The Sept. 19 mid-week Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission map bore out what people living along the coast already knew — red tide was present in some areas of Anna Maria Island after several weeks of diminishing levels of Karenia brevis.
From Longboat Key to the northern edge of Manatee County, concentrations were high — more than 1,000,000 Karenia b. cells per liter. Some small localized areas did show a slight decrease in concentration. Aerial surveys by FWC also indicated the bloom had traveled far into the Gulf of Mexico.
Residents along the northern shore of Anna Maria reported dead fish and the accompanying stench. County crews confirmed the fish kills.
“Yes. We found fish on the north end. It’s heavier up there,” Carmine DeMilio, parks and grounds operations manager for the Manatee County Property Management Department, said Sept. 19. Crews continued to run tractors with rakes attached on the Gulffront and handpicked dead fish from areas that were inaccessible to the tractor.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced Sept. 18 that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would provide another $4 million in funding to help parts of the state suffering from red tide. That raises the total amount of funding for red tide to $13 million.
Scott declared a state of emergency Aug. 13 for Manatee, Sarasota and five other Gulf Coast counties to release funds to clean up dead marine life. Now Manatee County’s state of emergency has expired, according to the weekly situation report released by the county public safety department division of emergency management. The county is considering the need to re-declare.
Red tide along the beaches of Anna Maria Island dragged into the eighth week, measuring moderately high to high concentrations of the toxin, and some businesses were reporting slow traffic.
Small Business Administration officials continued to operate a help center at the Island Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, to assist business owners with SBA loans offering low interest rates and up to 30-year terms. The office operates 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and was to remain open at least through Sept. 28.
Scott also reminded business owners that the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program was available for short-term, 180-day borrowing.
Casey Hoffman owns Zegway by the Bay, 3228 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach. Her Segway tours depend on good conditions outdoors.
She admitted business was slow in September, but was quick to point out the month is traditionally the slowest in the calendar year on the island.
“I planned for it. It’s always slow,” Hoffman said. “That’s not to say we haven’t been impacted by the red tide. Just not as much as some others. People have continued to come and take the tours, and we’ve not had any problems with respiratory issues with the riders.”
Hoffman said the red tide crisis brought the business community on Anna Maria together.
“There is so much happening — so many great things to see and do here besides just going to the beach. I think people who come here see what a great time we all have on Anna Maria and in Cortez,” she said.
Red tide continued to take its toll on local wildlife.
Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, reported four dead turtles washed ashore on the island Sept. 18-20. A Kemps ridley, a loggerhead, the largest of the four at about 15 pounds, and two green turtles were among the casualties. All were juveniles, but not hatchlings.
Fox reported no signs of trauma, suggesting the turtles died from red tide.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” she said.
On Longboat Key’s beaches, a no-swim advisory was issued Sept. 20 by the Florida Department of Health after high levels of enterococcus were found in a sample taken at a beach access in the 3000 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive.
“It wasn’t red tide,” Jennifer Clemente, environmental specialist with FDH, said. “We need to clarify. We don’t close the beaches due to red tide.”
According to the FWC maps, the bloom reaches far offshore, with little relief in sight.