Residents along the coast had to deal with the effects of red tide for more than a week. ABOVE: Dead reef fish lie south of the Boynton Inlet in early October. RIGHT: Lifeguard Lange Jacobs put up traffic cones and double red flags to warn of respiratory problems at South Inlet Park, a county beach in Boca Raton. Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Henry Fitzgerald
Just as suddenly as red tide hit south Palm Beach County beaches a month ago, it went away. But officials say you can never be sure when these outbreaks — rare for our beaches compared to those on the Gulf Coast — will return.
“The latest results show the bacteria to be considered not present or at very low levels,” said Michael Stahl, deputy director of Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management. “It’s certainly in decline from where we were at the end of September.”
Officials are continuing to test at the county’s beaches once a week, but that’s down from twice a week at the height of the outbreak, Stahl said.
The latest round of tests by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at South County beaches took place Oct. 24 east of Ocean Inlet Park (very low), east of Gulfstream Park (not present), Delray Public Beach (not present), east of Spanish River Park (not present), Gumbo Limbo Nature Center (not present), east of Red Reef Park (not present), east of South Beach Park (very low), 2.9 miles east of the Boca Raton Inlet (not present) and South Inlet Park (very low).
“Countywide, we’re looking pretty good,” Stahl said.
At the end of September and beginning of October, beachgoers were complaining of runny noses, scratchy throats and burning eyes, as health officials confirmed the red tide.
Water samples from sites at south Palm Beach County beaches identified the presence of the Karenia brevis harmful algae bloom — the first appearance on Florida’s southeast coast since 2006-07.
At one point officials discovered dead fish ashore just south of the Boynton Inlet.
Officials in Lantana closed the beach there, but officials farther south monitored the situation and flew warning flags to let beachgoers know the risk.
“It was here for about two weeks,” said Kevin Saxton, public information officer for Delray Beach Fire Rescue. “We took down our warning flags on Oct. 12. I know it reduced the number of people on our beach at the time, but patrons are back. We’re glad it’s gone.”
Boca Raton took a similar approach at city beaches, deciding to keep them open, but flying a red hazard flag and the purple sea pest flag, said Chrissy Gibson, city spokeswoman.
“We monitored the situation closely, and we are still monitoring,” she said in an email. “We get daily reports from the lifeguards, are still taking samples at our beaches and are reviewing the results posted to the FWC map twice a week.”
Officials cautioned that even though red tide outbreaks are rare for this part of the state, you can never say never.
“It could return,” Stahl said. “It depends on the right environmental factors that allow for it to get into the Gulf Stream from the Gulf of Mexico and affect our beaches.”