Red tide causes thousands of fish to wash up in Panama City Beach

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Beachgoers in Panama City Beach were greeted by a grisly sight this weekend: Thousands of dead fish spanning the coastline.

The killer? Red tide.

While red tide this far north is less common than in the south, FSU Oceanographer Dr. Jeff Chanton says it’s nothing new.

“The red tide organism was first observed here in the 1500s by the Spanish explorers," said Chanton.

The blooms are caused by high nutrient levels in the water. While they can occur naturally, scientists believe the length and severity of the outbreaks have increased due to human use of fertilizers.

Southwest Florida has been experiencing red tide since last October.

“The fish of the Gulf of Mexico suffer terribly because of this. Seabirds suffer because of this. It's a very disturbing thing," said Chanton.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it’s investigating whether the red tide in south Florida spread north, or if the outbreak in the Panhandle is a separate, unrelated incident.

Jonathan Webber with Florida Conservation Voters says whether or not the outbreaks are connected, the worsening situation calls for action from the state.

“In Florida, our economy is our environment. You know, it's directly related and things go bad on the coast or wherever it may be, I mean that gets around and it affects how much money our state is able to make," said Webber.

Researchers at the University of South Florida predict the red tide outbreak to move east along the Panhandle.

The FWC will be releasing an updated red tide report Wednesday.

You can get the latest updates on red tide and blue green algae conditions throughout the state by going to www.myfwc.com.

To report fish kills to the FWC call, 1-800-636-0511.