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Coronavirus Creates Lack Of Red Tide Testing For Birds With Symptoms

Red knot birds in a pen
Seaside Seabird Sanctuary
The red knots are being treated, but researchers cannot say for sure what the threatened species are suffering from.

Shorebird rehabilitators had an "all hands on deck” situation this past weekend, and red tide could be the culprit.

Red knots, 53 of them, have shown symptoms of red tide.

They were discovered by Redington Beach goers in Pinellas County, but researchers cannot say for sure what the threatened species are suffering from because coronavirus has caused a standstill at Florida Fish and Wildlife labs.

Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife based in Odessa has been caring for some of the red knots.

Red knots around a food bowl
Credit COURTESY: Melissa Edwards / Seaside Seabird Sanctuary
Seaside Seabird Sanctuary
With red tide symptoms, the birds require mostly supportive care and medications to clear the toxins.

Although, Seaside Seabird Sanctuary Hospital Director Melissa Edwards is taking care of the majority in Indian Shores.

"It's kind of been 12-to-13 hour shifts for me,” she said. “I have my other staff that are still taking care of all the other birds we have. So pretty much it's just been me working with these guys right now."

Edwards said with red tide symptoms, it's mostly supportive care and using medications to clear the toxins out of the red knots.

And she said there are some added challenges to rehabilitate these birds during a global pandemic.

“It’s been a little bit difficult to get some of the food supplies that we use for them with like mealworms and other feeding insects, but it's been kind of a struggle gathering enough because these guys can go through 2,000 a day,” she said.

The last time Edwards saw this kind of activity was the red tide event of 2018.

She said she hopes this was an isolated incident, since there haven't been any more sick red knots since Sunday, and the animals are healing quickly.

Audubon of Florida is keeping an eye on the beach and has so far not reported any new cases.

Edwards is waiting to hear whether federal wildlife officials will declare this an urgent matter and open state labs for red tide testing.

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My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.