Gulf of Mexico
A health alert sign warns visitors to Sand Key Park of the presence of Red Tide in the surrounding water on Thursday, Mar 9, 2023. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

FL - For tourists on south Pinellas beaches, despite red tide, it’s better than home

On the first Saturday of spring break for many, a beautiful day with the wind in their favor.

ST. PETE BEACH — Beachgoers were surprised how easy it was to park Saturday. On the first day of thousands of people’s spring break, from morning through mid-afternoon, there were open spots at Pass-a-Grille, Upham and Sunset beaches.

Reports of red tide must have kept people away, some surmised.

Those who ventured near the water were surprised that conditions weren’t as bad as they’d thought.

“We heard about the red tide. But we also heard about the sharks. And we figured we’d brave both,” said Judy Condon, who was celebrating her 70th birthday with her sister and friend at Pass-a-Grille. “What’s the big deal?”

RELATED: An aerial view of red tide blooms along Pinellas coast

The women were vacationing from Tennessee and Connecticut, glad to be warm, not worried about respiratory problems.

What’s a few coughs and sneezes, a tickle in your throat, when you can sit on the sun-baked sand beneath a cloudless sky in 78-degree weather?

“Still beats Connecticut.”

“And Tennessee.”


Read also

Burning eyes, dead fish; red tide flares up on Florida coast


Across Pinellas’s southern beaches, throughout the day, visitors echoed that sentiment, subbing in their own states: Even with red tide looming offshore, and dead fish washing up down south, being on these beaches was still so much better than being back in New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan.

“We left two feet of snow in New Hampshire and another 10 inches are coming,” said Gail Raczka, 70, who was sitting beneath an umbrella at Sunset Beach. Red tide had made breathing difficult, and had driven her from the beach the day before. But on Saturday, she was by the surf with her husband and grandsons, who were on break from college.

“We saw dead puffer fish up by Caddy’s. There’s one in the water right there,” Cullen Steward, 20, told his grandmother. “But hey, I’m in Florida. So I can’t really complain.”

Bruno Falkenstein, 75, has lived on Pass-a-Grille since 1977. The recent red tide, he said, “is normal. Actually, not bad at all here. When the wind comes from the east, like today, the smell blows back out to the Gulf.”

RELATED: Fish kills, red eyes and respiratory problems from red tide

Red tide happens when algae grow out of control. It produces toxins that kill fish and manatees and can create respiratory problems for people. Recent data showed blooms stretching off every coastal county in southwest Florida, from Pinellas to Monroe.

Read more.