MANASOTA KEY (FOX 13) - Researchers say sea turtles are dying in Florida waters plagued by a red tide algae bloom.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has documented 287 sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico along southwest Florida since the toxic bloom started in October.
On Manasota Key, the Coastal Wildlife Club has counted a dozen dead turtles over the last month.
"I've never seen anything like this," said John Leon.
Both young and adult sea turtles are washing ashore on Manasota Beach. Some are sick and others are dying. It's a tough sight for Leon.
"Right now we are getting hatches. We've got little turtles going into this water. They have a swim frenzy that they swim for three days. Hopefully, they are getting past it before it effects them," said Leon.
It's take a toll on the rare Kemp's Ridley, green, and loggerhead turtles.
Allen Foley of FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute said Thursday that's about double the average number of turtle deaths in those waters every year.
"It's been a pretty bad year for us with our red tide," said Gretchen Lovewell.
Mote Marine Stranding Investigations Manager Gretchen Lovewell said they've responded to 112 turtle calls already this year.
Their yearly average is only 100.
Across the state, numbers have reached nearly 300.
With five months left to go and a red tide bloom that stretches from Tampa Bay to the Florida Keys, she said it could get worse.
"For our sea turtles, they get it through their ingestion. It's not like us where they are getting it through their respiratory distress and that sort of thing. It's from their food," said Lovewell.
There are small victories, however. A turtle named Intrepid was rescued from red tide waters last month.
After rehab, Mote Marine Laboratory released him off Lido Beach on Friday morning. Scientists placed a satellite tag on him.
They plan on tracking him in hopes of helping other turtles.
"We can watch what he does. See if he actively avoids those red tide areas. He started a little north so we are hoping he goes north and not south where he came from," said Lovewell.
To report a stranded sea turtle within coastal Southwest Florida, please call the Stranding Investigations Program's 24-hour pager at 941-988-0212.