For months, Pinellas County and our municipal partners have been working hard to keep our beaches and waterways clean during a particularly stubborn Red Tide bloom. Now that cooler temperatures are rolling in and Red Tide seems be fading, I want to thank everyone who has been involved in that effort.
First, I want to thank our Public Works team led by Kelli Hammer Levy. They quickly took action when the bloom arrived in June, hiring our cleanup contractor, putting staff in place to manage the response, and working with our municipalities to secure a staging area and locate dumpsters. Our contractor used local shrimp boats to collect offshore and inshore marine debris and specialty equipment to clean hard-to-reach areas. Some of our municipalities provided beach rakes and hand crews to keep clean the beaches.
Kelli’s team activated the County’s Red Tide webpage, which includes links to our Red Tide Reporter Tool for municipalities and residents to report large fish kills, and resources for beach visitors, including a Respiratory Forecast Tool. Our Environmental Management team conducted daily water quality monitoring and posted the results along with those provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on a combined GIS map. Working with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and our Emergency Management and Communications departments, we held weekly coordination meetings and kept the public updated through dozens of interactions with our media partners.
Pinellas County was hit hard by marine debris during the first two months of the bloom, and it affected both the gulf and bay sides of our peninsula. That provided a significant challenge for our contractor, the City of St. Petersburg and several of our other coastal municipalities. It kept our Parks and Conservation Resources staff busy at Fort De Soto, Sand Key and Fred Howard parks. Working together, and with funding support from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, we were able to substantially reduce the impacts to residents and our tourism industry. I’m grateful for the collaboration that went into this effort, because it kept our beaches as welcoming as they could be at any given time.
With approximately 35 miles of beaches, 40 miles of Intracoastal Waterway with eight passes or inlets, 14 coastal cities, the most-visited State park in the state (Honeymoon Island) and our three parks, we have a lot of ground to cover. Thanks to FWC, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Coast Guard, we’ve been able to monitor the situation from the air, observing and documenting the conditions. NOAA, the University of South Florida, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Mote Marine Laboratory have also been valuable partners.
All told, our Solid Waste department has received more than 1,800 tons of Red Tide debris since June. Most of that was generated before September. Our last Red Tide of comparable magnitude came in 2018, when 1,862 tons of debris were collected. The number speaks to the importance of doing our part to keeping excess nutrients for discharging into our waterways. Red Tides occur naturally, but nutrients we introduce into our waters can extend and worsen the blooms. Two ways we can help are following Pinellas County’s fertilizer ban and keeping yard waste from going into our storm drains.
It’s too early to say whether we’re completely through this year’s bloom. Satellite imagery still shows a patchy bloom off our southern coast and off the Florida coast south of us. But the further we get into fall, the harder it will be for Red Tide to thrive. We’re all ready for it to be gone.
As always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at email@example.com.