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What the early arrival of red tide could mean for spring break across the Tampa Bay area

A close-up of a dead fish wrapped in seaweed on the shore with the waves crashing in the blurred background.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
A fish kill is shown at Indian Shores during the toxic red tide bloom in June 2021. With Tampa Bay area beach communities and the tourism industry quickly approaching their busiest season, the early arrival of red tide has both visitors and businesses worried about its effects

The untimely arrival of red tide during the spring break period might concern some visitors to the greater Tampa Bay region.

With Tampa Bay area beach communities and the tourism industry quickly approaching their busiest season, the early arrival of red tide has both visitors and businesses worried about its effects.

The latest reports from state environmental officials say the algal bloom has drifted as far north as Sand Key, just south of Clearwater Beach.

And they're concerned winds from the south will continue pushing it further up the Pinellas coast.

READ MORE: What to know about the red tide hitting Florida beaches

Typically, red tide makes an annual appearance in the summer and fall. This spring occurrence is an unusual one that has taken some in the community by surprise.

"In the last couple of years we've had red tide, we have not seen as large of an impact," said Steve Hayes, CEO and president of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. "But that was not during the spring, it was during the summer and fall periods.

"It's something we'll just have to keep our eyes on and better understand what's happening out there."

While red tide is not life-threatening to most, it does make the beach experience unpleasant for some. Common symptoms brought on by the blooms include eye irritation, frequent sneezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

People with respiratory issues are encouraged to enjoy non-beach-related activities.

"If I’m staying at a resort and it’s a day where there’s a strong wind flow, then look at doing something where you’re going (inside)," Hayes said. "Let’s say Johns Pass or going to Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, or checking out downtown St. Petersburg."

The county has reached out to contractors and has them on standby in case the red tide gets worse.

"We are standing by to ramp up and bring in some heavy equipment," said Tony Fabrizio, public relations coordinator with Pinellas County. "We're not at that point yet, but we are prepared in the event that that were to occur."

People who plan on staying in the area are encouraged to get updates on beach conditions at the Visit St.Pete Clearwater website.

Red tide is also affecting community beach events. The Indian Rocks Beach Homeowners Association announced Tuesday that it's cancelling its annual IRB BeachFest event, which was scheduled for April 15.

The decision was made after consulting with the City of Indian Rocks Beach and Pinellas County Health Department, and while the BeachFest is a few weeks out, officials fear that red tide will remain in the area for some time.

Earlier Tuesday, Indian Rocks Beach officials announced that they've begun collecting dead fish on the beach daily. They also say that residents who live along the beach or waterway can collect dead fish and place them in double plastic bags. Those bags should be tied and placed in a city trash can that will be picked up on the regularly scheduled collection day.

Condos and multi-family properties impacted by red tide may place dead fish in double plastic bags in their city-provided dumpsters.

Updated: March 7, 2023 at 3:17 PM EST
This story has been updated to include Tuesday's developments at Indian Rocks Beach.

Thomas Ouellette is is the WUSF Rush Family / USF Zimmerman Radio News intern for spring of 2023.