Indian Rocks Beach City Manager Gregg Mims talks about his city’s response and the county’s assistance to keep the beaches clean during the red tide bloom that occurred in the fall of 2018. (Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER)

Experts gather in Clearwater to talk about red tide

CLEARWATER — Hundreds gathered at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater March 28 for a Red Tide Summit to learn more about harmful algal blooms and ask questions.

From November 2017-February 2019, a red tide bloom persisted along the southwest Florida coast, eventually spreading to the northwest and east coasts. It was one of the longest blooms ever, said Kate Hubbard, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Researchers are still searching for answers as to why it lasted so long.

The city of Indian Rocks Beach and Pinellas County hosted the summit inviting leading experts to attend and talk about the science, public health and economic impacts.

Hubbard was one of eight speakers, which also included Robert Weisberg, Ph.D., a professor of Physical Oceanography at the University of South Florida; Barbara Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System; and Richard Stumpf, Ph.D., an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Local panelists included Brittany Barbara, a fisheries biologist and Board member for Reef Monitoring Inc., a nonprofit based in Clearwater; Gregg Mims, Indian Rocks Beach city manager; and Kelli Levy, Pinellas County’s Environmental Management Division director.

Other speakers specialized in the economic impact, including Kurt Forster, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center at Pinellas County Economic Development, and Randy Deshazo, director of Research Economic Modeling and Analysis at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy moderated the event and welcomed the attendees, including a number of federal, state and local officials. She also thanked Russ Kimball, general manager of the Sheraton Sand Key, for allowing space in his facility for the event that she described as “an open classroom.”

Hubbard began with a science lesson about Karenia brevis, the scientific name for red tide. A naturally occurring algal bloom, red tide has been reported in Florida waters since before the 1940s.

“Not all algae are bad,” Hubbard told the crowd, as she explained some of the characteristics unique to K. brevis, including its production of brevetoxins, which are harmful to marine life and humans.

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