Red tide and rainy weather can’t keep these beachgoers away from the water

This is how Manatee County is cleaning up dead red tide fish

Thousands of fish continue to wash ashore in Manatee County as a result of a persistent red tide algae bloom. Manatee County workers are using tractors with sweeping attachments to collect the fish from the beaches.
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Thousands of fish continue to wash ashore in Manatee County as a result of a persistent red tide algae bloom. Manatee County workers are using tractors with sweeping attachments to collect the fish from the beaches.

In the midst of lightning strikes and scattered showers, beachgoers looked on as a small pod of dolphins lept from the water off the shore of Cortez Beach on Saturday morning.

The dolphins, just like the visitors, were clearly trying to make the best of a funky red tide situation as they tussled with one another and surfaced a few times before heading farther up the coast. It was a surreal sight, given that the Mote Marine Laboratory Stranding Investigators Program has recovered numerous dead dolphins suspected of succumbing to the deadly Karenia brevis algae bloom in the past few days.

Saturday wasn’t an ideal beach day. It was rainy, incredibly windy and the sun refused to reveal itself. Even still, Haley Bergamo and Brittany Mancilla set up camp on the beach, using umbrellas to shield them from the rain rather than the sun.

Their rental was already paid for, they said, so why not enjoy what they could?

“I rented this place already and couldn’t seem to cancel, so we’re making the best out of a wet situation,” Mancilla said.

Bergamo said the dreary day was still an improvement over Friday, when the water had an orange hue to it and each wave carried in a fresh swath of dead fish. Mote’s daily beach conditions report listed water color as “dark” at both Manatee Public Beach and Coquina Beach on Saturday.

“It looked brackish. It was like we were on the river versus actually being at the ocean,” she said.

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Mancilla and Bergamo are local residents but decided on a beach getaway for the last weekend before school starts in Manatee. They brought along their children who enjoyed the show the dolphins put on and played in the water.

“We all just wanted to get some quality time in together before school goes back,” said Mancilla.

Eric and Diane Welch were looking to spend some quality time together, too. The couple visiting from New York said they weren’t aware of the red tide beach conditions before they came down to stay in their rental.

“We were mad and so shocked when we found out,” said Diane. “But we’ve been going up to Anna Maria Island where the water is still gorgeous.”

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The two married on Holmes Beach last year and feel a certain connection with Manatee beaches. Diane said they would’ve canceled their trip if they’d known in advance and they certainly wouldn’t have held their wedding with dead fish in the background.

“This is just awful. It’s like something out of the Bible,” Eric said, gesturing toward the hundreds of dead fish lying across the shore.

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By about noon, the cleanup effort of Manatee County workers had reached Cortez Beach and a tractor with a sweeping attachment rode over the lines of dead fish, scooping them and making significant progress toward a cleaner beach.

An ongoing red tide is killing wildlife throughout Florida’s southwest coast and has left beaches littered with dead fish, sea turtles, manatees and a whale shark. Additional footage courtesy of Southwest Florida TV via Facebook.

On Manatee Public Beach, fewer fish lay throughout the sand. A pungent smell kept the beach fairly empty Saturday afternoon. Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik said the storms could be to blame.

“The only thing the weather could affect is the number of dead fish on the beach and how the smell comes inland,” she explained, nothing that the pattern will remain the same for the next few days, which could make for a few more stinky beach days.

A Manatee County worker drives a tractor between beachgoers at Manatee Public Beach on a dreary Saturday afternoon. The vehicle was equipped with a sweeper that collected dead fish from the shore as it drove over them. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Nearly 250 concerned Manatee residents said they will take a stand — literally — against red tide Sunday morning. As part of a peaceful statewide movement, protestors will meet in front of Coquina Beach Cafe, 2560 Gulf Drive S., to hold hand along the water at 10 a.m. For more information, visit the Hands Along the Water - Anna Maria Island event page on Facebook.

Capt. Curtis Hightower of Egmont Adventures talks about the water conditions and fishing in the Egmont area.