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Red tide affects sea turtles and other wildlife

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - It's not hard to see the major impacts red tide is having on the beachgoers and fish, but what about its affects on other marine and wildlife?

Mote said 137 sea turtles have been rescued or recovered in Sarasota and Manatee Counties this year alone.

Unfortunately, most in that number had already died, but there are 10 that still remain at the hospital now in recovery under Mote's care.

In the middle of nesting season, it's not unusual for the Suncoast to see thousands of new sea turtles. 

What is unusual is the number of the turtles that the area is losing, too.

"This year so far, we have rescued or recovered a total of 137 sea turtles," said Hayley Rutger, spokesperson for Mote Marine Laboratory. "A lot of those were already deceased. Some of them were affected by humans, like boat strikes or entanglements in fishing gear, but some of them are suspected to have been affected by the ongoing red tide bloom."

Mote said it's hard to say exactly how many died as a result of red tide, but those still alive and affected by red tide have symptoms that are clear to see.

"Sea turtles can be affected and become disoriented in the water, unable to move properly, uncoordinated," Rutger explained. "It's possible for them to be unable to swim properly, to drown, to be vulnerable to other things in their environment."

Just across the way, nonprofit "Save our Seabirds" is preparing for the same affects, too.

"Sometimes it'll take two to three weeks before we see impacts," explained Avian Hospital Administrator Dana Leworthy. "A lot of the birds that we'll see at first are the small shore birds and then the diving birds like the cormorants because they actually, physically swim through the red tide."

Even the smell surrounding the bird cages is strong from dead fish in the area, so Leworthy said she was very surprised that they haven't gotten one dead or distressed bird, like they have in past red tide events.

"The cormorants will dive through the water, and they're basically diving right through the blooms so they're getting it in their eyes and their faces and their mouths," Leworthy explained. "They don't necessarily need to ingest the fish to get the red tide."

Birds that are affected by red tide will look dazed without the ability to walk. Anyone who sees a bird like this at the beach is asked by "Save our Seabirds" to bring them to their facility at 1708 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236.

If a bird is already deceased on the beach, people are asked to call the county to report it.

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Multi Media Journalist