Red tide first crept up to Manatee County beaches more than 10 days ago and it has stuck around since with almost no reprieve.
The algae bloom, known as Karenia brevis, has been traveling north up the southwest coast of the state for weeks, leaving a rotten smell, thousands of dead fish and brown water in its wake.
But on Wednesday, it seemed that cleanup efforts, along with changing winds, gave beachgoers a little break.
On Manatee Public Beach, several people were frolicking in the water, which was brown-green in color, but much clearer than on recent days. No dead fish were seen lining the shore, and the rotten smell was present, if only slightly.
Sergio Fernandez watched his family play in the water from the sand. He and his family are visiting from Spain, he said.
“Everything’s fine. We didn’t expect the water to be so yellowish but the temperature feels great,” Fernandez said. “We did think we would find the algae bloom but it’s been good so far.”
Isabel Dejesus, who is from Thonotosassa, went to the beach Wednesday afternoon and also found it to be better than what she’s heard.
“It looks much better today,” Dejesus said. “If people would stop putting so much pollution in the water it would have never gotten that bad. But at least we have today. It’s gorgeous right now.”
A couple days earlier, the stench from thousands of rotting fish hung heavy in the air along Palma Sola Causeway. The situation, researchers say, changes daily.
Forecasters said the more pleasant conditions may be because of a transition in wind direction.
“We have had a mainly southwesterly flow, which has been pushing deeper water onto the shore,” National Weather Service forecaster Stephen Shiveley said. “Right now we are mostly having southerly winds. It definitely started to make that shift. Today is a transition day.”
Shiveley said that although wind conditions may be favorable for now, a slew of other factors can aggravate red tide.
“I can’t promise it will stay better but the winds definitely aren’t going to make it worse right now,” Shiveley said.
On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee and Pinellas counties. Scott pledged to use all state resources to assist the seven southwest Florida counties dealing with the noxious bloom.
One day later, Sarasota County declared a local state of emergency. The city of Sarasota declared an emergency on Wednesday but so far, Manatee County has not.
Toward the south end of Anna Maria Island, on Cortez Beach, conditions were the same Wednesday: No fish and no smell. The water was slightly brown, but mostly blue.
Lakewood Ranch resident Mark Ogrizovich said he was happy with the refreshingly clean and fish-free beach.
“We were down in Venice and we could barely be there for 10 minutes before having to leave. It was disgusting,” he said. “Huge dead snook, everything. I moved here in 1981 and all the years I’ve been here red tide has never been like this — never.”
Ogrizovich did say that he was happy that Manatee County is staying on top of the beach cleanup.
“They’re definitely doing a good job.”