Special Reports

Oil spill on the minds of Anna Maria Island

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — “It will destroy my business if it comes this way,” said Havana Cabana restaurant owner John Droukas in Holmes Beach.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed it doesn’t,” said Anna Maria Island Inn owner Court Zoller in Bradenton Beach.

“It would be tragic if it did,” said tourist Eirick Innerby, a Norwegian air force rescue helicopter pilot, vacationing on Manatee Beach. “These beaches are among the best in the world.”

The monstrous oil spill that’s been growing day by day in the Gulf of Mexico was still hundreds of miles away Monday, but the unfolding drama was on many minds along this tourist destination.

Mom-and-pop restaurant workers.

Beach hotel owners.

Folks on a day trip from Avon Park.

Joette DePinto’s family stood on the Anna Maria Island City Pier’s long wooden walkway, snapping pictures and marveling at a solitary porpoise swimming under their feet.

“That oil spill endangers everything,” DePinto said. “People are out here to enjoy this. They forget the danger of what’s going on out there and how it could affect what they’re standing here enjoying.”

Those words resonated down Pine Avenue at Beach Bums, where folks can rent kayaks and take eco-tours.

“The first thing people ask is, ‘Am I going to see manatees?’” said co-owner Lauren Sato. “Everybody’s been waiting so long for the manatees to come because the water’s been so cold. Now this. It’s an enormous fear they won’t be around.

“I feel so bad for visitors. You can’t wait to get here and then you don’t know what you’re coming to.” That described Brad Harris, a visitor at Sato’s shop Monday.

“When we came here, we weren’t even sure we were going to be able to enjoy the beach,” said the Springfield, Mo., salesman. “My fear is what it’s going to do. You don’t want to come and see oil-stained animals wash ashore. What kind of message does that send to our children?”

A message that concerned people in different ways.

Londoner Jack Marfleet said oil-soiled beaches would make British tourists think twice.

“People would think about going somewhere else like the West Indies,” he said on Manatee Beach.

“Or the Carolinas,” said Glenn Barnett, a regular visitor from Newark, Ohio, fishing off the Anna Maria City Pier. That gets the attention of Anna Mehalko, who works at Feeling Swell Surf Bar & Grill in the city of Anna Maria.

“People are worried,” she said. “We don’t want anything to happen to wildlife and we don’t want to see anybody cancel their vacation. We want people here.”

So does Zoller, who’s owned Anna Maria Island Inn for six years.

He said he’d only had a couple of calls from customers about the oil spill, but is expecting a lot more.

“We’re treating it like a hurricane. We tell them we’ll wait and see,” Zoller said. “But oil on the beach is something I’ve never experienced. I’m worried about it. It could really hurt us. Summer is a moneymaker. If we lost a lot of guests, it could put us behind.”

Eric Cairns, who’s owned the nearby Cedar Cove Resort & Cottages for 10 years, can relate.

“We’ve had people call and ask about it, but no cancellations,” he said. “Pushing any panic buttons? Not yet.”

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