SARASOTA COUNTY -- A "no swim" advisory for Bird Key Park on the west side of the Ringling Causeway was issued Thursday by Sarasota County.
Bird Key Park is an approved dog park.
The advisory was spurred by elevated levels of enterococci (enteric) bacteria in the water, some of which is naturally present in the environment.
"Enteric bacteria can come from a variety of natural and manmade sources including pet waste, livestock, wildlife, stormwater runoff and human sewage from failed septic systems and sewage spills," the advisory states.
The cause of the bacterial outbreak is likely from natural sources, according to the Sarasota County response team., which determined pet owners have not been picking up after their pets at the park.
"Even though the pet waste stations were well stocked with plastic bags for picking up the waste and garbage cans for disposal, large amounts of pet waste had been left along the beach in close proximity to the water's edge," the advisory states.
Another likely source of pollution is stormwater flow produced by rainwater washing pet waste and other pollutants into the bay, according to the advisory.
Signs for the public not to swim or engage in water recreation at Bird Key Park Beach will remain in place until follow-up water testing results meet Environmental Protection Agency recreational water safety standards. Testing results will be available Friday.
Local health officials say people can still visit and enjoy the beach but are urged not to wade or swim in the water. Shellfish such as crabs and shrimp collected in Bird Key Park should not be consumed.
Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, said in a written statement: "When making beach day plans, be sure to check the latest reports on beach conditions."
For more information go to ourgulfenvironment.scgov.net and click on water monitoring, then bacterial testing to check area Gulf beaches, call 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437) or go to mote.org/beaches.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.