Red tide blamed for deaths as manatees, goliath grouper wash ashore

- Captain Chris O'Neill traded his fishing pole in for a camera to show the world what he's seeing along Boca Grande.

"It doesn't get any sadder than this. This is a 1,000-pound manatee decomposing," he said in a now-viral Facebook video.  "Here you have about a 100-pound tarpon laying here.”

Snook, turtles and every fish in between lay on the beach, dead.  It's a devastating scene, especially for the captain who makes his living off the sea. 

"This is by far the largest kill that I've seen in my 15 years here as far as the red tide impacts," said O'Neill, who runs Tail Chaser Charter Services. 

The red tide bloom has plagued the area since November, drifting back and forth.  While it occurs naturally, at any given time red tide can bloom to deadly levels. 

The captain is concerned game fish are dying off.  He believes it's a sign the bloom is getting stronger. 

Over the last few days, Captain O'Neill has counted between 30 and 40 dead goliath grouper. 

"This is much larger because now you are impacting fish that are mature fish. Some these goliaths are anywhere from 10 to 15 years old and it takes a long time to recover," he told FOX 13. 

For now, his boat is docked. 

"My business is shut down. I've canceled at least two weeks’ of business. It's a significant amount of revenue especially during tarpon season," he complained. 

While many have canceled their fishing trips, visitors still come to stay. 

"I was here in February and there was red tide then," said Jennifer Stephen of Illinois, who was still trying to make the best of her beach vacation. "It makes me real sad. It's sad to see all this nature being damaged like this.”

While there's not much anyone can do, Captain O'Neill hopes eventually that will change. 

"Get the word out here, figure out what's wrong and come to a solution," he said. 

MORE INFO:

To report fish kills, contact the FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511 or submit a report online.

FWC's statewide red tide status reports are available online and are typically updated every Friday afternoon. 

Based on statewide results, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides forecasts of potential respiratory irritation.

Mote's CSIC mobile app allows users to report when and where they experience respiratory irritation or see discolored water or dead fish - all potential indications of Florida red tide.

Mote's Beach Conditions Reporting System provides shoreline observations as often as twice daily.

Below are links to more information about red tide and volunteer opportunities:

- Red tide background information from Mote: www.mote.org/redtide

- Red tide and human health - information and rack cards from Florida Department of Health: www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/red-tide.html

- FWC's red tide offshore monitoring program - a way for volunteers to help: myfwc.com/research/redtide/monitoring/current/offshore-monitoring/

- FWC-Mote Facebook page, Florida Red Tide and Other Harmful Algal Blooms: www.facebook.com/flhabs

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