Seaweed is tough battle for county, beachfront owners

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council at its Aug. 20 meeting heard a report from county parks and recreation department head Cindy Turner and natural resources department director Charlie Hunsicker about the influx of seaweed on Anna Maria Island’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline and the subsequent cleanup.

Turner said she’s taken numerous calls from people the past few weeks asking why the county can’t simply pick up the seaweed from the shore.

“It’s not that easy,” Turner said. “We’ve already taken tons of seaweed off the beach, but I’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s not that easy to go out to the beach with a cleanup crew.”

Hunsicker said permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are required for cleanups.

Additionally, the county needs approval from Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shore Bird Monitoring, to pick up seaweed near known turtle nests.

And the county is not allowed to clean up any private areas on the beachfront.

“We can rake from the high-water mark to the water’s edge, but the erosion control line is like an easement. Private property owners have a right to accretion, but they also have to maintain their portion of the beach,” Hunsicker said.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, chair of the TDC board, said she has taken some calls from irate citizens demanding action.

“People are just flipping out, but this is nature. The seaweed has been coming here for years,” she said. “We do the job as best we can under the given conditions.”

Turner said crews have been working “around the clock, but we have to work with turtle and DEP guidelines. And we can rake it up and in 20 minutes, it will be back.”

She said she’s visited beaches north and south of Anna Maria Island that are worse off.

Hunsicker said he’s gotten reports from the county’s marine engineering firm that some cities on the Atlantic coast had to bulldoze through seaweed to create paths to the beach.

“It’s Mother Nature, but I’ve never seen it this bad,” he said.

Hunsicker said he asked Coastal Planning and Engineering of Boca Raton if the county could bulldoze the beach, but was told federal agencies are refusing because sea turtle nesting and hatching season is ongoing.

He said another tropical storm might restore the beach to its previous condition, but Mother Nature will eventually redistribute the sand.

Turner said the good news is that the seaweed is not harmful and visitors have been coming despite the seaweed. Many major areas where seaweed collected have been cleared, she said, and the amount washing ashore appears to be dissipating.

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