Thank goodness that West Manatee Fire & Rescue District began displaying flags that communicate the status of the waters off Anna Maria Island at the district's Cortez Road and Holmes Beach stations.
Beach-goers can forgo driving across the Cortez Bridge and avoid searching for a parking spot at Holmes Beach upon seeing a red flag indicating high hazards.
Previously, those various flag alerts only flew at the lifeguard stations at Coquina and Manatee public beaches -- seen too late for a hasty retreat.
West Manatee Fire Rescue will receive water condition reports twice a day from the lifeguard stations. Double red means water closed; yellow, medium hazard; green, low hazard; and purple, marine pest in water (jellyfish, stingrays, dangerous fish).
Better yet, there's this: You don't have to drive anywhere to find out conditions. Check the rescue unit's website (wmfr.org) to find the link to the Mote Marine Laboratory beach alert site (http://coolgate.mote.org/beachconditions).
Then click on one of the flags to get a note about the water clarity, wind direction, surf conditions and whether there are respiratory irritants and dead fish fouling the beaches.
The site includes beach postings from the three coastal counties south of Manatee as well as Pinellas (Fort Desoto and Caladesi Island) and several Panhandle and Big Bend counties.
This will spare beach-goers the frustration of getting to the Gulf only to witness unbearable conditions.