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Siesta Key Beach gets high honor

SARASOTA — The fine white sands and sparkling water of Siesta Key Beach are winning over “Dr. Beach.”

The beach on Siesta Key was ranked No. 2 in the 19th annual top 10 beaches rankings just released by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a coastal expert.

Runner up to Hanalei Bay Kauai, Hawaii, Siesta Key Beach has again moved up in the list. Last year Siesta Key Beach was rated No. 3, and in 2007 it was 10th.

“It says a lot about the beaches here. When you’re underneath Hawaii, you’re in good company,” said Dawn Van Lanen, general manager of Tropical Shores Beach Resort.

Leatherman, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research, gave the beach high honors for its crystal-white sand, clear water, and underwater coral rock and caves.

He uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches. They include water and sand quality, safety, facilities and environmental management.

“It’s a very serene beach,” said Marie Louise Leuenberger, owner of Beach Palms of Siesta Key Village. “It’s so wonderful and it’s still so close to nature.”

Siesta Key hoteliers hope the beach’s high honors will attract summer tourists.

“We’re very excited,” said Brandi Bostedor, manager of Turtle Beach Resort in Siesta Key. “We’re hoping that it’s going to bring the summer season up a little.”

Occupancy rates in Sarasota County have been down the first three months of the year compared to the same months in 2008. January occupancy fell to 65.8 percent from 70.5 in January 2008, February went to 79.5 percent from 81.9, and March was 86.5 down from 89.6 in 2008. Van Lanen estimates occupancy among the three Tropical Shores resorts on Siesta Key is down 10 percent this year.

“In the current market conditions we feel fortunate,” Van Lanen said. “We’re just looking forward to a great summer season.”

Debbie Brooks, manager of Captiva Beach Resort in Siesta Key, said she sent text messages out to nearly everyone on her phone list to spread the news.

She is confident Siesta Key Beach’s high honors will influence tourists as they plan their summer vacations.

“It’s a great selling point,” Brooks said of Dr. Beach’s top 10 list. “It’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s really, really good for business. The beach here — there’s nothing like it. It’s what brought me here 30 years ago.”

Leuenberger said she hopes the No. 2 ranking for Siesta Beach does bring in more tourists this season.

“It’s always nice to have more guests, it’s good for the economy,” Leuenberger said. “We, of course, feel what’s going on in the economy at Siesta Key but the beach is so beautiful I think we are still doing OK.”