Red Tide Fish Kill on Sanibel Island

Aug 1, 2018

So much dead sea life keeps washing up on the shores of Sanibel, that the city’s debris removal contractor is using labor from two landscaping companies to help with clean-up. It’s believed Red Tide is responsible for the fish kill.  Yesterday, the City removed a total of 21 large carcasses;19 goliath groupers and 2 large tarpon along with thousands of smaller dead sea life from the impacted areas of the beaches. 

Meanwhile, only a few people were walking the beaches.  Most were curious locals or tourists, but none were in the water at Lighthouse beach. Veronique Gillyns and her family came from Belgium for a two-week tour of South Florida- it started in Miami and came to Sanibel for the beautiful beaches. The sand on the beach is not the white powdery version she saw in the brochure.

“We find dead fish a bad smell- and we were very surprising of that,” said Gillyns.

Her husband Louise summed it up with it up wioth one word. 

“Dissappoint,” he said, in his accented English.

Along the Causeway from the mainland to the island the beaches were uncharacteristically barren.  The few cars along the way belonged to people who stopped to see what marine life is littering the shore.

Emori Warfield stood among a group of people snapping pictures of a Goliath Grouper bobbing in the gentle, rootbeer colored waves.

“I’ve never seen a goliath grouper in real life- much less a dead one that size.  It’s very disheartening,” said Warfield.

Pete Hogrefe says he grew up near here, and he’s seen red tide and its effects before. He says he even remembers blooms that were possibly as bad as this, but he says he only remembers them happening about twice over the past forty years.

“It saddens me and I want to know why,” Hogrefe said. “I think I know why I just don’t know that all the truth’s out there. I know it’s the red tide- I mean does red tide exist? I think it does but I think there’s a lot of things out there making it worse and more frequent than when I was younger.”

Back at Lighthouse beach, the Gillyns family’s first impression of the area was of smelly rotting fish lining every inch of the shoreline.

When asked if she and her family would consider coming back to Sanibel, Gillyns replies, “Maybe- but if it’s not pollution. I hope it would get better soon because it’s very bad like that, it’s very sad to see that.”

While the immediate impact of red tide on wildlife is clear- how it will affect tourism in the long term remains to be seen.