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Red tide bloom kills fish, besets humans


A red tide bloom, dating back to Oct. 1, continues to beset
Apalachicola Bay, contributing to fish deaths as well as short-lived respiratory
distress to some individuals.

On Tuesday, the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring a local state of emergency after receiving reports from commercial fishers of strange behavior in bait fish, a sign of Karenia Brevis, or red tide.

The Florida Department of Health in
Franklin County on Monday notified the public of a red tide bloom near Dog Island.
A previous health alert for the red tide bloom near the St. George Island
Lighthouse Beach and another location in between Tally Ho Road and VeronicaÂ’s
Way at Bob Sikes Cut, had been issued a few days earlier and remains in place.

Karenia Brevis
occurs in marine and estuarine waters of Florida and typically blooms in the
late summer or early fall, first developing offshore and brought inshore by
currents and winds. Although there is no direct link between nutrients related
to human activity, such as sewage and runoff, and the initiation of blooms,
once blooms are transported inshore, these nutrient sources can fuel them.

Karenia brevis
produces neurotoxins that can sicken or kill fish, seabirds, turtles, and
marine mammals, and can contribute to fish kills by depleting the water of
dissolved oxygen.

According to the daily
Fish Kill Database maintained by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a
branch of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, fish kills
were first reported on Oct. 1, many called in on the Fish Kill Hotline (800)
636-0511.

“Reports are
summarized and do not necessarily reflect the observations of scientifically trained
individuals,” the report notes. “Although (the hotline) follows up with each
report initiator, (it) is not able to verify every account through direct
observation.”

Reports on Facebook
from everyone from residents and visitors to those monitoring turtle nest have flourished.
The hotline has reported fish kills on St. George Island beaches, including the
Plantation and state park, as well as the Hidden Beaches of Carrabelle, Little
St. George Island and St. Vincent Island.

Fish listed as
killed include pinfish, catfish, whiting, boxfish, sunfish, mullet, hogfish,
ladyfish, juvenile snapper, croaker, black and red drum, silver perch, porgy, cowfish,
and flounder, as well as stingrays and eels.

Toxins can also
affect humans, causing respiratory irritation if aerosolized toxins are inhaled
or shellfish poisoning if shellfish contaminated with toxins are consumed.

Some people may have mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms
such as eye, nose and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms, while those
with breathing problems such as asthma might experience more severe symptoms.
Usually symptoms go away when a person leaves the area or goes indoors, said
the health department.

Health officials recommend people experiencing these
symptoms stay away from beach areas and not swim around dead fish at this
location.

“Do not harvest or eat molluscan shellfish and distressed or
dead fish from this location. If fish are healthy, rinse fillets with tap or
bottled water and throw out the guts,” reads the health department advisory. “Shellfish,
including clams, oysters, and mussels can accumulate brevetoxins, which have no
taste, smell, or color, and canÂ’t be destroyed by cooking. If contaminated
shellfish are eaten, people can become ill with neurotoxic shellfish poisoning.

“Fish are safe to eat as long as they are caught alive and
only the muscle is eaten. The muscle of crustaceans, including crab, shrimp,
and lobster, is not affected by red tide toxins and can be eaten,” it advises.

It also advises to keep pets away from water, sea foam and
dead sea life. Residents living in beach areas are advised to close windows and
run the air conditioner. If outdoors, residents may choose to wear paper filter
masks, especially if onshore winds are blowing.

Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 Hotline
for reporting of illnesses, including health effects from exposure to red tide
at 1-800-222-1222.