Mounds of dead fish close beaches, prompt around-the-clock cleanup in Pinellas, Hillsborough counties

Massive amounts of dead fish are washing onshore across Tampa Bay. Several beaches are closed and crews are racing to clean up the smelly, decaying mess.

Bay Area experts say it’s happening because of red tide, but it’s early in the season to see such high concentrations of the algae.

The city of Tampa shut down the dog beach at Picnic Island Park Friday. The Tampa Bay Estuary Program says, in the wake of Hurricane Elsa, the levels of red tide are actually higher in Tampa Bay.

Baitfish, sport fish, stingrays, even dolphins and manatees, all killed by red tide, piled up Friday.

"I think many people had high hopes that Elsa might either wash the red tide out of the bay or the winds might break up the red tide organisms. Unfortunately, that's not really what we've seen," explained Maya Burke, the assistant director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s red tide map shows high concentrations of the microorganism that causes red tide blooms in the waters of Hillsborough Bay and Tampa Bay. Officials don’t this problem will be resolved quickly.

"I do think we need to be sort of strapped in for the long haul. It is very unusual to see red tide at these concentrations in Tampa Bay, especially this early in the rainy season," said Burke. 

The view from SkyFOX showed a shocking amount of dead fish in the water that will eventually come ashore.

Pinellas County leaders have been keeping a close eye on the situation and said crews are being brought on to help with the cleanup.

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"Tomorrow we’ll be launching contracted boat crews, four of them from Fort Desoto, and they'll be working to remove dead fish from St. Pete Beach, Tierre Verde, Fort Desoto, and Shell Key Preserve," said David Connor, the public information manager for Pinellas County.

In St. Pete, more than 120 employees were moved off their normal jobs to remove dead fish, around the clock. It’s tedious, messy work, picking the fish out of the mangroves by hand.

SkyFOX captured these aerials of dead fish near North Shore in St. Petersburg on July 9, 2021.

"We've collected 15 tons of fish in those 10 days. And nine tons of those fish have actually been picked up in the last 24 hours," said Amber Bouldin, St. Petersburg’s emergency manager.

Hillsborough County closed two beaches Friday due to red tide health concerns -- Apollo Beach Nature Preserve and E.G Simmons Conservation Park -- where dead fish have been washing ashore.