A glint of the sun’s rays on the water under an azure blue sky belied the struggles on Anna Maria Island.
As red tide stretched into a second week on island and nearby shores, the toll on marine life continued to climb and businesses suffered.
At the Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar in Cortez, business owners, politicians and officials answered a call to action Aug. 14 to campaign against red tide’s stench.
Organized by Swordfish general manager Bob Slicker, the group seeks solidarity and a turnaround on the public perception of conditions on the island and the surrounding area.
The group met again throughout the week, discussing ways forward through the red tide crisis, sending a positive message and supporting one another’s businesses.
Jason Suzor, owner of the Waterfront Restaurant, 111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, attended the meetings. He says business slowed after a record-breaking year of revenues.
“We have to send a positive message,” Suzor told The Islander Aug. 16 in a phone call. “The county and the cities have done an amazing job dealing with this, and we need to support the local business through it.”
“We are looking for long- and short-term solutions” for our staff, he said, “cutting back hours, spreading out times to give everyone an equal shot at earning.”
“We are looking at supporting initiatives like START — Solutions to Avoid Red Tide — monetarily, and trying to keep from losing employees. The smaller businesses here don’t have a lot of resources.”
And, Suzor added, “We are just supporting each other.”
About the resources
Gov. Rick Scott activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program Aug 13 due to the impact of red tide and another harmful algal bloom in the southern part of the state.
Scott declared a state of emergency the same day for Manatee and Sarasota counties, as well as five other Gulf Coast counties. The order released funds to clean up dead marine life and also clean up Florida’s public image after extensive local and national news coverage of the HABs.
Interest-free bridge loans are available to small businesses in the designated disaster area that have experienced physical or economic damage as a result of HABs.
Businesses can qualify for loans between $1,000 and $50,000. For red tide relief loans, businesses must have been established before July 9, be privately held for-profit companies, maintain a place of business in Florida and employ two-100 people.
The loans are short-term, for working capital to “bridge the gap” in revenue. The borrowed funds must be repaid in 180 days.
Yet, six months may not be long enough to clear the red tide. The current bloom began in October 2017, almost 10 months ago.
Clean up continues
As government officials and business owners struggle with red tide effects, some entities are struggling to find a solution.
Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory were at Boca Grande Aug. 14, testing an ozone treatment unit in canals. The mechanism, which removes the red tide toxin, Karenia brevis, from seawater, is in use at the Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota. The ozone treatment kills the red tide cells. Testing was to continue through the week, and Mote plans to release results later this month.
Also, Mote continued daily monitoring of the water off the coastlines, posting results in an online report. It also was working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to monitor, rescue, rehab and remove marine mammals.
According to phys.org, a science-gathering website, more than 100 tons of dead sea creatures were shoveled up from Florida’s southwest coast this month.
Gretchen Lovewell, in charge of the team from Mote tasked with retrieving dead dolphins from local waters, said, “I will tell you this. “There are a bunch of small teams of people out here doing enormous amounts of work. We are dealing with carnage, and have to bring ourselves to continue to do so. I’m afraid it’s going to be a while.”
As of Aug. 16, 13 deceased dolphins — including one known to the Sarasota Bay Dolphin Research Program since 2006 — had been collected and returned to the lab for necropsies.
FWC is dealing with manatee and sea turtle casualties, which, like the dolphins, continued to mount.
“We are doing the best we can to learn all we can from these animals so that they did not die in vain,” Lovewell told The Islander in a phone interview Aug. 15. “Hopefully, we will learn.”
By Aug. 15, reports of birds beginning to sicken were coming in and organizations such as Bradenton Beach’s Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center were caring for them.
On Aug. 17, the rehab housed two ospreys, seven gulls and a sick cormorant.
Ed Straight said no pelicans had been brought in, but he noted a strange happening on the water the morning of Aug. 17.
“There were probably 100 pelicans all together out in the shallow water just south of the Manatee Avenue bridge to the island. I have never seen that many pelicans together at once,” Straight said. “Maybe they are getting ready to leave and go somewhere else. That would be a good thing for them.”
On the web
For information about red tide and conditions, go online to myfwc.com and visitbeaches.org.