected Wednesday afternoon for Broward County were delayed by the state conservation commission, which was still working on them, said Nicole Sharp, who oversees Broward's beaches.

Sharp said she has received reports from Deerfield Beach, Hillsboro Beach and Pompano Beach over the last several days of people complaining of symptoms that could be caused by red tide.

Sharp said there's a chance any Broward exposure to red tide will be minimal. There have been less than 10 red tide occurences in South Florida since 1957, Sharp said.

"Based on previous experience, our durations are dramatically less than algae blooms we see on the west coast," Sharp said.

Miami-Dade County was also awaiting results of tests taken there, although WPLG-Ch. 10 reported the county has also received complaints from people experiencing respiratory problems at beaches.

A forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts red tide conditions in the medium range through Friday in Palm Beach County, which could affect those with chronic respiratory issues and cause mild symptoms in others.

After forming in the Gulf of Mexico, red tide can reach the Atlantic coast by riding the Gulf's Loop current, which threads the Florida Straits and forms the Gulf Stream, the current that skims the Atlantic coast. Palm Beach County, where it was first detected, is at higher risk because that's where the Gulf Stream passes closest to land.

The toxic algae has driven away swimmers and littered west coast beaches with dead fish for months.

Palm Beach County crews will be out Thursday morning cleaning up dead fish after receiving permission from state environmental officials because of turtle-nesting season, Call said.

"It's relatively minor in a lot of areas," he said of the fish kills.

South Florida Sun Sentinel staff writer David Fleshler contributed to this report.


(c)2018 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)