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Red Tide
in Tampa Bay

Image by Dorian Photography

The algae that causes red tide is naturally found in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico but blooms of this abundance and intensity are rarely seen this early in the summer.

While there is a time correlation, at this time, we cannot make a definitive causation.  However, the fact that the 215 million gallons of wastewater was dispersed from Piney Point so early in the season, tied to the lack of rain we experienced in May, indicate there is a connection.  The additional nutrients coupled with rainfall, wind and the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water are all fueling the bloom with no end in sight. It can be expected that we will be experiencing the effects of the red tide bloom for many weeks or months to come because of the abundance of nutrients in the bay fueling the bloom of the red tide.

The effects of the red tide are not only impacting our estuary and cherished marine life, but is also directly impacting our economy as local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, tourism destinations and charters.  Red tide is preventing visitors from spending the tourism dollars that our local economy depends on, and residents from enjoying the beauty and activities that make living here so appealing.

What can you do to help?

  • Now that red tide is in full bloom, there is little to be done to remove it. We ask that you help care for your own backyard, meaning help remove the carcasses from the beaches and bay areas where you spend time.
  • Both City and County governments are taking the lead on the removal and disposal of the dead marine life, but the government cannot handle 100% of the removal.  This is a critical step in this process because as dead marine life decays, it contributes more nutrients into the system which exacerbates the red tide cycle by fueling the algae.
  • Speaking of backyards, fertilizer runoff from lawns fuels red tide, which is why the Pinellas County bans feeding lawns during the peak-rain, summer months. But the problem isn’t just in the summer, as runoff finds its way to the bay year-round.  Please consider native plants instead of grass, or xeriscape.  Ask yourself which is more important: A green lawn, or a blue Tampa Bay?
  • Consider volunteering and/or supporting Tampa Bay Watch, where we develop living shorelines. These include construction and installation living shorelines including oyster reefs and coastal wetland grasses.  Besides being invaluable bay habitats that help to improve the water quality they also become nurseries for small fish, many of whom migrate to the deeper waters. Through this action, you are helping to repopulate the bay after all of the fish kill caused by red tide. 
  • Tampa Bay Watch has been restoring and supporting the estuary for 28 years, and making incredible progress.  However, the current situation demonstrates the need for stronger water protections and monitoring. And, there are still close to 24 plants like Piney Point around the state.  While not all are on the Atlantic or Gulf, nitrogen releases can still impact fresh water and contaminate the water tables and aquifer.  Please contact your elected officials at the local and state level (city council representatives, congressional representatives) and ask them to commit to stronger water quality protections, to support continued monitoring, and to fund emergency cleanup efforts.