By Jane Smith
City and county beaches were open Oct. 5 in the southern half of Palm Beach County, but signs are posted and flags are flying to warn of red tide conditions.
Water samples tested Oct. 3 came back showing low to medium levels of red tide at south county beaches, said Michael Stahl, deputy director of the county’s Environmental Resources Management department.
The next water sampling dates are Oct. 9 and Oct. 11, Stahl said.
“It’s an evolving situation with weather conditions,” Stahl said when asked about whether the beaches would be open this weekend. “It’s difficult to keep anyone off the beach. Beachgoers will have to make their own decisions. Everyone reacts differently.”
Ocean rescue staffs are flying two flags: a red one that indicates hazardous conditions and a purple one for sea pests.
Lifeguards are likely wearing masks while they staff the towers and patrol the beach.
“Our numbers (of beachgoers) are down today,” said Kevin Saxton on Oct. 5, spokesman for Delray Beach Fire-Rescue’s Ocean Rescue Division. “That has been the trend since the weekend.”
Red tide is caused by the Karenia brevis bacteria, a known respiratory irritant. People with asthma or other breathing conditions are urged to stay away from the beach. When the toxic algae are in the medium range, they can cause wheezing, mild coughing and itchy eyes in healthy people.
The county Environmental Resources staff is sending the water samples to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for testing.
Tests results can be seen on this interactive map, created by the FWC: http://myfwc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=87162eec3eb846218cec711d16462a72.
Two tests done on Oct. 1 in the week showed low levels of red tide at Red Reef Park, said Chrissy Gibson, Boca Raton spokeswoman. Results less than 100,000 organisms per liter are considered to be in the low range. The counts from Boca Raton’s first two samples averaged about 18,000 organisms per liter, according to the FWC.
Two more results for water tested Oct. 2 at Spanish River Park and the South Beach Park showed medium levels of red tide. Water tested Oct. 3 at the two sites again showed medium levels, Stahl said. Medium levels contain between 100,000 and 1 million organisms per liter.
At Ocean Inlet Park, near Boynton Inlet, water tested Oct. 2 showed medium levels of red tide, according to the FWC. The Oct. 3 results also showed medium levels, Stahl said.
But, the samples taken Oct. 2 at Gulfstream Park showed low levels. The Oct. 3 tests showed the same results, Stahl said.
Fish including parrot fish, snapper and smaller bait fish have washed up in large numbers at Boynton Inlet and have been found scattered in smaller numbers along other South County beaches.
Anyone who sees a diseased or dead fish is asked to call FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.