No end in sight for red tide plaguing Anna Maria Island

Red tide lingers on Anna Maria Island, afflicts Palma Sola Causeway

More than a week into the the invasion of red tide on Manatee County beaches, it shows few signs of leaving, although cleanup crews reported finding fewer dead fish. Palma Sola Causeway on Monday was a stinky mess.
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More than a week into the the invasion of red tide on Manatee County beaches, it shows few signs of leaving, although cleanup crews reported finding fewer dead fish. Palma Sola Causeway on Monday was a stinky mess.

The stench from thousands of rotting fish that washed ashore along Palma Sola Causeway hung heavily in the air on Monday as red tide continued to make its presence known in Manatee County. The causeway connects the barrier island with the Bradenton mainland.

Eight days after red tide hit Manatee beaches, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday. Scott pledged to use all state resources to assist the seven Southwest Florida counties dealing with the noxious bloom.

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Beach goers were largely staying away from Anna Maria Island beaches on Monday because of ride tide, although county workers were doing an efficient job of the keeping the area clear of dead sealife. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

“While we fight to learn more about this naturally occurring phenomenon, we will continue to deploy all state resources and do everything possible to make sure that Gulf Coast residents are safe and area businesses can recover,” Scott said in the order.

On Anna Maria Island, where county crews had scraped up most of the dead fish by early morning, the smell of red tide was more subtle.

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“Today is better than yesterday, I can take two steps out of my car and not cough myself to death,” Palmetto resident Jenny Crihfield said, as she looked at half a dozen dead horseshoe crabs on the shore of Longboat Pass.

In North Lido Key in Sarasota, the red tide appeared to be worse than ever Monday afternoon.

Thousands of dead fish lined the shore for miles, and the stench of the rotten fish could be smelled all the way in downtown Sarasota. Not one person was seen swimming in the murky water for miles.

Crihfield was one of the rare beachgoers who ventured onto the shores south of Manatee Public Beach. Further north, where the effects of red tide were less severe, there were more people on the beach.

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The shores of Palma Sola Causeway have been littered with dead fish during recent days. Officials are seeking volunteers to help with the cleanup effort. Bradenton Herald file photo

Businesses said red tide is hurting their bottom line.

“It’s been really slow. It’s horrible,” said Betty Sears of Oma’s Pizza and Italian Restaurant, 201 Gulf Drive N.

Usually Oma’s is packed on the weekend but on Sunday, the restaurant had only a handful of customers, Sears said.

Her co-worker, Kenneth Cole, was even more colorful in his description of red tide.

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More beach goers were seen Monday on Anna Maria Island north of State Road 64, where the effects of red tide were weaker than further south. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

“It’s an act of God. It’s like something out of Exodus,” Cole said.

W. Keith Pearce, executive chef at Gulf Drive Cafe and the Kokonut Hut Raw Bar and Grill, 900 Gulf Drive N., was frustrated with the response to red tide.

“It’s the derivative of a man-made product,” Pearce said of the nutrients that make their way into Florida waterways and feed the algae blooms that some say contribute to red tide.

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Most beach goers stayed out of the water on Anna Maria Island because of red ride, but not all. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

“I am completely blown away that this is not being treated like the response to an oil spill. This is affecting our business and our future business,” Pearce said. “I am very angry about what’s happening. I think there should have been a town hall meeting here and better commuincation.”

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Carmine DeMillio, parks operation manager in Manatee County’s Property Management Department, said there were fewer dead fish to remove from Anna Maria beaches on Monday than on any of the previous seven days.

“Today was the lightest and happiest day. I don’t know if it’s because we have turned a corner or because of wind conditions. We are keeping our fingers crossed,” DeMillio said.

County crews are working from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week to keep Anna Maria Island beaches clean from Longboat Pass to Bean Point.

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A seabird pecks at a dead fish on the shore of Longboat Pass. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

If there is a silver lining, it is that red tide comes at a slower time of the season when parents are putting their children back into the classroom as the new school year starts, said one gift shop worker who asked not to be identified.

Lynda Johnson of Sun City, Ariz., was visiting a friend in Manatee County on Monday.

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The rare beach goer had plenty of sand and surf to themselves on Monday on Anna Maria Island. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

She sat outside on a beachside deck and ate breakfast, and said that red tide wasn’t bothering her.

”I am the only person here my friend knows who comes here to avoid the heat. Back home, its 115 degrees,” Johnson said.

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Several horseshoe crabs were spotted on the shores of Anna Maria Island on Monday, victims of red tide. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

The National Weather Service in Ruskin issued a coastal hazard message Monday, warning of red tide hazards and possible respiratory irritation in some coastal areas of Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties.

Herald staff writer Samantha Putterman contributed to this report.