Officials have cleaned up approximately 600 tons of dead fish along the shores of Florida's Tampa Bay area since late June, with more sea life expected to wash up amid a period of toxic algae spreading throughout nearby waters.
The fish were killed by a so-called “red tide,” a bloom of toxic algae that appears along Florida’s Gulf Coast once a year that can be deadly to sea creatures, and potentially harmful to humans.
Richard Stumpf, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told NPR that while blooms are more typical in the fall, a handful has occurred during the summer, including in 1995, 2005 and 2018.
Local officials have said that the problem has become worse since Tropical Storm Elsa came through the Sunshine State, with strong winds pushing more dead fish onto the shores of Florida's west coast cities like St. Petersburg.
City officials said in a Friday press conference that they had collected 15 tons of dead fish over a 10-day period, with St. Petersburg Emergency Manager Amber Boulding noting that nine of the tons had been picked up in the previous 24 hours.
“That push of water from the winds of Elsa seems to have definitely pushed in more of those fish kills,” she told reporters.
In total, officials said that the solid waste division of Pinellas County had collected 600 tons since late last month.
"We scrape the beaches. We get it cleaned up — as soon as those tides change, we have fish right back in," Boulding said Friday. "We don't know the end of it."
Stumpf told NPR that this year’s red tide should be concerning to officials, noting, "The fact that it's been three years since the last one is not good."
"This is not normal," he argued, according to NPR.
Experts have not yet determined the cause of this year’s severe bloom, though Stumpf told the news outlet that heavy rainfall, wind and the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in waters could all potentially play a role.
Pinellas County’s Department of Health warned residents in a Sunday press release that some people near areas where the fish have come ashore may experience “mild and short-lived respiratory symptoms,” including irritations of the eyes, nose and throat.
However, health officials noted that people with chronic respiratory problems like asthma may experience more severe symptoms when in an area of a high red tide bloom, recommending that these individuals avoid these areas.
The department also said that residents should not swim around areas in which dead fish have swept up along the shore, and that pets should be kept away from water, sea foam and dead sea life.