The red tide funk dogging Southwest Florida shores has been persistent as 2012 draws to a close and 2013 opens.
Capt. Phil O'Bannon, executive director of the Boca Grande Mote Marine Laboratory satellite office, said his group will focus on a red tide study this year in addition to other research involving sharks, snook and tarpon.
"Red tide is definitely evolving," O'Bannon said. "As a kid growing up, we only had it in summertime. When the water cooled off it disappeared. It's been around forever but with all the other pressures we have from fishing, red tide is something we have to learn to understand better."
A ruddy turnstone feasts on another dead mullet. Photo credit: William Dunson
Being able to disperse red tide is the ultimate goal.
"Controlling red tide is probably a ways away but it's something we are working on," O'Bannon said of Mote scientists.
Red tide has afflicted wildlife and wildlife lovers from Pinellas to Lee counties for at least the past 10 weeks.
NOAA red tide report
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitors Florida red tide closely.
Its Monday report showed low to high concentrations of Karenia brevis (Florida red tide) present along and offshore from southern Pinellas to Collier counties, including Gasparilla Island.
Southern Sarasota County near Boca Grande can expect low respiratory impacts all week. Northern Charlotte County can expect low respiratory impacts through today. The bay regions of Charlotte, Lee and central Collier counties can expect high respiratory impacts through Thursday.
In the southern Sanibel Island region of Lee County, low respiratory impacts are possible through Thursday.
Over the past few days, reports of respiratory irritation were received from Charlotte and Collier counties with reports of dead fish from Charlotte County, including waters near the Gasparilla island toll booth.
"When we crossed to Palm Island late afternoon of Dec. 24 on the ferry there was an overpowering smell of red tide presumably thrown up by the propellers of the barge," said William Dunson, Gasparilla Gazette Nature Walk columnist. "This is direct evidence red tide has penetrated far into Lemon Bay."
Dunson said large patches of discolored water - presumably red tide - was visible immediately off the beaches at Palm Island on Christmas Day.
"The surf is yellowish in a strange way that residents have not seen before," Dunson said. "Luckily the winds are tending to be southerly and the effects on humans are not that bad except in localized areas."
Off Gasparilla Island, one of the worst patches in the water just off the causeway suffocated fish and drew kettles of vultures in the days after New Year's. The air around island tollbooths remains unpleasant although the worst seems to have passed.
Fish kill is visible on the beach but not yet severe, Dunson said. Dunson said the general theory is red tide primarily occurs in years when there is good rainfall - not in dry years.
"This seems to follow that pattern since there was a fairly wet early summer and it has been dry for years prior to that," he said.