PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, along with the Department of Environmental Protection, announced Thursday that Gov. Rick Scott had directed additional funding — more than $3.7 million in grant money — to combat red tide in Pinellas County.

“That is a need that is very significant at this time,” said Gil McRae, FWRI Dir. “It will help us continue our efforts in responding to this event.”  

The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute received a $765,000 grant for red tide monitoring and research. The DEP awarded an additional $3 million to Pinellas County to help pay for red tide cleanup, additional scientific testing and marketing through VISIT FLORIDA.

That brings the total DEP commitment to Pinellas at $6.3 million.

“The scale and scope of this event has created tremendous challenges for FWC and its partners,” said McRae. “The institute’s been studying and monitoring Florida red tides for over 60 years.”

Pinellas County began getting hit hard by red tide in September. Water samples from Wednesday still show high concentrations from Ft. De Soto north to Belleair Beach.

The FWC said the current red tide bloom is entering its 13th month statewide, but there have been other blooms in the past that have lasted longer.

“Our longest red tide was actually 30 months, between 1994 and 1997,” McRae said. “In the mid-50’s, way back when, we had a red tide that lasted for 18 months.”

Wildlife deaths

Red tide is the known or suspected cause of 10 manatee deaths in Pinellas County last month. McRae said many sea turtles have also been killed, along with 67 bottlenose dolphins in Florida.

Spectrum Bay News 9 found a small dead shark on the gulf side of the Ft. De Soto beach on Monday.

McRae said red tide is naturally occurring off West Central Florida, but extra nutrients from humans can contribute to the bloom as it comes in-shore.

“The red tide organism is very versatile at using whatever nutrients may be available to it,” he said. “Including those from the fish it kills.”

Florida is just entering the typical red tide season and nobody can predict exactly when it will move away, according to the FWC.

“Often times when we have a red tide bloom what happens is the weather pattern shift going into winter and the fronts coming down from the north move it offshore,” said McRae. “So, it’s not a matter of necessarily when red tide will end. It’s when those in-shore impacts will diminish and hopefully not occur anymore.”