A warm, sunny day attracted thousands to Manatee County beaches Saturday. Just a few miles south, however, the devastation of red tide on Florida’s Gulf Coast was evident.
As dead fish lined beaches from Sarasota to Naples, visitors basked in the sun on Longboat Key to Anna Maria Island. Some visiting beachgoers said they traveled to Manatee specifically to avoid the dangers of red tide.
Rob Frye visited from Port Charlotte with his family to enjoy a beach day. It’s the farthest north he’s ever traveled to visit a Florida beach, he said.
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“We were in Englewood yesterday and we were coughing, but this isn’t bad today,” Frye said, referring to the conditions Saturday morning on Coquina Beach.
The water along Coquina and Manatee Public Beach was a murky brown Saturday morning. Mote Laboratory & Aquarium reported a “intense” respiratory irritation level in that area, meaning that coughing and sneezing could be heard constantly.
Pam Smith, who lives in Central Florida, sought shade under her umbrella while her family frolicked in the waves. The spread of red tide concerned her, so she made sure to research which beach she could visit without suffering from the side effects of red tide exposure, such as respiratory irritation.
“It seems like every four or five years the red tide gets really bad,” Smith said.
On Anna Maria Island, Tina Duvall wrapped up her weeklong vacation with one last beach day. Over the past few days, she said red tide has been a thorn in her side.
“We noticed yesterday that we were coughing more and when we came out again last night for pictures, we were coughing, too,” Duvall said. “It’s been the same today. You get here and cough immediately, and then you’re fine for awhile before another fit.”
Visitors on the island also enjoyed the water, despite a few sightings of dead fish washed ashore. There was no discernible smell in the air at Coquina Beach or elsewhere on Anna Maria Island.
Frye, Smith and Duvall all said they wished something could be done to mitigate red tide, especially due to its adverse effect on wildlife.
“It’s just unfortunate because it kills so many fish and affects the tourism business here,” said Duvall.
The panic has set in among vacationers, according to Marty Hollar, property manager at Anna Maria Island Dream Inn.
“People are worried. I’ve already had a lot of cancellations today,” Hollar said. “But we’re lucky, I know it’s really bad right now and looking outside I see at least 40 people in the water right now.”
Locals, however, seemed less concerned.
Bill Ackles, an Anna Maria resident, said he’s not worried about red tide.
“It’s the same every year,” Ackles said. “There’s nothing to be done about it. It’s natural.”
According to the Mote website, it is natural, and impossible to control. Experts say a “red tide control mechanism” would have to be able to kill the Karenia brevis algae strain while also removing the toxins it produces from the water.
Scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Florida attempted such a procedure in the 1950s by using copper sulfate to kill red tide cells. Unfortunately, that method released even more toxins that affected marine animals.
A Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission red tide update released Friday afternoon noted very low background concentrations of red tide in two Manatee County samples, while Sarasota saw background to high concentrations in 24 samples.
Experts predict red tide blooms will reach farther north in the coming days.