Red Tide Lingers off Sanibel and Captiva

Jul 6, 2018

As the annual drama of blue-green algae plays out near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, a persistent bloom of red tide has festered off the Gulf Coast for two months longer than usual. Tourists near the Mucky Duck on Captiva Island said Friday that they didn't mind.

Gail Strub took each of her grandchildren on a vacation for their 10th birthday, and this year was Gracelyn's turn.

"This is the last one to turn 10, and so, she chose to go different places in Florida," Strub said. "And, she wanted to come to Sanibel-Captiva."

10-year-old Gracelyn, who is visiting from Georgia, talks with her grandma, Gail Strub, in the water off Captiva Island.
Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU

Strub has been to Southwest Florida before. On this trip, she said she hadn’t seen any evidence of red tide.

"Well, we did see one," Strub said. "We saw a dead fish last night on the beach at the pass. But, I’m not sure if it was from a fisherman leaving it on the beach or what, but that’s the only one we saw."

Carmen Hidalgo and her family came over from Miami for a getaway after having visited several years ago. She said the water was noticeably darker, and they saw a few dead fish.

"I actually saw like one or two, and I never did before," Hidalgo said.

But, just a few miles down the road at Sanibel’s Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, four sea turtles were in holding pools where they were recovering from red tide toxicity.

Dr. Heather Barron is the hospital's director. She said there were two Kemp's ridley sea turtles, a juvenile green seaturtle and one loggerhead turtle.

"The red tide season has just extended a lot further out than where we usually see it going," Barron said.

Usually, red tide subsides in May. Now, in July, red tide is still strong. That’s not good news for the sea turtles who nest on shore in the summer months.

Barron said it's strange to see so many adult sea turtles coming in to the clinic.

Dr. Heather Barron covers a critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle with a blanket, as the animal recovers from surgery earlier in the day. The turtle was brought into the clinic after it was hooked and reeled in by a fisherman off Sanibel Island.
Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU

"To me, what’s really unusual is the number of sea turtles we’re getting in," Barron said. "And, I think that’s because now is their breeding season, so a lot of these larger seaturtles are coming into inland waters to nest."

That’s where the sea turtles have been running into the red tide bloom and becoming sick.

If beachgoers see wildlife that’s acting strangely, Barron says it may be feeling the effects of red tide toxicity. She encourages calling the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or CROW.

Barron said that, even after the bloom subsides, animals like sea turtles can still be sickened by ingesting fish and crustaceans that have eaten marine vegetation where the algae settled.