DEP: Red tide possibly linked to fish kills reported in Pinellas County; link to Piney Point unclear

After the leak at Piney Point just a few months ago, researchers have been keeping a close eye on Tampa Bay waters as they wait to see what impact will come from the spill. It's unclear if they will definitively link the output from the old fertilizer plant's wastewater holding tanks, but scientists say the contents of that water are exactly what red tide needs to bloom.

Friday, researchers at the University of South Florida said they don’t see cause for concern just yet, but added that research and testing need to continue. Friday night, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said it was working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Department of Health to monitor algal blooms and water quality, noting that fish kills had been reported in Boca Ciega, Pass-a-Grille and St. Pete Beach.

Earlier this week, samples were taken between Hillsborough and Manatee counties. FWC said low levels of red tide were detected in both areas.

Hillsborough County officials issued a health alert advisory for Moody Point and Manbirtee Key because of detected levels of the red tide organism, while Camp Key and Little Cockroach Island were considered to be under a less serious health caution.

READ: Lawsuit planned after Piney Point wastewater dump

Some experts said they can’t directly tie these blooms to the spill that happened at Piney Point. However, scientists with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program said the nutrient-rich water that spilled into the bay could create conditions favorable for blooms to grow. 

MORE: Piney Point wastewater leak: A history of the former phosphate plant site

Captain Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard’s Marina said he is optimistic because just as quickly as these blooms come in, they can dissipate. However, to be prepared for a worst-case scenario, he has backup plans for his business.

"We start putting plans in place in case we have a huge impact on our environment and our tourism and our operating dollars. So, we start scaling back some of our plans for expanding for the summertime and kind of hold off and see how it plays out," he told FOX 13. "I’m cautious but I’m also very hopeful."

Floridians have seen in the past just how devastating red tide can be to the area. It’s extremely dangerous for marine life, and it can be dangerous for humans too. Red tide can also be unpleasant to the sight or smell, which could cause tourism to take a hit. 

Red tide has also been detected further south in the gulf, but experts say that bloom is not connected to Piney Point.

The USF red tide tracker, which is based on researchers' analysis and predictions, shows that medium levels of red tide could soon be present in Tampa Bay waters. They said they will continue testing the water, hoping to stay on top of any problems that may arise.