Swimming at the beach on July 4th? Watch out for the red tide
Summer is in effect and the July 4th vacation has arrived. Many across Tampa Bay will be heading to the beaches ready to jump in the water this weekend.
Experts warn they need to be careful this year.
If beachgoers see any signs of a toxic red tide blooming, they should stay away from these waters, said Jenna Stevens, state director of the environmental health advocacy group.
“As we prepare for this weekend, obviously with the red tide blossoms active, it’s important to be safe and careful,” Stevens said during a Zoom webinar on Thursday, “and not to put yourself or your family members at risk for health problems.
“So if you see dead fish on the beach, that’s probably not a good sign and shouldn’t go in the water there.”
The red tide has plagued the Tampa Bay area for weeks. Pinellas County officials say it affects the beaches in Fort De Soto Park. However, in recent days, the killed fish have moved to the waterfronts of downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission red tide online map shows concentrations of Karenia brevis, the microorganism that causes the blooms, has been detected in Tampa Bay.
The toxins can cause skin irritation, respiratory tract irritation, eye burns, or worse if someone swims near the flowers. Toxins can also make the air in the room difficult to breathe. Local health services have issued health warnings in areas where they fear the red tide will cause respiratory problems. Toxins are particularly harmful to vulnerable populations: infants, the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases.
Lynn Ringenberg, co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility Florida, recommends that people living in red tide areas avoid getting water in their eyes, nose, ears, mucous membranes, etc. She also suggests taking a good full shower afterwards.
Most importantly, she said the public should heed any warning signs.
“I wouldn’t go in the water with my kids or someone with dead fish floating around,” Ringenberg said during the Zoom meeting.
Anyone who is irritated and suspects exposure to the red tide should get out of the water and wash thoroughly. There are also other risks of swimming near dead fish, which are associated with harmful bacteria.
The red tide can also be dangerous for pets, so keep them away from these areas and dead marine life. If they are exposed, wash them immediately.
Red tide resources
Florida Poison Control Centers have a free 24/7 hotline to report illnesses including exposure to red tide: 1-800-222-1222
There are several online resources that can help residents stay informed and share information about Red Tide:
Visit St. Pete / Clearwater, the county’s tourism wing, operates an online beach dashboard at www.beachesupdate.com.
The agency is asking business owners to email red tide issue reports to [email protected]
Pinellas County shares information with the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast Tool that allows beach goers to check for warnings.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website that shows where the red tide is detected and how high the concentrations are.
How to stay safe near water
Beach goers should avoid swimming around dead fish.
People with chronic respiratory problems should be especially careful and “consider staying away” from areas where the red tide is present.
People should not harvest or eat shellfish or distressed and dead fish from the area. Healthy fish fillets should be rinsed with clean water and the entrails discarded.
Pet owners should keep their pets away from water and dead fish.
Residents living near the beach should close their windows and run air conditioners with appropriate filters.
Visitors to the beach may wear paper masks, especially if the wind is blowing.
Source: Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County