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Toxic bloom continues to plague beaches, bays, beyond

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Bridge Tender Inn & Dockside Bar worker Gary McDonald rakes debris, including fish and sea snakes, Aug. 7 on the shoreline at the waterfront bar in the wake of red tide in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

The blame continues to be thrown at Big Sugar, the governor, bad zoning, decades old mistakes in managing wetlands and plans that rerouted the natural flow of water.

Who, or whatever is to blame, the harmful algal bloom Karenia brevis — commonly known as red tide — continued to plague Florida beaches. What crept up from the South arrived Aug. 6 in background amounts as far north as Passage Key, a small wildlife refuge in Tampa Bay at the north end of Anna Maria Island.

In Manatee County, a public works tractor pulling a large container scraped and scooped dead fish from Anna Maria Island beaches, from the southern tip of Coquina Beach to Bayfront Park in Anna Maria.

Volunteers joined in the cleanup campaign — some from as far away as Germany and England.

Wearing masks and gloves and hauling garbage bags, Holmes Beach code enforcement officer JT Thomas led a troop of cleaners to the beaches to pick fish left after the county machinery moved on.

“We did it once, we may do it again,” Thomas said.

“We will be glad to share our bags, gloves — all of it — with other cities and Longboat Key, if need be,” he added.

By Aug. 10, county workers had cleaned an estimated 140 cubic yards of dead fish from the island shoreline, according to Nick Azzara, information outreach manager for Manatee County.

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners Aug. 7 announced plans to expand its partnership with START — Solutions to Avoid Red Tide. More than $2 million of BP oil spill money has been tagged for the attempt to slow red tide by placing new oyster and clam beds back into the waters around Manatee County.

According to START founder Sandy Gilbert, who addressed commissioners, one oyster filters nine-50 gallons of water per day — and oysters eat red tide.

Meanwhile, the fish kills continued, the number of affected marine mammals, including loggerheads, rose.

Mote Marine was kept busy, collecting nine deceased bottlenose dolphins from Sarasota County waters Aug. 7-9.

According to a statement from Mote Aug. 9, the five males and four females would be necropsied at Mote for a cause of death, but red tide is the suspect.

Mote continued to be at the front lines of the crisis, issuing beach reports daily — sometimes twice daily — coordinating efforts with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and conducting real-time research on red tide.

Seeking to expedite fish-kill cleanups, the FWC waived rules for fish collection at Gov. Rick Scott’s direction. The waiver freed up removal of most dead fish regardless of bag, size, possession limits, in-season or area closures.

The FWC cautioned people against the removal of sawfish, marine turtles, manatees, dolphins and whales and said reports should be made on those findings to the FWC hotline at 888-404-3922.

Up and down the island shore the week of Aug. 6, the numbers of beachgoers were sparse.

When Holmes Beach’s Thomas surveyed the beach the morning of Aug. 10, he estimated only 100 people enjoying the sun. Dead fish continued to be present as a county beach-cleaning tractor rumbled down the sand in Holmes Beach.

“On the smell, I’d give it a seven out of 10,” Thomas said. “But I don’t like the look of the water this morning. It’s dark, and I’m still coughing. We’re doing the best we can.”

Meanwhile, businesses were feeling the negative effects of the harmful algae bloom.

“When it’s killing the eels and snakes, you know it’s bad,” Gary McDonald of the Bridge Tender Inn & Dockside Bar in Bradenton Beach remarked Aug.7.

At the Waterfront Restaurant on the bayfront in Anna Maria, culinary director Billy Hermenau said the discovery Aug. 6 of dead marinelife was worse. Restaurant workers collected six garbage bags of dead red grouper, pin fish, sea snakes and a tarpon from the bayfront area near the restaurant.


Get smart about red tide

If you want to get smart about red tide, Stacy Alexander, vice president of community relations at Mote Marine Laboratory, suggested visiting the following websites for information and updates:

  • FWC statewide red tide status, typically updated every Friday afternoon: myfwc.com/redtidestatus
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts of potential respiratory irritation: tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/hab
  • Mote Marine’s beach conditions with shoreline observations, updated as often as twice daily: visitbeaches.org
  • In partnership with FWC, the Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides at the University of South Florida offers an HAB tracking tool for Florida’s west coast: ocgweb.marine.usf.edu/habtracking.

Commercial fishers ‘wait and see’ on red tide impacts

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Michael Dolan stands Aug. 8 in water off the north end of Anna Maria next to a boat filled with dead fish. Dolan and fisher Nathan Meschelle spent the day cleaning up dead fish. Islander Photo: Courtesy Nathan Meschelle

Plenty of dead fish washed ashore the first week of August due to red tide, but it didn’t kill commercial fishing in Cortez.

Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish Co., at an Aug. 6 Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage meeting, said impacts had been minimal, but it was too early to tell if the toxic algal bloom would slow business.

Bell said red tide killed some inshore fish, predominantly baitfish and mullet, but offshore fishing — mostly grouper and snapper — remained unscathed as of Aug. 6. The biggest impacts on the industry were felt to the south, she added.

Bell said she received a call from a Georgia-based buyer looking for mullet who doesn’t normally buy from A.P. Bell, which indicated to her other fish houses were feeling the pinch.

It is, however, the slow season for mullet. Mullet fishing peaks in November and December, when the temperatures cool and the fish spawn.

She also said fishers were reporting they saw fish struggling to breathe at the water’s surface, indicative of red tide symptoms. The bloom attacks their central nervous systems.

“What it hasn’t killed, it ran out of the area as far as fish go,” said fisher Nathan Meschelle.

Meschelle said he went fishing Aug. 6, but after the day on the water produced a light haul, he shifted gears. He contacted Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore to ask if he could work cleaning up fish instead of catching them.

Meschelle said Whitmore contacted the island cities’ mayors and, Aug. 8-9, he worked alongside Anna Maria public works employees scooping rotting carcasses into his fishing skiff.

“We thought it was going to be worse. I was concerned. I still am. It’s only been a week. If it turns into a couple months, I would be suffering a loss,” said Meschelle.

For fishers like Meschelle, red tide is one of many factors that impact the fickle industry of commercial fishing.

Meschelle said when the fishing isn’t good, he works on boats. Or, in this case, works for the city cleaning up dead fish.

The fish kill isn’t all bad, he added. Similar to the benefits of a forest fire, he said the red tide culls the fish stocks of weaker, diseased fish while the stronger ones go on to reproduce. And the fish carcasses left behind fall to the bottom feeding crabs and shrimp.

For now, fishers are waiting.

“We’ll have to see what next week brings. Maybe we’ll be fishing or maybe we’ll be out cleaning up,” Meschelle said.

Islanders, visitors answer red tide cleanup call

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Rob Bodam, left, of Boulder, Colorado, and Matt Nolan of Chicago clear dead fish from the beach Aug. 6 near 75th Street in Holmes Beach. Nolan, who first came to the island in 1979 to visit grandparents, has returned every year since and now brings his children. Nolan’s wife, Erika, wrote in an email to The Islander, “I thought you should know how committed we are to keeping our beach on AMI a happy, safe and clean place.” The brothers-in-law removed nearly 400 pounds of fish in their effort. Islander Photo: Courtesy Erika Nolan
Volunteers Roque Pastorius, owner of Island Monkey Bus, Max and Henry Oalwaithe from the United Kingdom and Christy Shinavier, a Monkey Bus driver, collected dead fish Aug. 7 in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy HBPD

Social media helps spread the word.

The action started with an Aug. 6 Facebook post on the Holmes Beach Police Department’s page: “Anyone who would like to volunteer to clean beaches along Holmes Beach can contact Holmes Beach code enforcement … .There will be masks, gloves and a trash grabber given out to anyone who would like to help.”

The next morning more than 50 volunteers showed up at the 52nd Street beach access to pick up dead fish.

“We headed out at 8 a.m. and people were already there, waiting for us,” said James Thomas, Holmes Beach code enforcement officer.

As volunteers filled trash bags, people on the beach joined in. Thomas said the group comprised locals and vacationers alike, including one family from Germany and another from the United Kingdom.

They collected dead fish for three hours from the beach and canals and by 11 a.m. had about 1,000 pounds.

Waste Pro, which has a contract with the city, dropped dumpsters at the 30th Street, 33rd Street, 36th Street, 46th Street, 67th Street and 71st Street beach accesses, emptying them before the midday sun hit the bins and created a stink.

“They were really on it,” Thomas said.

Thomas said Waste Pro also supplied bottled water and trash bags to volunteers. Keep Manatee Beautiful supplied garbage grabbers and the city’s public works employees did the heavy lifting.

Thomas said the city received calls Aug. 4-5 about fish on the beach and, Aug. 6, Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson told Thomas to set up a cleanup.

Roque Pastorius, owner of the Island Monkey Bus, said it was his duty as a business owner on the island to pitch in. Pastorius brought a vehicle with a dump box onto the beach, driving volunteers to pick up fish farther down the beach.

“The island is a very important part of my life and tourism is an even bigger part of my life,” Pastorius said. “I saw on the news people turning their nose up on our island, and we don’t want that. We want them to come vacation and stay.”

Thomas said more cleanups may be scheduled if red tide remained.

AME settles in for first day of new school year

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AME settles in for first day of new school year
Pink signs on the walkway warn drivers not to drop off there, but to continue around the large, oval driveway to the designated “safe dropoff.” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer — on the walkway — is on hand to ensure a smooth, safe day at AME and, as is his tradition, to welcome each student to school.
Students raise the American flag at the start of the day Aug. 13 — the first day of class in the 2018-19 school year at Anna Maria Elementary.

Red tide in Southwest Florida

A bloom of the Florida red tide organism, Karenia brevis, persisted in Southwest Florida the week ending Aug. 10.

  1. brevis was observed at low to high concentrations in seven samples collected in Manatee County, background to low concentrations in Pinellas County, background to high concentrations in Sarasota County, very low to high concentrations in Charlotte County, background to high concentrations in Lee County, and background to high concentrations in Collier County.

FWC said it continued to receive reports of fish kills from Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

Respiratory irritation also was reported, including in Manatee Coquina at Coquina Beach.

For more information about red tide in Florida, go to myfwc.com/redtidestatus.

3 sea turtles wash up dead on Anna Maria Island

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Rejane Monetti of Holmes Beach photographs a dead loggerhead Aug. 12 that she watched wash ashore while on a beach walk in Holmes Beach with husband John Monetti, a former city commissioner. The Monettis notified authorities, who contacted AMITW. Islander Photos: Courtesy John Monetti
A dead loggerhead lays in the shallow surf in Holmes Beach near 66th Street Aug. 12. Its disembodied head is a short distance away. Scientists are researching the recent deaths and strandings of sea turtles in the area to determine if they are related to the red tide bloom.

Within one week, three adult loggerhead sea turtles have washed ashore dead on Anna Maria Island.

“One is a month is not normal, so three in a week implies it could be red tide,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director said Aug. 12.

Former Holmes Beach Commissioner John Monetti and wife Rejane spotted one that washed ashore early Aug. 12 while they were walking along the beach in Holmes Beach.

“The smaller part of its head fell off as I watched it come ashore,” Monetti said. “Pretty gross.”

Fox said she contacted Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, but “they said they have enough dead turtles to take samples.”

She said scientists at the with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute will determine if red tide is the cause of the recent deaths.

Fox said AMITW collected data from the dead turtles, including species, measurements and tag information, to share with research institutes around the state, then public works in each municipality buried the deceased turtles.

“We are just data collectors,” Fox said. “The scientists will determine is this is in fact red tide.”

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or shorebirds contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

For more information about AMITW, contact Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

— ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

AMITW powers through beach chores in red-tide conditions

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With masks in place, Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, and Skip Coyne, volunteer, patrol the beach Aug. 6 looking for new loggerhead sea turtle nests. Turtle watch volunteers were wearing masks to diffuse the effects of red tide. Islander Photos: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes
Kellan, 4, left, digs a hole in the sand Aug. 6, as Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring’s youngest permitted volunteer, Konnor, 10, and mom Jenny Oelfke of Holmes Beach, excavate a nest near 14th Street in Bradenton Beach.

As thousands of loggerhead hatchlings leave their nests on Anna Maria Island and scamper to the Gulf of Mexico, some people wonder, will they make it past the red tide?

Thus far, hatchlings have not been harmed by the toxic algae bloom leaving dead sea-life in its wake since Aug. 4 on island beaches, according to Simona Ceriani, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission marine turtle program

“FWC has never documented any apparent adverse effects of red tide on hatchling sea turtles,” Ceriani wrote in an Aug. 6 email. “They are probably not affected because they quickly move offshore, then live at the surface of oceanic areas for at least several years.”

Additionally, she said the “primary route” of the lethal toxins for sea turtles is by ingesting food containing the toxins. Hatchlings subsist on internalized yolk for at least a week.

“By the time they begin feeding, they are well away from nearshore areas where red tide blooms often persist,” Ceriani wrote.

But the stench and respiratory irritation associated with red tide is affecting Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers that walk the beach each morning at dawn looking for hatched nests and collecting nest data.

According to Fox, as of Aug. 7, the team of more than 100 volunteers were looking for hatched nests, not marking new ones as it had done since May 1.

“It would take too much time and we don’t want them out there in the red tide more than they need to be,” Fox said.

Since nesting slowed in August, three teams of two volunteers were patrolling the beach by ATV in the morning, marking new nests.

After reporting to Manatee County representatives, county workers were getting started on clearing the beach of dead fish.

She said volunteers reported some hatchling disorientations.

As of Aug. 12, 28 nests out of 513 on the island had disoriented.

After nesting or hatching, adult and hatchling sea turtles are drawn by instinct to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of light on the water’s surface. Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water.

Fox said three nests this season hatched and disoriented on the beach near the Circle K convenience store, 103 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach. She said Bradenton Beach code enforcement officer Gail Garneau contacted the district manager who met with Garneau to resolve the issue by installing shielded turtle-friendly bulbs.

“Now more than ever, with red tide on our beaches,” it is important to prevent hatchling disorientations, Fox said.

The hatchlings use “the strength they have to get out to the seagrass beyond the red tide, so any movement in the wrong direction depletes them of that much-needed energy,” she added.

Information about turtle-friendly lighting can be found on the FWC website at http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/sea-turtles/lighting/.

Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text tip@myfwc.com.

For more information about AMITW, contact Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

Attorney threatens Anna Maria officials

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Attorneys sometimes play a tough game.

And some lawyers play hardball.

When an attorney complained of Federal Emergency Management Agency substantial improvement fraud by Wash Family Construction, city officials were obligated under federal law to investigate.

Jesse M. Tilden of Bradenton’s Tilden and Prohidney first went to the city in July with his allegations of fraud.

The city approved a resolution July 12 authorizing the mayor to undertake an investigation into Tilden’s claims.

Mayor Dan Murphy said at the Aug. 9 commission meeting that Wash’s attorney, Peter J. Mackey of the Mackey Law Group of Bradenton, told city attorney Becky Vose in a phone call Aug. 9 that city officials would regret taking on such an investigation.

“The conversation began with Mr. Mackey telling the city attorney that the city of Anna Maria did not know how much trouble it was stirring up for itself by making accusations against Mr. Wash,” Murphy said.

Murphy said at the meeting that Mackey told Vose the majority of city officials — without specifying anyone — are guilty of the same type of actions.

“He continued that if the city keeps accusing Mr. Wash of doing something wrong, all the secrets of the city officials will come out,” Murphy said. “He said that if Mr. Wash is going to be taken down, he’s going to bring the city down with him.”

Mackey was not available for comment Aug. 10, but Darrin Wash, by phone and text message, refuted his involvement with any threats against the city.

“This is not from the Wash family,” Wash texted Aug. 10. “My wife, Dawn Wash, and I have never thought anything like that. We do not have any information on any city employees or officials, and that quote is not from the Wash family.

“It’s not from us,” Wash continued. “It’s probably a misunderstanding somewhere, but it’s not from me. There’s no devious plan here. We are pillars of the community, we’ve been here 30 years, we’ve had kids here, we love Anna Maria.”

Wash first filed his lawsuit and a lien in June 2016 against L. Martin and Threse Quinn Hurbi, owners of 759 N. Shore Drive, in the 12th Circuit Court seeking payment for work done to the property.

Wash completed the work valued at $295,000, all requested and authorized by Hurbi on permits, but was only paid $199,446.29, according to the lawsuit.

Allegedly, when the Hurbis received the final bill of $94,208.64, they complained about overbilling, defective work and fraudulent permitting.

The lawsuit for payment has not been resolved.

According to Vose, the information provided by Tilden relates to a counter suit filed by him on behalf of Hurbi alleging fraud, based on discrepancies in fees on 27 renovation projects for which Tilden claims Wash Family Construction submitted estimates to the city for permits and higher bills to property owners.

By reporting lower construction estimates to the city, the contractor could allegedly avoid FEMA’s 50 percent rule to make more improvements to ground-level homes than would otherwise be permitted.

Wash claims in his lawsuit that some 51 change orders initiated by the Hurbis caused the work and fees to exceed the original permit and the money due.

The Hurbis first responded to the Wash lawsuit with complaints a sliding-glass door couldn’t be opened with a single finger, that a leak in the new bathroom left the bathroom floor unlevel and more.

The Hurbis then filed their own lawsuit, alleging Wash fraudulently overbilled for the work performed.

Tilden told The Islander Aug. 8 that he and the Hurbis stand behind their complaint and are confident they will prove their claim in court.

“This is something that was thrown in our lap and we were obligated, under federal law, to investigate and to look at, otherwise we become complicit,” Murphy said. “So that’s the issue, and it’s a serious issue to me that we’re being bullied, threatened that this secret information is going to come out about all city officials.”

Vose also said the city is legally obligated to look into the matters brought to its attention by Tilden.

She recounted her conversations with Mackey in an Aug. 9 two-page memo to the mayor, stating, Mackey first notified her “a few weeks ago,” saying Wash was willing to meet and explain his position to city officials.

That conversation was followed by an Aug. 9 phone call between Mackey and Vose that included his accusations. She made note in her memo of “two distinct ‘tones of voice’ that were used by Mr. Mackey during the telephone conversation.”

She said when they spoke of scheduling a meeting for Wash and the city building official, Mackey exhibited a “normal ‘business’ tone of voice. Whereas, the majority of statements by Mr. Mackey were in what I would describe as a ‘menacing’ tone of voice.”

Murphy said FEMA officials met with acting building official Luke Curtis Aug. 9 to review the matter.

No outcome from that meeting was announced.

In-person early voting begins Aug. 18

Aug. 18 brings in-person early voting

In-person early voting for the Florida primary will begin Aug. 18 in Manatee County.

The primary will be Tuesday, Aug. 28, and includes federal and state races, as well as some local contests.

Early voting at select locations will continue through Saturday, Aug. 25, but will not be held on the island. The polling place nearest the island will be the county utilities administration office, 4410 66th St. W., Bradenton. Hours will be 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.

For more information, go online to votemanatee.com or call the elections office at 941-741-3823.