SARASOTA COUNTY - Clean up crews continue to haul off the dead fish lining some south Sarasota County beaches -- about four and a half tons worth so far. All while marine scientists continue to monitor red tide blooms. They're also trying to understand the impacts of losing thousands of one type of species: mullet ready to spawn.
It's a weird sight for visitors like Patrick van den Broek. "I went to take a picture. When you get down low it's apocalyptic."
An entire stretch of beach near Blind Pass still covered in dead fish. Nearly all appear to be mullet. "There is definitely hundreds and hundreds. I imagine it would do some immediate damage to that population for sure."
That's just what's left after Sarasota County work crews have been picking up the dead for the past day. It may in fact be thousands. The county says 9,000 pounds worth.
"In the reports there are notations of an occasional other species intermixed with those mullet but for the most part people are just seeing mullet in those parts of southern Sarasota County." Experts with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission like Wendy Quigley say the mullet likely went to deeper waters to mate when they ran into the red tide algae. "They wait for passages of cold fronts and when those cold fronts pass by that is generally when they try to move off shore to their spawning areas. The timing of the red tide impacting them in that area is not unusual."
Many could be found along the shore with fully ripe internal egg masses called roe. "This is the peak time for mullet to be spawning."
Researchers say it's too early to tell what type of impact it could ultimately have on local populations. "There are a lot of factors that these populations experience with natural fluctuations over time. So it is really hard to say what that impact could be."
For now those like van den Broek say one thing is for sure. "There is a lot of death. A lot of fish death."
Work crews with Sarasota County tell us they hope to have what is washed up cleaned up by the end of Friday.
FWC's most recent update suggests the red tide bloom is being detected in patches from Pinellas county south to Collier County. Right now the highest count is at Venice Beach.