Ahead of the holiday weekend, beaches in South Florida so far appear to be mostly spared the worst of a toxic red tide.
Results released Friday in Broward County found only low amounts of the algae that cause red tide blooms at two beaches, in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. Earlier in the week, state officials confirmed moderate levels — enough to cause symptoms but not shut down beaches — near Haulover Park in Miami-Dade County.
Up the coast, in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, conditions were worse: high amounts were found at a Jupiter park with clusters of moderate levels at Jupiter Inlet and in the Loxahatchee River.
Miami-Dade officials closed beaches north of Haulover Thursday after getting a late-night confirmation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which conducts red tide testing for the state. But Mayor Carlos Gimenez decided to reopen beaches Friday ahead of the Columbus Day weekend after conferring with state environmental and health officials over the findings.
Reports provided by the county Friday show the highest amounts of Karinia brevis, the algae that cause blooms, occurred near the park’s nude beach. But while amounts were classified as moderate, they barely broke the 100,000 cells per liter threshold at just 104,000 cells near the beach and 127,667 cells per liter a mile offshore.
Samples near Crandon Park, Miami Beach and North Shore Park were far lower.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which issues health forecasts for red tide, called for moderate respiratory conditions between Miami-Dade and St. Lucie counties based on sampling and wind and current forecasts. However, NOAA oceanographer Rick Stumpf who helped create the bulletin said the warnings are broad and conditions actually more patchy. A new forecast that more accurately reflects conditions is being developed and should be ready this fall for the Gulf Coast.
“We have a goal of every beach every day, although realistically it’s not going to work that way,” he said. “We’re trying to push more toward the thunderstorm scenario, where you may have thunderstorms every day, but you have radar that can tell you when.”
The rare blooms along the Atlantic coast were likely carried by the Florida Current from the Gulf of Mexico, where blooms have raged for nearly a year, littering beaches with dead fish and emptying hotels, restaurants and other waterfront businesses. Fish kills on the Atlantic coast have so far been scattered. Dozens of dead fish appeared over the weekend in Palm Beach County, where so far blooms appear denser and the Florida Current runs closer to the shore.
Since the 1950s, red tides have appeared on the east coast only eight times, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. They appear regularly in the Gulf, where algae germinate at the bottom of the Florida Shelf before being blown ashore where coastal pollution can make them worse. This year’s red tide, which started off Sarasota in the fall, exploded in Pine Island Sound after heavy May rain that also triggered releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.
Red tides have occurred every year in the Gulf since 1994. Florida wildlife officials say because of inconsistent monitoring, it’s impossible to tell if the tides are worsening.