SARASOTA, Florida -- If you head out to the beach and feel a tickle in your throat and have an irritating cough, you may not be coming down with a cold. The culprit could be red tide and algae bloom.
Mote scientists are calling this the largest red tide bloom off Sarasota's coastline since 2007. The algae sends people with respiratory problems indoors, causes large fish kills, and can kill business along the beaches.
The latest algae bloom stretches 100 miles long from Charlotte County up to Pinellas County.
Algae bloom can be irritating to animals. Sarasota County officials posted warning signs at the dog park on Venice Beach. The sign advises pet owners not to let animals go swimming.
"They love it. It's their favorite place to go," said dog owner Blaise Kovaz. He is visiting from Fort Myers with his border collies, Kassidie and Kenzie. Despite the red tide warning sign, Blaise is letting his dogs take a dip.
The water along Venice Beach is crystal clear and the beach is free of dead fish, but Mote's senior scientist, Barbara Kirkpatrick, says don't let what you can't see fool you. "We are looking at a large bloom. How long will it last? We can't forecast very early in the bloom," she said.
Water samples this week off of Lido and Siesta Key tested for low and moderate levels of red tide. South of Venice Beach, county workers have cleaned up seven tons of dead fish in two days. Where will the algae bloom go next? Kirkpatrick said, "We are at the mercy of the wind and wave action."
Kirkpatrick said offshore winds will keep the red tide off Sarasota beaches for a few days. Scientists testing the waters offshore saw fewer fish kills than earlier in the week. Kirkpatrick said, "What that means is better mixing of the water. I'd not say it's gone, not just yet. It's gone subsurface."
Scientists launched an underwater robot last week to sniff out the bloom and measure the water current to show the red tide's next move. Beachgoers can predict their next stop by visiting Mote's beach reporting system. Kirkpatrick said, "The idea is not to keep off the beach, but pick a beach that has a lesser impact."
Mote's Beach Reporting System
One Fort Myers couple visiting Sarasota saw dozens of dead fish floating in the water while boating off Nokomis Beach Tuesday and expected to see the same on Siesta beach. Chris Brown said, "We were worried red tide would get here today, but there's no red tide."
Restaurant and business owners still remember the last algae bloom. "It was drastic for business," said Scott Smith, owner of Gilligan's Island Bar.
While the red tide remains offshore, Smith worries just the perception of red tide along county beaches could keep customers onshore. Smith says, "I'm hoping red tide doesn't make its way here. Nobody would want to eat anything they just tripped over on the beach. It's impossible to sell food with red tide."
Dee Paul works in guest services at Inn at the Beach in Venice, and she has yet to see any fall-out from the toxic algae bloom. Paul said, "The guests have not said a word. They are enjoying the beach, saying it's beautiful. Someone said the water is magnificent."
Visitors who've planned their vacation to Sarasota's white sandy beaches say red tide won't alter their plans. Louis Pillifant is visiting from Pennsylvania and said she drove straight from the airport to Siesta Beach. Pillifant said, "It's a natural thing, you go with the flow. We still have the sand to lay on."
Mote Marine scientists spent the day off Venice Beach taking more water samples and collecting data. Test results should be ready by Friday.