ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- As thousands of Manatee County residents and visitors head out to Anna Maria Island beaches this weekend, Manatee County Marine Rescue will be working in full force to ensure safety as beachgoers enjoy the three-day Fourth of July weekend.
Joe Westerman, Manatee County Marine Rescue chief, said the entire division will be on duty this weekend at all lifeguard towers on Coquina Beach and Manatee Public Beach.
"All of our major holidays, we get a real influx of people coming to our beaches," Westerman said. "When they are off, we work. I am expecting the crowd levels on this July 4, being a Saturday, to be the largest we've seen in the last couple years."
Due to the sheer number of people expected on the beach this weekend, West
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erman said lifeguards will be scanning from the towers and law enforcement will be on the beach to handle security.
Bradenton Beach Police Department Sgt. Lenard Diaz said alcohol, animals and airborne fireworks are prohibited but sparklers are OK.
"We are definitely going to have an increased presence on the water and on land," he said. "We want them to come out and have a great time but be respectful. Enjoy the time and go home safely."
Holmes Beach Detective Sgt. Brian Hall said the department will have extra patrol Friday through Sunday.
"We are going to have several extra officers working during the day and evening to help with the crowds and enforcing the no alcohol on beach. and illegal fireworks will be seized," he said.
Hall added people should park only in allowed areas facing the flow of traffic on side streets. At the beach access point at 27th Street in Holmes Beach, there is a roped-off area for nesting birds people are not allowed to be around.
With the recent incident on Anna Maria Island where three black skimmer chicks were killed and five sea turtle nests damaged, Audubon Florida is asking beachgoers to leave personal fireworks at home and attend official firework displays instead.
According to a news release from Audubon Florida, fire explosions are "especially frightening to coastal birds and their dependent chicks whose nests are right in the sand." The BeachHouse restaurant canceled its July 3 fireworks show due to the nesting birds.
"Many people think the coast is the best place to spend July Fourth weekend, but we're not the only ones," Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida's director of wildlife conservation, said in the release. "This is also a critical time for some of our more iconic coastal birds -- many of which are still guarding flightless chicks. A single ill-placed fireworks explosion or other disturbance can cause birds to fly from a nest, leaving their tiny babies vulnerable to predation and overheating."
On all lifeguard towers, beach warning flags notify swimmers of water conditions. Red is high hazard, yellow is medium hazard, green is low hazard and purple is dangerous marine life.
"Always be conscious of the surf and what conditions are of the day," Westerman said. "Pay attention to the flags."
Westerman said they will also monitor the weather and if there is lightning in the area, the water may be closed to the public and people asked to seek shelter. Westerman said cars are the safest place.
"Weather can change in a minute," Westerman said. "Every year people die from lightning strikes on beaches, and it's not something we want on ours. ... People come to our beaches to be protected."
On Bradenton Beach, Diaz advised against parking on side roads because there is "really not enough room."
"Best place to park is down in Coquina and catch the trolley ride up and down the beach," he said.
In Anna Maria, Mayor Dan Murphy said they will continue patrolling the city for parking violations this weekend.
"In Anna Maria, you have to park with all four tires off the road," he said. "That seems to be a real big issue. Our streets are very narrow. Park with the flow of traffic, not against it. These are the two primary reasons we issue parking tickets."
Murphy added parking with the flow of traffic is a state law.
"We do enforce both and will continue to be enforced," he said. "More people will be enforcing the parking then we have in the past."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.