Elections

Seaweed on Manatee beaches a growing concern with RNC nearing

HOLMES BEACH -- It's green. It smells. And it attracts bugs.

It also will become the first impression of area beaches for thousands of visitors staying in Manatee County for the Republican Nation Convention next week.

Tourism officials are concerned a seaweed problem they label as the worst in decades will scare off RNC attendees expected to sneak off for a quick beach visit at some point during their stays.

After a one-week hiatus, the seaweed is back. And it looks like it's here to stay at least through the convention.

The county has been working daily to rake the beaches, but turtle nesting season has restricted those efforts some. About 20 minutes after the shore has been cleared, more of the deep-sea algae is washing right back up, said Cindy Turner, director of Manatee County Parks and Recreation.

"I have never seen anything like this in the 12 years I have been director of parks and recreation here," she said. "We're doing everything we can to control the issue."

Turner said it's still unclear exactly what triggered the seaweed explosion, but it all began directly after Tropical Storm Debby.

Although not harmful, the dead leafy stuff has become a nuisance for Anna Maria Island resorts and restaurateurs now fielding complaints from their guests. As the GOP convention nears, business owners fear those grievances will only amplify.

The topic became the focus of a Manatee Tourist Development Council meeting Monday morning at Holmes Beach City Hall, where an update on the county's mitigation efforts was presented.

Tons and tons of the raked seaweed already have been taken to the landfill and local farms to be used as compost.

"There are folks coming here for the first time," Holmes Beach City Commissioner David Zaccagnino said. "We don't want them to think the beaches are like this all of the time."

The seaweed also has come with beach erosion that left a small canal-like puddle of water running along the beaches. Like the seaweed, it too has cast displeasure among beachgoers.

Sea turtle nesting season, which last until late October, delayed any cleanup until earlier this month. The county has been given approval of late to rake almost the entire island daily.

Even resort owners themselves are out cleaning their beach-front backyards.

"We had some concerns from our guests, so we took our staff out there to patrol," said David Teitelbaum, who operates four resorts on Anna Maria. "We wanted to take it upon ourselves to help."

For more on this story, see Bradenton.com later or pick up a copy of Tuesday's Bradenton Herald.

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@JoshSalman

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