Officials: Cedar Key safe from red tide

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

A red tide bloom in the Gulf has killed thousands of fish in the last two weeks, according to state officials, but Cedar Key is proving unaffected.

Leslie Sturmer, a University of Florida aquaculture specialist in Cedar Key, said Monday that test samples for red tide toxins in the area's shellfish have yielded good results.

"There are zero cells in the samples, as we suspected," she said, adding that 5,000 or more cells per liter in a sample would cause shellfish operations to close shop.

The shellfish are always monitored to keep up with stringent national standards of safety, she said, and, on top of that, scientists also keep a close eye on brevo toxins, the dangerous compound emitted by the red tide organism Karenia brevis that affects the nervous systems of vertebrates.

"The Big Bend area, typically, sees no impact from red tide events in the Gulf," she said, "because of strong currents and an extensive shelf below the water."

"It's always been very fortunate for us," Sturmer said.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Karenia brevis is still being detected in samples from the red tide bloom, which is estimated at about 80 miles long and 50 miles wide between Dixie and southern Pasco counties. But the organism, as of Monday, was only being seen at the southern end of the bloom, which is between 40 and 90 miles offshore, depending on the location.

According to a FWC report, "... Sampling confirmed K. brevis populations at depth 33 miles west of Caladesi Island and 13 miles west of Madeira Beach, both offshore of Pinellas County."

The bloom and its microorganisms, according to FWC, are killing thousands of snapper, grouper, hogfish, grunts, flounder, lionfish and sharks, as well as crabs, sea snakes and octopuses, to name a few.

Red tide, in years past, has also been attributed to the deaths of birds, manatees and health issues in humans. The toxins can be ingested in water, food or if it becomes airborne on the surface of the water or on beaches.

For more on the red tide bloom, visit http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/.