DESTIN — Fish kills related to "red tide" — high concentrations of the harmful marine algae Karenia brevis — have now been reported in local waters, according to the latest statewide report from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
An FWC report issued late Wednesday afternoon noted that over the past week the red tide organism "was observed in or offshore of Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Pasco counties, with up to 'medium' concentrations observed in Bay County and offshore of Walton County." The FWC report added that "reports of fish kills were received for areas in and/or offshore of Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties."
The Daily News reported last week that hundreds of dead fish were seen floating in Choctawhatchee Bay.
Melinda Gates, Walton County's coastal resource liaison, said she also recently heard about another fish kill near the Sandestin/Mack Bayou area. According to Gates, the FWC is "not acknowledging that the issues are specifically from red tide."
The FWC releases statewide red tide reports on Wednesdays and Fridays between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. But this week prior to Wednesday's report, some people in Destin and South Walton were saying they didn't need the official report to know there is a problem.
Many beachgoers in Destin reportedly fled the beach Wednesday afternoon, coughing and complaining of respiratory discomfort.
Farther east, George Eller, manager of the Shrimp Shack on County Road 30A in Walton County, said, "I've been coughing my (expletive) off all morning, as a matter of fact. I haven't seen any dead fish, but I haven't been down to the beach to look."
Even if dead fish aren't visible, the algae that form red tide can cause respiratory irritation when they are blown onshore.
Jason Vittitoe, a vacationer from Georgetown, Kentucky, visiting Seagrove Beach in South Walton, said he and his family have experienced symptoms similar to those reported in Destin. Vittitoe said family members have been coughing when they are on the beach, but symptoms subside when they are in the water.
Vittitoe also said he saw a few dead fish floating close to the beach Tuesday and Wednesday.