ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (FOX 13) - Although Bay Area beaches seem to be back to normal after almost a year of red tide, Pinellas County hosted a special summit to discuss the toxic algae bloom and concerns that continue to loom.
A panel of both experts and county officials spoke in front of a packed house Thursday about the history of red tide, and its effects on marine life, public health, and the economy.
“I feel like it’s a sticky situation that we don’t know [much about],” said Yeni Fernandez, an environmentalist who attended the summit.
Like dozens of others, Fernandez was eager to learn what scientists and public agencies are doing to mitigate future red tide blooms.
However, environmental experts warn there’s no clear-cut answer on how to prevent it from coming back.
“What we don’t know: Do humans exacerbate red tide blooms? Perhaps, but we really don’t know that,” said Dr. Robert Weisberg. “What determines bloom termination? Why does it go away? We don’t fully understand that.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission researcher Dr. Kate Hubbard says the best way to predict the future is usually to look at the past. Red tide occurs each year in the Gulf of Mexico, however, last year was one of the worst on record, Hubbard said.
Meanwhile, county officials discussed the importance of collaborative efforts between agencies to tackle the problem. Other panelists talked about the effects red tide can have on humans, like respiratory irritation and neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, which can happen if someone consumes shellfish exposed to red tide.
While many left feeling better-informed, some said they wanted to hear more about solutions.
“I just wanted to learn more and mainly learn the initiatives moving forward, which is what I felt I didn’t get a lot of,” said Fernandez.
The panelists emphasized red tide is an interdisciplinary problem that will require collaboration from several organizations and agencies.
“There is no one entity that can do this," said Kelly Hammer Levy, the director for Pinellas County Environmental Management. "We need a collaborative network of scientists.”
Experts warn preparation for another round is key because, based on historical data, it will likely happen again.