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‘Dark days:’ Red tide algal bloom results in massive fish kill

July 30, 2018
By VALARIE HARRING ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Dead fish by the thousands are washing up on local beaches, killed by a high concentration of red tide in both on-shore and off-shore waters up and down the coast.

"We have a big fish kill from Punta Rassa to the Sanibel boat ramp up the beach and along the shoreline; they are seeing everything," said Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resources policy director for Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, today. "It's devastating - the death and the smell and just safety, from contamination. These are dark days. We've got everything washing up, apparently."

The severity of a red algae bloom is measured by the number of cells in the water. Fish kills begin to happen when the cell count per liter of water measured hits 200,000 cells.

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Thousands of dead fish have washed up on local beaches. Due to the “unprecedented volume of dead sea life” washing up, the city began collecting and removing dead sea life from beaches on July 28. Private property owners can collect dead fish from the beaches. Dead sea life can be doubled bagged and placed into the owners' commercial dumpsters. Extreme caution is urged when picking up catfish, which have toxic barbs.

The cell levels off Sanibel were measured Friday with counts in the tens of millions - 10 million cells per liter along the shore; 20 million cells per liter just off shore, astronomical levels.

"We're talking 10-20 million," Wessel said. "I'm thinking that this is by far, between the (dead) sea turtles, the whale shark, this fish kill, it's certainly the worst I can remember. It's affecting everything, of course, at these levels, all marine life. The mass mortality that we're facing, based on our recollection, it's the worst I can remember."

In addition to concentration, the bloom is widespread.

"It's not just off-shore here, it's along the Gulf Coast," Wessel said.

The reason beach-goers are seeing the full impact of bloom's severity is due to wind direction.

"We're seeing the effect of it because the on-shore wind is blowing it all on shore," she said.

Such blooms feed on nutrients in the water - the more nutrients released from the river's watershed and Lake Okeechobee, the greater the chance of marine-life killing blooms in the gulf, Wessel said.

To that end, SCCF is urging the community - particularly voters - to demand prevention at the source of the pollution.

"The primary driver is nutrients in the water. We need to stop loading nutrients in our water bodies," she said. "As we stand here in the middle of this extreme event, what we can do is ask for the state to tighten water quality and stormwater standards. Our options are limited while we're the middle of an event. It's sort of like when the house is burning, that's not the time to call about getting an insurance policy."

SCCF has set up a call-to-action component online at

"We're encouraging people to send a letter to current officials and ask questions of candidates both," Wessel said.

Suggested questions to be asked are included on the site.



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