Red tide makes an exit from area waters for 2019

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People crowd the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, Dec. 25. Continued clearing of red tide showed Dec. 26 during Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission testing along the Southwest Florida coastline.

The red tide bloom of 2018 appears to have dissipated along the Southwest Florida coastline, just in time to ring in 2019.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission readings for Dec. 26, 2018, showed no presence of Karenia brevis, the algae known as red tide. The final remaining hot spot along the coastline had been a pesky concentration of red tide in Palma Sola Bay, which was not present in the Dec. 26 testing.

Likewise, the Dec. 27 Mote Marine Laboratory Beach Conditions reports showed clear conditions at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

Dr. Tracy Fanara, staff scientist and program manager for Mote’s environmental health department, said in phone call Dec. 27 that caution should be used in declaring the red tide event over.

“Though cell counts have definitely decreased, the bloom is not entirely dissipated. We still received one report of respiratory irritation in Manatee County and one in Collier County this week,” she said, referring to the week ending Dec. 30.

Fanara said patchy red tide blooms remain offshore, and Mote was awaiting new satellite images to assess the size in the week ending Dec. 30.

That holiday week, visitors packed the Manatee Public Beach at 4000 Gulf Drive.

Occupancy surged at local lodgings — a change from the lackluster months of fall, when red tide conditions kept travelers away.

Bookings also continued to improve for 2019.

Barbara Baker, general manager of Anna Maria Island Resorts, described “very good” bookings for February and March, with January visitors gaining in numbers daily Tortuga Beach Resort, Tropic Isle Beach Resort, Tradewinds Beach Resort and Seaside Beach Resort in Bradenton Beach.

“We are continually seeing last-minute bookings,” she said Dec. 27, 2018.

When red tide rolled into Anna Maria Island Aug. 3, no one predicted the length of time or the impact on islanders’ lives the microscopic algae would bring.

Islanders moved from cleaning up masses of dead sea life to steering clear of the beaches. Business owners and rental agencies were trying to find a way forward on a destination island with few guests on the horizon.

They watched as sea turtles, dolphins and manatees perished and local business struggled to maintain through the long down time.

But 2019, brings a new year and indications, this round of red tide may finally have diminished.

In August 2018, Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, warned, “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Perhaps, islanders have arrived at the finish line.