PANAMA CITY BEACH — For at least the second week in a row, red tide remains an issue for Bay County.
According to an update posted Wednesday afternoon on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website, very low to high levels of the harmful algae bloom were detected in 18 water samples collected in the county during the past week.
That is six more positive samples than were collected the week before, when a fish kill — likely linked to red tide — occurred near Shell Island.
"It's kind of like the weather, can't really predict it," said Paul Casto, a Panama City Beach city councilman. "I've seen (times) where we've had 10 or 15 years of no red tide and I've seen (times) where we've had red tide two or three years in a row."
However, Casto added that the recent flare-up is not the worst he has seen in the almost 50 years he has lived on the Beach.
It just happens to be during a year of record numbers of tourists.
"People still come, we still have business, but I think they limit their exposure right on the water's edge," Casto said. "That's where people tend to have the most problems."
Local health officials have said red tide can cause some people to have mild to short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms. Others with breathing problems such as asthma could experience more severe symptoms.
Symptoms usually go away once a person leaves the area or goes indoors. Experts also recommend that people who experience symptoms should stay away from beach areas. Those with persistent symptoms should contact their health care provider.
According to Dr. Waleed Nasser, U.S. CEO of BlueGreen Water Technologies, no one really knows exactly what triggers red tide, although there are many ongoing studies to unveil its determining factors.
Nasser said red tide occurs when the organism known as Karenia brevis begins to rapidly multiply throughout a body of water. It is unknown why that happens.
"They are natural organisms, but once they go into the exponential growth phase, they dominate the aquatic ecosystem," he said. "They secrete toxins that are (harmful) to fish, humans and other organisms in the water."
Nasser also said his company is based in Israel and has operations in South Africa, Russia, China and the United States, where it is active in states such as Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
The group not only studies red tide, but has developed a method to treat it. It does that by dispersing granular, biodegradable capsules that secrete hydrogen peroxide into the water.
This creates a state of "low oxidative stress," which is not harmful to fish but kills the organism that causes algae blooms.
The group has used the technology to treat another species of harmful algae, known as blue-green algae, in lakes and rivers throughout Florida. It is working with state officials to use those methods in the Gulf of Mexico as well.
"If we know anything about harmful algae blooms, (it is) that they are increasing in severity and intensity from year to year," Nasser said. "Once you eliminate the toxic species that is harmful, (you see increases in fish populations)."