Crews clean up red tide fish kill in Robin­son Pre­serve

The Bradenton Herald - - Front Page - BY MARK YOUNG my­[email protected]­ton.com

The skies over Robin­son Pre­serve on Fri­day were filled with vul­tures af­ter an at­tack by red tide this week left thou­sands of mul­let dead.

It hap­pened over a time pe­riod when for the first time in weeks, the Flor­ida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion re­ported an in­crease in the pres­ence of Kare­nia bre­vis, the or­gan­ism re­spon­si­ble for red tide, though con­cen­tra­tions were still run­ning in the medium cat­e­gory.

The “medium” pres­ence hasn’t changed for Mana­tee County’s off­shore wa­ters fol­low­ing Fri­day’s up­date, but FWC is re­port­ing a 5 to 25 per­cent de­crease from the Dec. 5 up­date.

Park rangers, staff and vol­un­teers were on hand Fri­day haul­ing bucket loads of dead fish from Robin­son Pre­serve’s wa­ter­ways. Crews on boats plucked the dead fish from the wa­ter and loaded them into plas­tic 5-gal­lon buck­ets and hauled them to shore so they could be dumped into trac­tor buck­ets.

The fish were first hauled to a nearby dump­ster but that quickly filled up. Work­ers then hauled the corpses to an­other area of the pre­serve for later pickup.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said vol­un­teer Sam Star­rett, who has been a park vol­un­teer since Robin­son Pre­serve opened in 2008. “I’ve seen fish kills in here be­fore, but noth­ing like this. It’s too bad.”

Mana­tee County Parks and Nat­u­ral Re­sources took to its Face­book page Fri­day morn­ing to no­tify the pub­lic of the cleanup. While Robin­son Pre­serve’s trails re­mained opened, of­fi­cials also ad­vised peo­ple to “take this op­por­tu­nity to visit neigh­bor­ing pre­serves” not af­fected by red tide, like Emer­son Point in Pal­metto.

De­spite the post­ing and news of the red tide out­break within the pre­serve, it didn’t stop visitors from com­ing. It didn’t

take long when en­ter­ing the park’s north­ern en­trance to be­gin pick­ing up the scent of dead fish and red tide. The deeper peo­ple walked, the more preva­lent the odor, and by the time any­one reached the watch tower, the sights as­so­ci­ated with the smell be­came ap­par­ent.

“It’s heart­break­ing,” said He­len Lewis, a 22-year res­i­dent who has taken thou­sands of pho­to­graphs in Robin­son Pre­serve dur­ing her daily vis­its. “It’s un­be­liev­able what the gov­ern­ment al­lows to be done to put this red tide on steroids. I was cry­ing last night be­cause of this. I just love na­ture so much and this is just so sad, so heart­break­ing.”

Parks and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Direc­tor Char­lie Hun­sicker said red tide get­ting into the pre­serve, “Is no mys­tery, al­though dis­ap­point­ing to see it come in like a fog and me­an­dered back to our back­wa­ters. But even the level of mor­tal­ity is spotty through the pre­serve. It’s very heavy in some lo­ca­tions and not in oth­ers.”

Hun­sicker said it’s im­por­tant to get the cleanup done quickly to avoid hav­ing the dead fish take even more oxy­gen out of the wa­ter dur­ing the de­com­po­si­tion process.

“We want to avoid that dou­ble whammy of red tide ef­fects and the ex­trac­tion of oxy­gen dur­ing de­com­po­si­tion, which can make the mat­ter worse,” Hun­sicker said. “We are try­ing to avoid that onetwo com­bi­na­tion punch, which has re­ally dra­mat­i­cally changed our liv­ing coastal en­vi­ron­ment in both plants and an­i­mals.”

While the site of a mas­sive fish kill and the en­su­ing cleanup can be vis­i­bly dra­matic for the pub­lic, Hun­sicker said, “This is not an ex­tinc­tion event by any means. You can be­lieve that Mother Na­ture’s evo­lu­tion with these fish has seen them deal with this be­fore and they will deal with it again in the fu­ture.”

The long-term im­pacts of this red tide event, which be­gan last Oc­to­ber and hit Mana­tee County by sum­mer, will take some time to eval­u­ate.

Hun­sicker said it took two years to re­cover from a 2005 red tide event that left a dead zone in the Gulf of Mex­ico the size of Rhode Is­land.

“So when talk­ing about the long-term, that’s whole an­other es­say,” he said.

TIF­FANY TOMP­KINS ttomp­[email protected]­ton.com

Robin­son Pre­serve vis­i­tor Mervyn Churchill takes a photo of a dump­ster full of dead fish fol­low­ing a red tide out­break.

TIF­FANY TOMP­KINS ttomp­[email protected]­ton.com

Work­ers at Robin­son Pre­serve use boats, buck­ets and front load­ers to re­move the fish from the shore­line.

TIF­FANY TOMP­KINS ttomp­[email protected]­ton.com

A huge ef­fort is un­der­way at Robin­son Pre­serve by Mana­tee County to clean up a large fish kill fol­low­ing an out­break of red tide. Parks and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Direc­tor Char­lie Hun­sicker said the cleanup has to be done quickly to avoid hav­ing the dead fish take even more oxy­gen out of the wa­ter dur­ing the de­com­po­si­tion process.

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