Red Tide Update, 10/22: Cell Counts Down, Conditions Continue to Improve

Red Tide Impacts Continue to Improve
Aerosol Impacts Infrequent and Limited through the Weekend

Saturday Afternoon Update
The latest cell counts along South Padre Island indicate a much lower concentration of the K. Brevis bacteria (red tide) taken during the morning ranged from 66 parts per milliliter at Beach Access 5 to 1364 parts per milliliter at the most southern end of Isla Blanca park. These lower counts are much improved from earlier in the week. As a result, aerosols have been reduced to mild with some moderate conditions still found along South Padre Island. No additional fish kills were reported on Saturday. This will be the last update on the red tide event unless conditions deteriorate significantly later this week.

Previous Updates
Friday Afternoon: Reports from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division, the University of Texas/Pan American Coastal Studies Laboratory, Texas AgriLife Extension agents, and the South Padre Island Surf Company indicate a significant drop in counts of K. Brevis (red tide) bacteria, and related aerosols, Friday morning and afternoon. Counts had fallen below 1000 parts per milliliter of water along the beach, and below 10,000 parts per milliliter bay side (map, above). Breathing difficulties/throat and nose irritation had dropped into the "none to slight" range (down from slight to moderate on Thursday). While the counts had fallen, the range was still considered moderate; fish kills (mullet) continued to be reported in the Brownsville Ship Channel, with much less along the beach. Click here for a map.

Thursday Afternoon: Light winds turned to the east/southeast on Thursday, bringing up aerosol levels along South Padre Island and extending into Port Isabel. Cell counts, which had dipped below 1000 cells per milliliter for nearly all areas Tuesday afternoon and early Wednesday, had risen well above 1000 cells per milliliter, doubling in some measurements. While not as high as the values over the weekend of October 15th and 16th, aerosols from the return of the bloom were causing breathing difficulty for people along and near the beach beginning Wednesday evening and continuing into Thursday. While somewhat cooler waters near shore should keep widespread extremely high counts from returning, the impact of what remains will likely be felt into the weekend and beyond. That means continued periods of breathing difficulties, including asthma–like symptoms, coughing, burning in the throat, and sneezing. Additional fish kills were reported today, and more can be expected through the weekend. Updates will be available if and when we receive them. Click here for a map.

Wednesday Afternoon: After some relief courtesy of gusty north/northwest winds following Tuesday’s front, cell counts of K. Brevis appear to be on the rise once again. A report from Mr. Tony Reisinger, Texas AgriLife extension agent for coastal and marine resources in Cameron County, discovered up to 1000 cells per milliter of water on South Padre Island mainly from the public beach access locations northward shortly before 2 PM, with somewhat lower amounts from the resort area to the Isla Blanca jetties. While these values are greatly improved over the 10,000 to 100,000 cells per milliliter found over the weekend, they may be a sign of some recovery. Winds will become calm overnight then quickly turn southeasterly on Thursday, becoming east/southeast during the afternoon which could increase counts further. The wind shift is likely to bring aerosols back onshore, with respiratory issue becoming an issue. Further updates will be provided on this page for the rest of this week.

Tuesday Afternoon: Information from the University of Texas/Pan American Coastal Studies Lab noted "decreasing" counts of K. Brevis cells along South Padre Island. In addition, increasing north to northwest winds are helping to drive aerosols away from the shore, providing relief this evening and into Wednesday. Full details on the status of the red tide will be updated here on Wednesday, October 19th.

Tuesday Morning: Heavy red tide concentrations continue on South Padre Island, including resort areas. Moderate to high aerosol from South Padre Island to Boca Chica Beach will be an issue through at least noon, as easterly swell continues to bring 3 to 5 foot surf waves and foamy waters, which exacerbate the impact to beachgoers. The Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services recommends people with respiratory conditions, especially asthma, avoid all beaches until further notice.

The red tide has caused significant fish kill in the area. Visitors should refrain from taking their dogs on the beach;  dead or infected fish on the shoreline can pose a life risk to dogs. Young children are also at risk and should not pick up any dead fish along the beach.

What is Red Tide?
Red tide is associated with brevetoxin poisoning (K. Brevis bacteria) which is characterized by a combination of gastrointestinal and neurologic signs and symptoms. Animals consuming fish killed by red tide, or inhaling foam from the surf, are at greater risk of suffering neurological problems and may have life–threatening consequences. Dogs consuming dead fish can show signs and symptoms from 15 minutes to 18 hours after contact with the contaminated fish. People on a beach with red tide may experience irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Additional evidence suggests that people with existing respiratory illness, such as asthma, may experience these symptoms more severely. Since last weekend, several residents and visitors reported burning sensations in their throats and difficulty breathing while on the beach.

South to southeast winds of 8 to 15 mph are expected through Sunday (October 23). The winds will briefly turn to the east–southeast between 2 PM and 9 PM each day. During these times, aerosols may become noticeable, particularly to those with respiratory difficulty (asthma, allergy, etc.). Otherwise, the parallel flow should keep aerosol impacts low. There is no indication whether the bloom will increase over the weekend and into next week, though slightly cooler waters tend to favor a slower growth rather than a more rapid growth. Highest concentrations are expected to be north of the resort area. Visitors should continue to monitor conditions.

The Cameron County Extension Office, the Texas Red Tide Rangers, Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services and the Cameron County Parks Department will continue to monitor these reports to ensure the safety of beach visitors. As conditions change, the public will be updated. For additional information on red tide, please visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Red Tide website.

NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Map, October 10 to 20, 2011, along the Texas Gulf Coast
NOAA satellite chlorophyll image of possible Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) area shown by red shading along Texas Gulf Coast. Within the bloom area (outlined), red=high, orange=medium, yellow=low, and green=not present.

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