‘We haven’t done enough:’ Manatee protesters call for more regulation related to red tide

Even with red tide levels dwindling across the entire state, some concerned residents say the issue is far from fixed.

Amber Cannon, of Bradenton, was joined by more than 20 other protesters Saturday morning along the Palma Sola Causeway. Each held signs in support of clean water and against corporations. Supporters honked and waved as they drove by.

A demonstration like this one was long in the making, Cannon said. She explained that she’s been compelled to speak out ever since red tide first reached Manatee County waters in August and has been looking for a chance to raise awareness ever since.

Saturday’s protest was part of a broader movement hosted by the Hands Along the Water organization that advocates for protection of water and marine life. Similar events were held in Sarasota, Collier, Charlotte and Lee counties. At 11 a.m., attendees held hands along the coast in solidarity with the other events.

In solidarity with the other five protests happening Saturday morning, attendees stood in a line and held hands to show support for the environment and stricter government regulations. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

This year’s red tide bloom has totally changed the way she lives her life, Cannon said.

“I haven’t been in the water since June. I haven’t gone fishing. I haven’t taken my children to the beach,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking. It’s like losing a family member.”

Palma Sola resident Denice Grubb feels the effects of the harmful algae bloom, as well. She doesn’t believe the water is safe and wonders about the long-term health effects that may come from being exposed to red tide.

“We know that red tide is normal, but this isn’t normal,” Grubb said. “This red tide is off the charts.”

Manatee County had the strongest sample of the Karenia brevis algae that causes red tide in the entire state this week, according to the weekly report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Friday. There were no high concentrations collected and the state’s only medium concentration came from the Palma Sola Causeway, researchers said.

Protestors say the best way to prevent future red tide blooms is for lawmakers to crack down on companies that pollute the water. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Diana Cowans lives near the water in Bradenton, as well. This year’s red tide has been particularly devastating for her health.

“I like to spend time at or around the beach with my friends, but I just can’t be out there anymore because of my asthma,” Cowans said. “But what bothers me even more is the dead fish.”

The latest fish kill in the area came less than a mile away from where the protest was held, where thousands of mullet died at Robinson Preserve and hundreds of catfish were killed along the causeway.

Another major concern for residents is the effect red tide has had on the tourism industry, which has reported major losses ever since dead fish began lining the shores.

“If we lose tourism, we’re done. This is all we have,” Grubbs said.

Protesters said their only hope is lawmakers willing to enforce environmental protection laws and further government regulation of wastewater.

“Our politicians need to do something about it. They’re the only ones who can,” Pat Dowdall said.

Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, took a first step this week by filing a bill that would require mandatory septic inspections every five years. Dowdall said that kind legislation has the right goal in mind, but she would like to see more direct action.

“We haven’t done enough yet. We need to go to the source,” Dowdall said. “There’s no point in cleaning up the mess if you can’t stop the source.”

Cars honked in support of the Hands Along the Water protest as they drove down the Palma Sola Causeway Saturday morning. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com
Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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