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Be careful out there!

Harmful red tide bloom spreads along Southwest Florida coast.

A red tide bloom that’s lingered since October has spread out along the Southwest Florida coast in the past few days and is expected to drift further south, toward Collier County and the Florida Keys.

The latest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report shows background to medium concentrations of red tide (caused here by Karenia brevis) in Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

The bloom has recently been strongest along the Lee County coast, and fish kills have been reported at various area beaches.

But it’s spread in recent days, and the University of South Florida College of Marine Science predicts the bloom will move inshore slightly before moving further south in the next few days.

“We’ve also seen it inside Pine Island Sound,” said Rick Bartleson, a water quality scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel. “It’s spread from the northern section near Captiva down here to Tarpon Bay, and we had high (1 million cells per liter and higher) concentrations in Tarpon Bay these last few days. It’s pretty visible.”

Dead mullet is a sign that the bloom is close to shore and in local bay waters. Mullet will actually eat red tide, which is one reason they’re often found during fish kills.

Recently larger fish like black and red drum have been washing up on local beaches, which is an indication that the bloom is off the beaches.

Marco Island is the southernmost spot the bloom was located in the latest report, but it’s shown up in Florida Bay and the Keys in recent months.

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