An emergency contractor based out of Sarasota will travel to Indian River County this weekend to help clean up thousands of dead fish that washed up along beaches because of red tide, county officials said.
“We will have the contractor cover the entire county, including 23 miles of coastline,” County Administrator Jason Brown said. “We are happy we’re getting a rapid response.”
The fish death toll comes as red tide – a toxic algal bloom – swept throughout the county this week, killing sea life and causing coughing and eye irritation for island residents. City of Vero Beach and county public works officials, recreation staff and lifeguards were already removing the fish remains Wednesday.
Brown said the emergency contractor – Ceres Environmental Services – will help to speed up the cleanup process. The county is working with the City of Vero Beach, Indian River Shores and the Town of Orchid to secure a $145,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to cover the cleanup cost.
“We’re hoping to execute an agreement with the department today,” Brown said.
It was not clear how long the cleanup process would take. The dead fish will be taken to the county landfill on 74th Avenue.
All county and city beaches – except for Round Island Park – remained closed Thursday.
The Emergency Services Department sent out an alert late Tuesday confirming that red tide reached Indian River County. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission red tide status map on Thursday showed that the toxic algal bloom had spread to the Indian River Lagoon, in addition to the coastline.
INDIAN RIVER SHORES — Town officials authorized an emergency cleanup of local beaches after an estimated 60,000 dead fish washed ashore Wednesday morning, authorities said.
“The hardest locations hit are the southern beaches and the area encompassing John’s Island,” Indian River Shores Director of Public Safety Rich Rosell said. “There is no indication of dead fish on the Indian River Lagoon side, just the Atlantic Ocean side.”
The death toll comes as red tide made its way through Indian River County this week. The toxic algal bloom has killed large numbers of fish and caused people near beaches to suffer from coughing and eye irritation.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed the presence of medium and high levels of red tide in the county late Tuesday. All county and Vero Beach access points, with the exception of Round Island Beach Park, will be closed until further notice, officials said.
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The Shores town council gave permission for Town Manager Rob Stabe to seek a private contractor to clean up the dead fish at local beaches, Rosell said. An amount of up to $25,000 will be spent to help with the fish removal.
It was not immediately known when cleanup for Indian River Shores beaches would start, or how long it would take. Other ares are also helping to rid the county of the dead, contaminated fish.
Vero Beach public works officials and lifeguards were cleaning up the fish remains Wednesday, city manager Jim O’Connor said.
“As long as (dead) fish keep popping up, we will be out there,” O’Connor said.
County public works and parks and recreation staff were helping to clean the beaches located in unincorporated areas, said James Gray, natural resources manager for the Public Works Department Coastal Engineering Division. The fish will be taken to a landfill on 74th Avenue, Gray said.
“Everything is being double bagged and transported to the landfill the same day,” Gray said. “We’re going to continuously monitor (the conditions). It could last for a few days.”
Fellsmere police Chief Keith Touchberry said he thinks the red tide issue has not affected the town, since there are no beaches in the area. Officials from the Sebastian Police Department were not immediately available for comment.
What is red tide?
Red tide is caused by a naturally occurring microscopic alga called Karenia brevis, according to the Florida Department of Health. The toxic algal blooms can change rapidly, staying in one place for months or just a few days or weeks.
People who breathe in red tide usually have symptoms of coughing, sneezing and watery eyes. The symptoms usually go away when the person leaves the area.
Residents should seek medical treatment if the symptoms continue.
Those with respiratory issues should avoid areas with red tide, officials said. The toxic algal bloom is harmful for pets brought to the beach if they drink the water, lick their wet paws or breathe in the red tide.
Tips for protection
Residents who are sensitive to red tide and live in beach areas should close their windows and run the air conditioner, officials said. Shellfish should not be harvested or eaten from areas with red tide.
For the latest red tide status reports, visit myFWC.com/RedTide.