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Pinellas Co. cleanup nets nearly 1K tons of red tide debris

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long told a panel of environmental scientists and Gulf Coast business leaders Wednesday efforts to mitigate red tide are in full swing and will continue as long as the massive algae bloom threatens Florida beaches, fisheries and recreation.

Pinellas County has 13 boats collecting dead fish and conducting monitoring activities in local passes and intracoastal waterways. In addition, the county also deployed four beach rakes, four loaders, five all-terrain vehicles, one lift operator and 22 temporary laborers to clear local beaches and shorelines affected by red tide.

As of Sunday, the county had collected 973 tons of red tide-related debris, including 165 tons following Hurricane Michael, which hit Florida’s panhandle Wednesday and pushed the algae bloom closer to shore.

Experts had hoped the hurricane would break up red tide or push it further offshore, mitigating adverse effects. That didn’t happen; instead, the storm pushed more dead fish to shore.

County water quality monitoring Monday showed high concentrations of red tide at Sand Key Park, Reddington Shores and Indian Rocks Beach. Other sample sites showed lower levels than previous reports.

The next county monitoring will take place Wednesday.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will launch a new tool Friday predicting respiratory irritation levels in the air at local beaches. The tool will offer new predictions on air quality levels every three hours using atmospheric and wind data in conjunction with county monitoring reports.

Red tide has been plaguing much of Florida’s Gulf Coast for more than a month. Its effects have driven both locals and visitors away from the beaches, causing local businesses, especially hotels, to struggle.

The state of Florida has responded with millions of dollars in mitigation, monitoring and recovery funds including $3 million for Pinellas County businesses affected.

As the event continues, more work is being done to find ways to mitigate red tide, including a new type of clay treatment. Scientists discovered clay might be an effective way to force red tide to the sea floor where it occurs naturally and does not disturb the overall Gulf ecosystem after the 2010 BP oil spill. Then, clay washed from the Mississippi River served as a coagulant for oil and dispersants used to treat the spill, which then became dense and sunk to the Gulf floor.

Scientists hope that can work with red tide, though unintended consequences of using the clay are still being researched.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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