Tag Archives: Feature

Holmes Beach attacker, burglar sentenced to 35 years

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Holmes Beach resident Joan Pettigrew testifies May 28 to the physical and mental scars left by Mark Snyder who broke into her home, beat her and stole more than $50,000 in jewelry in June 2018. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

The victim is grateful to see justice carried out.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Lon Arend sentenced Mark Lee Snyder, 56, to 35 years in prison on three felony counts for the burglary and attack on a Holmes Beach woman.

Arend meted out two sentences May 28 to run concurrently, 30 years for Count I, a burglary of a dwelling with a battery, and Count II, an aggravated battery with great bodily harm to a victim age 65 or older. For Count III, a grand theft of $20,000-$100,000, the judge ordered a five-year sentence to follow the 30-year term of incarceration.

Snyder was given credit for 323 days of time served in the Manatee County jail since his July 3, 2018, arrest.

“I do forgive you but that doesn’t mean you should not pay for your crimes,” Joan Pettigrew, a Holmes Beach resident since age 4, testified while looking at Snyder in a Manatee County courtroom.

She and her adult sons, Brett and Derek Pettigrew, testified to the impact of the 2018 burglary and battery that took place at her home in the 500 block of 75th Street.

At a table with his court-appointed public defender, Snyder read a statement and looked down during much of the proceeding.

In sentencing, the judge said it was not a simple burglary case and agreed with Brett Pettigrew’s testimony that it “could have easily become a homicide.”

Brett Pettigrew said he watched while his mother had her scalp stapled together at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton and was told by emergency personnel how lucky his mom was.

Had his mother not fought off Snyder and called 911, it could have been a homicide, he said.

Derek Pettigrew spent 10 hours cleaning up blood and scalp after his mother’s attack. “Out of the horror,” he said, he realized what a heinous act Snyder had committed and “thanked God she was alive.”

In sentencing, Arend accepted Assistant State Attorney Tyler Egbert’s recommendation based on state guidelines over the defense request to depart to a lesser sentence.

The judge also sentenced Snyder to five years probation upon release, including no victim contact, a mental health evaluation and restitution, to be determined later.

Snyder’s crimes began at 1:39 p.m. June 28, 2018, when he entered the home in the 500 block of 75th Street before Pettigrew returned from a luncheon and encountered him stealing her jewelry in her bedroom.

Snyder punched her in the head and chest, dragged her through the hall and left her lying in a pool of blood, according to testimony.

Five days later, Holmes Beach police arrested Snyder at his home, 4903 Gulf Drive, Unit 5, where a parked Nissan Maxima matched a vehicle caught by a neighbor’s surveillance camera outside the victim’s house. HBPD received a tip from Snyder’s neighbor based on the footage released to the media.

At the hearing, Snyder said, “No amount of apologetic words seems adequate to express the depth of remorse I feel in my heart.”

Snyder blamed his acts on bad choices and drugs, saying he had “no intention to hurt her badly” and asked for a chance to move to another state and work for a homeless program.

Allanah McClintock, Snyder’s court-appointed public defender, said his crimes were isolated, “a horrible, horrible mistake” and committed in an unsophisticated manner. Snyder gave a complete confession and showed remorse, she added.

Egbert argued Snyder had not shown remorse in the pre-sentence investigation, caring only what would happen to him and what his neighbors would think.

McClintock agreed that Snyder’s previous statements didn’t seem remorseful, but added, “I think it now is hitting him.”

Pettigrew and her sons encouraged the judge to accept the state’s prison recommendation because of the brutality and calculated nature of the attack.

“One human being should never do this to another human being,” Joan Pettigrew testified.

“Instead of pushing me out of the way,” she added, Snyder punched her face and body, dragged her down a hallway and left her bleeding on the floor with lacerations to her head and face, a broken nose and a bruised body.

Pettigrew testified she “lost every piece of treasured jewelry I had,” adding many were gifts from her late parents and husband.

She doubted Snyder’s story that he had dumped the jewelry in the Manatee River and Bradenton dumpsters, saying it “defies credulity.”

After Snyder’s arrest, HBPD and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators found a storage locker on Cortez Road West belonging to Snyder and containing stolen art, jewelry, guns and logs with details of eBay transactions — but nothing belonging to Joan Pettigrew.

A separate case against Snyder was dropped for thefts of items in the storage unit because, according to an August 2018 state attorney memo, there was no evidence Snyder “did not permit others to store their belongings in it.”

HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer said May 29 many items were returned to victims although a statute of limitations precluded charges.

Nonetheless, he said, Snyder was responsible for multiple thefts and that he was “happy the judge saw through his last-minute attempt at remorse for his actions.”

“We know that for many years Snyder made his living by stealing from others,” Tokajer said.

“The only truth in his statement that this was a one-time thing was that this was the only time he was caught,” he added.

In testimony, the Pettigrews thanked the HBPD, MCSO, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key police, the state attorney’s office and other agencies assisting in the investigation.

After the hearing, Joan Pettigrew told The Islander, “I’m very grateful for the judge’s decision. I’m very grateful (Snyder) is going to be off the streets.”

County halts pine tree removal at Coquina Beach

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Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie appears before county commissioners May 28 to protest the proposed removal of more than 100 Australian pine trees at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach to make way for a drainage improvement project. Islander Screenshot: mymanatee.org

Manatee County’s plan to remove more than 100 Australian pine trees at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach came to a halt.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie addressed county commissioners May 29 during a budget meeting, protesting the plan, which city commissioners agreed to oppose via communications with the county in a May 24 emergency meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall.

Chappie read from an email he sent May 24 to county administrator Cheri Coryea, asking county commissioners to save the trees along Coquina Beach parking lots and an access road, and to explain the plan at a city commission meeting.

“The city of Bradenton Beach is adamantly opposed to the trees being removed,” said Chappie, a former county commissioner. “We are extremely hopeful the county will not follow through on such a disturbing act that would change the character of Coquina Beach.”

The trees were slated for removal in a drainage improvement project that involves installing an underground drainage system, and laying pervious concrete for the access road and parking area.

A 10-inch excavation for curbing for a new access road would harm the trees’ surface roots and leave them in dangerous condition, according to a certified arborist hired by the county.

So the county planned to have Woodruff and Son, its contractor on the project, remove the trees May 25-May 26, without a plan to replace the shade-providers.

Coryea said the removal would remain on hold until county staff can review options, with a presentation of a report as soon as possible.

Coryea said the arborist who said the trees should be removed revisited Coquina twice after and the assessments would become available in the staff report.

Jan Vosburgh, a former Bradenton Beach city commissioner, said in a May 29 interview with The Islander that she usually criticizes “tree-huggers” but she supported the effort to find an alternative and save the trees. She said she used to walk the Coquina Beach Trail daily before she injured her back.

Vosburgh said the drainage improvement project is “badly needed” to relieve flooding issues at the beach parking area, but flooding at the beach isn’t as bad now.

“Even though my logic is that I think (the Australian pines) cause a lot of damage, since there are no homes there, I think they should take another look at it and save as many trees as they can,” Vosburgh said. “But, if it’s necessary, cut the trees.

“But I think it definitely needs shade over there,” she continued. “It does get really hot there.”


Past removal pushes and protests

The county previously encountered backlash in May 2007, when it removed more than 80 Australian pines during a reconfiguration of Coquina parking lots after a gang-related shooting at the beach.

Six demonstrators protested the removal of the trees then, including several who chained themselves to the trees.

Then, in August 2007, around 70 Australian pine trees were cut to make way for the county-led construction of the Coquina Beach Trail. Many of those trees were replaced with native plants, according to The Islander archives.

“These Australian pines and this situation with them is not a new situation, and it is obviously one we need to tackle and accomplish something,” County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said May 28. She suggested the county explore options for replacing the pine trees.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who lives in Holmes Beach, said if the Australian pines are to be replaced, she would like to see shade trees not palm trees added.

“I don’t know anything else about those trees except that they provide shade, and from what we saw this weekend, shade is invaluable,” County Commissioner Betsy Benac said, referring to the heat. “I certainly would want to do everything I can to save the shade.”

Anna Maria City Pier inches toward completion

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Grace Ankers, 82, left, sits next to her husband, Tony, 85, May 21 as they watch construction on the new Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photos: Cory Cole
Workers walk across plywood placed to facilitate construction and safety on the Anna Maria City Pier May 24. The installation of the IPE planks is yet to come.

Passersby looked on with anticipation the week of May 20 as the Anna Maria City Pier took shape one slat at a time.

That week, i+iconSOUTHEAST was installing pipes, to carry water, gas, communication and electrical lines under the pier decking.

Day after day, people approached and asked questions of anyone wearing hard-hats, just trying to cure their curiosity.

Mayor Dan Murphy said May 24 that work on the pier was going smoothly with no current delays.

The next step Murphy has planned is selecting the contractor for the construction of the restaurant and bait shop at the T-end of the pier. Bids for the work were due May 20.

Four contractors submitted proposals: Burke Construction, D.L. Porter Constructors, Jon F. Swift Inc. and Mason Martin LLC.

Murphy met with the bidders individually May 24 to learn their plans for building the restaurant and bait shop.

The information gained will help set a timeline for installation of the ipe decking, according to Murphy, who wants to make sure the material is not damaged by construction work on the T-end.

Shoreline observation

“If you want a view, this is the pier,” Brad Bernardo said, from his lawn chair at Bayfront Park.

Bernardo, 53, of Bradenton, just finished enjoying an ice cream cone on the beach May 22. He had been visiting the pier with his family for about 20 years.

He said the pier was a great place to spend time with family, enjoy a view, fish or eat ice cream while walking the boardwalk.

Bernardo and many people look forward to the completion of the new pier.

“We would go to Two Scoops and then walk the pier,” Tony Ankers, 85, said.

Ankers and his wife, Grace, 82, were relaxing May 21 at the south end of Bayfront Park, adjacent to the Lake LaVista Inlet in Anna Maria — where they had a view of the progress on the pier.

The couple is from Welshampton, a small town located in Shropshire county in the United Kingdom. The Ankers visited for 30 years and, in 2001, purchased property here.

“We were upset when it vanished,” Grace Ankers said of the pier.

For the Ankers, visiting the pier was a part of their routine. Now they go to Bayfront Park and sit by the water and watch the construction progress on the new pier.

They are anticipating its completion and the day they will savor their ice cream and walk the pier again.

Murphy expects construction on the bents to be completed the first or second week in June.

Regarding the overall completion, Murphy explained the materials are all here. However, the weather will play a major role in the timeline.

The mayor plans the completion of the walkway and T-end by the end of the year.

Toddler’s killer sentenced to life in prison

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Luca Sholey. Islander Photo: Melissa Wolfe
Friends and family of Luca Sholey, including his mom, Melissa Wolfe, and dad, Eric Sholey, await the sentencing of David Vickers May 20 in the gallery of a Manatee County courtroom. Vickers killed their son. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Represented by attorney Joe Campoli and guarded by a Manatee County sheriff’s deputy, David Vickers pleads no contest May 20 to two counts of dealing in stolen property and two counts of pawn fraud as a result of thefts from Luca Sholey’s mother.

Claps and sounds of relief erupted in a Manatee County courtroom when friends and family heard the man who killed a 17-month-old Holmes Beach toddler would spend the rest of his life in prison.

In April, a jury convicted Vickers for the second-degree murder and neglect of Luca Sholey after a five-day trial.

At a May 20 hearing, 12th Circuit Judge Lon Arend sentenced David Vickers, 33, to life in the Florida Department of Corrections without the possibility of parole.

The judge also meted out a 15-year sentence to Vickers for neglect of a child with great bodily harm.

Immediately before the sentencing, Vickers pleaded no contest to two counts of dealing in stolen property and two counts of pawn fraud for stealing and pawning items belonging to the child’s mother, Melissa Wolfe. On these four counts, the judge sentenced Vickers for time served.

Vickers served 586 days in jail since August 2017, when Holmes Beach police arrested him for marijuana possession and a revoked license.

At trial, medical experts testified that Luca’s death Aug. 23, 2019, was the result of cardiac arrest and asphyxiation two days earlier, when Holmes Beach police, West Manatee Fire Rescue and Manatee County EMS responded Aug. 21, 2017, to Vickers’ 911 call.

Vickers testified he took fentanyl, fell asleep and woke up on top of the child several minutes later.

Other testimony indicated injuries to Luca’s chest and head, as well as numerous broken ribs, resulted from child neglect and abuse and pointed to Vickers as the person who inflicted the suffering.

At the time, Vickers was living with Wolfe at her father’s apartment in Holmes Beach. Vickers babysat Luca and his sister while Wolfe worked to support the family and Vickers.

Testimony at the sentencing came from Wolfe, Luca’s father Eric Sholey and other family members. All expressed grief and some of their words lapsed into tears and cries.

“Every day I wake up without my son. I want him to know that every day, what he did,” Eric Sholey said, directing his comments at Vickers.

Luca’s aunt, Nicole Sholey, said Luca was “lovable, happy and always smiling” and described how she ached for her brother, Eric Sholey.

Fidele Wolfe, the toddler’s grandmother, testified she believes the stress of Luca’s death brought on her sister’s cancer.

Her partner, Andrew Thomas, expressed his sadness but added a positive note. “Luca’s death has given us togetherness we’re lucky to have,” Thomas said, referring to the Wolfe and Sholey families.

Eric Sholey’s mom and Luca’s paternal grandmother, Mary DeyArmin, told the court between tears that Luca would give big hugs and always smiled.

“And why, why, why. That’s all I want to know. How anyone can kill an innocent 17-month-old baby,” she said. “If you can’t deal with it, you call somebody else,” she added.

Melissa Wolfe told of how Luca’s death impacted her and her family. “Every single day I wake up and it still seems like it happened yesterday,” she said.

She expressed disbelief about how Vickers could be “so cold” at the hospital knowing “he was the reason Luca wasn’t breathing.”

As of May 22, Vickers was in the Manatee County jail, awaiting transport to a state correctional facility.

After the sentencing, his attorney Joe Campoli said the judge had “no option” but to hand down the life sentence, referring to the state law that requires judges to impose a maximum sentence for felons who commit certain crimes within three years of prison release.

Vickers was released from state prison three months before killing Luca Sholey.

Campoli said the regional public defender automatically appeals life sentences, which will take about two years to go through the court system. “It was a really hard case,” Campoli said as he left the courtroom.

Vickers also was assessed $2,331.50 in costs and fines, including $1,309 in restitution to the Florida Crime Victims’ Compensation Trust Fund.

BB steps in to halt pine tree removal at Coquina Beach

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Bradenton Beach resident Mike Norman stands May 24 next to one of more than 100 Australian pine trees targeted by Manatee County for removal at Coquina Beach as part of a drainage improvement project. Norman alerted the city and urged the commission to save the trees at an emergency meeting called by the mayor. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

The planned removal of more than 100 pine trees at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach united people in opposition.

Bradenton Beach commissioners voted 4-0 May 24 to write to Manatee County administrator Cheri Coryea protesting the county’s plan to remove the Australian pine trees at Coquina Beach to make way for a drainage improvement project. Coquina is within the city limits, although the park is operated and maintained by the county.

Commissioner Randy White was absent without excuse from the emergency meeting called by the mayor.

Mayor John Chappie said the letter would inform the county that the trees must be saved and invite county officials to a city commission meeting within the coming weeks to explore alternatives for the trees.

The county hired Bradenton-based Woodruff and Sons in January for the drainage improvements at Coquina Beach, where the parking lots flood during heavy rains.

The project involves installing a pipeline and drainage system under parking, then laying pervious concrete for the beach access road and parking lot.

Woodruff is presently working at the south end of Coquina, progressing to the north end. The deadline to complete the work is Jan. 19, 2020.

Eric Epler, project manager for Woodruff, said in a May 23 interview with The Islander that the Australian pine trees at Coquina are an issue as a 10-inch-deep excavation is needed for new curbing on the road and that would harm the trees, leaving them in a dangerous condition.

“They have substantial surface roots,” Epler said. “We’re going to be impacting those roots and, when we do that, the trees are either going to die and topple, or a heavy wind is going to come and — when you take out half or more of the surface roots — topple the trees.”

Epler said there is no plan to replace the trees.

Chappie said the county did not notify him of the tree removal when it sought permission for the drainage project.

Chappie and Commissioners Jake Spooner and Ralph Cole said Bradenton Beach resident Mike Norman informed them about the issue when he called them May 23.

Norman also attended the meeting, speaking against the tree removal.

“I think the trees should be the guiding light for anything done down there. Anything. Nothing should be done that would kill any of these trees,” Norman said in a May 24 interview with The Islander.

Norman said the city should demand the county re-engineer the project to keep the trees. He added that he wouldn’t be satisfied with replacements, saying no tree could replace the Australian pine trees, some of which stand more than 50 feet tall and provide much-needed shade for the area.

“The other thing is everyone parrots the same company line about Australian pines,” Norman said. “All bureaucrats say the same thing: ‘They’re shallow-rooted, dangerous, they can fall down, and nothing can grow under them.’

“That’s the party line and it has been for years. And people don’t think. They just go along,” he continued.

If the curbing can’t be re-engineered, Norman said the county should only remove the trees on a need-to basis, keeping as many as possible.

Norman added that he spoke May 23 with County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who said the county commission also was not informed of the plan to remove trees.

“I think there was an effort to keep people in the dark,” Norman said. “Especially out here because if you asked 100 people on this island what they thought about killing over 100 trees in Coquina, they would all be horrified.”

Chappie called Coryea May 24 and asked the county to hold off on removing the trees. The mayor said Coryea guaranteed no trees would be removed the coming weekend — May 25-May 26.

Also, according to Chappie, Coryea plans to raise the tree issue at the county meeting May 28.

Spooner said the city must get the county to pump the brakes and find alternatives to removing the trees.

“This place is one of the most beautiful places on the coast of Florida,” he said,

He suggested rallying the public.

Cole motioned for Chappie to write to Coryea with the city’s demand and Spooner seconded the motion.

County plans for Coquina Beach

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 May 21 to approve a consent agenda that included a change order from Bradenton-based Woodruff and Sons for the Coquina Beach drainage improvement project. The change increased the contract amount from $2,426,774.90 to $3,017,417.01, and extended the construction deadline 72 days.
Eric Epler, project manager for Woodruff, said the county underestimated the amount of materials needed for the project and the change order corrects the county’s mistake.
The new deadline for the completion is Jan. 19, 2020.

FWC, Mote rescue ailing juvenile manatee found in Holmes Beach basin

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FWC and Mote corral an ailing juvenile manatee in the basin at the Waterline Marina, Holmes Beach, load it on an FWC manatee rescue boat and whisk it to Tampa Zoo for evaluation and treatment. Islander Photos: Gillian Kendall
A FWC manatee rescue team and representatives from Mote load and prepare a juvenile manatee May 17 on the FWC boat for transport to Tampa.

By Gillian Kendall, Special to The Islander

A juvenile manatee in distress was rescued May 17 from the basin on Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.

The ailing marine mammal had been spotted by Steve Ryan of Cincinnati, a guest at the Waterline Marina, Resort and Beach Club, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

Ryan went to the hotel reception desk for help, where supervisor Giselle Brock phoned the hotline for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Brock passed her phone to another employee, an engineer, who went outdoors to keep track of the animal’s location. “Danny has the kindest heart,” Brock said. “I knew he would help.”

Among the docks in the marina, a small crowd gathered, watching for air bubbles. The manatee was alive, but barely moving, it’s head surfacing only occasionally to breathe.

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Andy Garrett, manatee rescue coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, had been getting calls and texts. “We were hearing about a small, lethargic animal with a weird lesion, which didn’t seem to be acting right. We got photos and we agreed it was emaciated.”

Garrett gathered a team for the rescue.

“We had seven FWC people there and three from Mote got there, too. When we got there, we split up. Two guys, a volunteer named Tim and one of our biologists, Sean Tennant, went in the water,” Garrett said.

The two men stood chest-deep in the murky brown water as the team put a large net with floats in the water. “We looped some net out away from the boat slip and had the two swimmers kind of corral it into the net,” said Garrett. “They just gently encouraged it to go where we wanted it to go.”

Within a few minutes, the net surrounding the manatee was hauled in gently but rapidly, allowing the manatee to be lifted aboard the FWC boat, which then quickly departed.

Onboard, a worker poured buckets of water over the manatee to protect its skin and encourage it to breathe, Garrett said.

They young manatee was on its way to get help.

Despite the team’s best efforts, Garrett said he could not predict the eventual outcome. “I don’t know what’s going on with that manatee; it’s in bad shape. It’s about a six-and-a-half-foot male, probably a few years old at most.

“It had some other lesions. In one area it looked like the top layer of skin was missing; it has a weird, almost cut look to it. I didn’t get a whole lot of time to look at it. We got going as soon as we got the animal back in our boat.”

After they landed the boat, they took the manatee to Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park in Tampa.

Garrett said it looked as if a layer of skin was missing. “If it was a disease you’d expect the edges to be necrotic, but this was so clean-cut. We’re hopeful Zoo Tampa can figure out what’s going on.”

At Zoo Tampa, Garrett said, the staff will draw blood and look for infections. “If it’s underweight, which this one seems to be, they may try to hydrate it with fluids and give it some antibiotics.”

The overall goal, he said, is to rehab the manatee to go back out where it was found.

Garrett said his team handles about 100 stranded manatees a year. The calls for help are irregular and come from all over the state.

“We can go weeks without anything happening, or sometimes it’s more frequent.”

Once an animal is identified as requiring assistance, Garrett said, “we want to make sure we have a safe plan — it can be dangerous.” Manatees can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

“Human safety comes first, and then the animal safety is very important as well. This rescue was a lot safer because the animal was small and thin and not likely to give us trouble,” he said.

“We rely on the public to let us know about animals in distress,” Garrett said. “We get a lot of calls at the FWC hotline, 888-404-3922, 24 hours a day.”

Cortez stone crab season — one of the worst

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On the Cortez waterfront at 119th Street May 16, idle boats hold traps, ropes, buoys and other crabbing gear — a day after the annual stone crab season came to a close in Florida. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Idle stone crab traps are stored May 16 alongside the 119th Street docks following the end of the 2018-19 season.

The 2018-19 stone crab season was one of the worst in Florida history and “a lot of it is due to the red tide.”

That was Fish and Wildlife Research Institute researcher Ryan Gandy’s assessment May 16.

The research arm for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the FWRI, among other researchers and fishers, placed blame on the toxicity of red tide and the stranglehold of low oxygen in the water that resulted from high concentrations of Karenia brevis.

The stone crab fishery closed for the season May 16. FWC limits the season to five months annually to sustain the fishery. It will reopen Oct. 15.

“Most fisherman stopped by the first of the year,” Gandy said about the stone crab harvest.

“There were no crabs to be caught from the mouth of Tampa Bay to Marco Island,” he added.

John Banyas, who owns the Swordfish Grill & Tiki Bar, N.E. Taylor Boatworks and the Cortez Bait & Seafood market in Cortez, is licensed for about 2,500 crab traps, but didn’t put them all out after testing and suspecting a bad year.

No crabs found along local shore

Paul Moore, who, with Banyas, prepares, checks and harvests the stone crab claws from the traps set in the Gulf of Mexico, agreed with Gandy’s assessment in a May 15 interview with The Islander.

“There was nothing off our local shore,” said Moore, who started crabbing 39 years ago with his father, fishing between St. Pete and Boca Grande for the now-defunct family business, Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant on Longboat Key.

Different this season, he said, was the lack of stone crabs in local waters.

Moore spoke to others in Sarasota, Venice and Fort Myers, he said, who faced similar issues.

“Anywhere red tide went, the crabs were driven away,” he added.

For Moore and Banyas, supplying the Cortez restaurant and market meant additional time and cost, setting traps and harvesting claws mostly north of John’s

Pass and Tarpon Springs and traveling long distances to recover traps disbursed by storms.

“Earlier in the season, we did catch good crab up there,” he said, but that meant a lot of travel, more fuel and expense.

K. brevis events

At Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Phil Gravinese studies the plight of stone crab with experiments in tanks, as well as from a dock in Sarasota Bay at Mote.

A year ago, Gravinese said the fishery is cyclical, declining overall since 2000. At the time, he cited a variety of possible causes — environmental changes, hurricanes, overfishing since 1996 and an influx of octopi, the stone crab’s archenemy.

In April, Gravinese and other researchers at Mote published “Karenia brevis causes high mortality and impaired swimming behavior of Florida stone crab larvae” in the journal of Harmful Algae.

The study referenced FWC data showing a 63% drop in landings — from 322,807 pounds in 2015 to 118,079 pounds in 2018 — and concludes high concentrations of red tide caused stone crab larvae to die, interfered with the reproductive cycle and reduces the fishery for two-three years.

The study also concluded that larvae can’t swim away from highly toxic blooms with K. brevis concentrations of more than 1 million cells per liter.

Mote found larvae would die within 48 hours in high concentrations of K. brevis — and noted more than 90 million cells per liter were found at the height of red tide in Sarasota.

“On this coastline, the research suggests the decline in stone crab resiliency because red tide is recurring over the years,” Gravinese said in a May 16 interview with The Islander.

Coastal degradation and nutrient accumulation degrade water quality, “potentially exacerbating K. brevis events,” according to the Mote study.

Landings and test lines

In his position at FWRI, Gandy monitors stone crab test lines throughout the state and records landings and market values for the FWC.
Gravinese and Gandy work together, share data and conclusions.

Based on early landings reports, Gandy projected there would be less than 2 million pounds of stone crab claws — only claws 2 3/4 or larger can be legally harvested — 700,000 pounds lower than the average year. And while the market values must be reported, Gandy said he doesn’t project them.

“I don’t think the statewide decline can be attributed to red tide,” Gravinese said about Gandy’s projections, adding the reason is likely due to fishery management.

Gandy equivocates. “We cannot say for certain the red tide impacted the statewide catch of stone crab this season. Some areas had good catch and other moderate catch,” he said.

Over the past 20 years, the state has experienced lower landing years independent of red tide.

Asked whether FWC is considering changes in stone crab regulations — such as shorter seasons or stricter restrictions — Gandy said no. While the FWC changes its rules from time to time, he didn’t see any coming.

Looking to the future

The Mote and FWC/FWRI studies also point to a few bright spots.

Larvae exposed to low concentrations of red tide were unaffected, according to Gravinese.

“Animals don’t seem to show negative impacts in low concentrations of red tide,” he said.

Mitigation efforts — such as canal ozonation and clay seeding being researched by Mote — also provide hope for stone crab larvae at medium concentrations of K. brevis, Gravinese added.

The FWC started test lines in 1988 with traps in the Tampa Bay area, including a line off the north end of Anna Maria Island, and added lines in southwest Florida in 2005 and the Big Bend region in January 2006.

A Pine Island/Boca Grande test line was installed in August 2018 after the red tide intensified.

The FWC worked with Pine Island fishers to set lines of 20 traps offshore to gauge the impact of red tide on the stone crab population, with traps in varying depths in mid-August. The data collection ended in October.

“Red tide clearly impacted the stone crab fishery from Manatee through Lee counties this season,” including a stone crab die off near Pine and Sanibel islands, Gandy said of the results.

“We had the hurricane in 2017 and red tide this year,” he added, and called it a “tough couple years,” from which the fishery can “hopefully” bounce back.

Brown algae interrupts environmental respite

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Capt. Scott Moore shot this photo of a blanket of brown algae floating in Anna Maria Sound May 17 just north of the Anna Maria Island Bridge and Manatee Avenue.
Lyngbya wollei algae floats alongside the fishing docks May 16 at 119th Street West in Cortez. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“The scientists can talk, but they are not out here on the water 200 days a year. It’s the worst brown drift algae I’ve ever seen here.”

So says Capt. Scott Moore, who has been fishing Sarasota Bay and the waters of Anna Maria Island for almost 40 years. He knows what should and should not be here.

According to Moore, Lyngbya wollei, the scientific name for the brown algae, is rare in such large concentrations.

“We get this brown drift every spring — some call it gumbo — but not like this. It’s common in small doses,” Moore told The Islander May 17. “But this has been horrific.”

Moore has his theory on the algae: nutrients.

He pointed to all the dead sea life that sank and decomposed in the Gulf of Mexico and the bays during the red tide of 2018.

“It all just ferments at the bottom, makes all those nutrients as it decomposes and then feeds algae, such as the brown drift, and we get this huge bloom that rises,” Moore said. “Eventually, it all sinks again, but not before the smell, and it can take the oxygen levels in canals down to zero.”

Larry Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, is an expert on red tide, but he hasn’t really weighed in with much concern for the recent brown drift that first became apparent near Fort Myers.

“My colleagues identified it. It first started appearing down around Lemon Bay and Cape Coral. Excess nutrients are what causes HABs — harmful algal blooms — and this is another one,” Brand told The Islander May 15.

“There are hundreds of algae constantly competing for nutrients. Sometimes the toxic algae, such as red tide, win out, and we have a big bloom like the one that just passed. Other times, the non-toxic algae dominate, and we don’t even notice them,” Brand said.

Brand said he is not aware of any massive spill or other event that might have dumped a large quantity of nutrients into Southwest Florida waters.

“People don’t want to come in contact with this algae,” he said. “Eventually, it produces gas bubbles and sinks back down. It’s the surface winds that move it around.”

Fran Derr and her neighbors in the Key Royale community of Holmes Beach were happy the algae there had begun to dissipate.

“We have a group of neighbors that walk,” Derr said, and they called attention to the HAB. “The smell was horrendous for a few days, but it seems to have cleared out,” she reported May 16.

Kelly Richmond, communications lead for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the brown algae is a brackish water type and that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection began testing samples May 9 in Holmes Beach. The DEP had earlier identified the bloom as Lyngbya wollei, a cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, that can cause skin irritations, damage beaches and impair habitats.

The good news on the drifting brown gumbo?

Moore says it will disappear.

“It always comes in the spring. By mid-summer, it’s gone historically,” he said.

More about red tide

Locals still recovering from the effects of the red tide bloom the stretched into January 2019, are hopeful there won’t be a repeat.

The effects of red tide first appeared on Anna Maria Island in August 2018 and eventually stretched as far north as the Florida Panhandle before it subsided.

FWC samples turned up very low concentrations of red tide — less than 10,000 parts per liter — May 13 during routine testing at the Coquina Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach.

At such low concentrations, red tide is not apparent in the water — no dead fish and no human irritation.

The low-level algae report was the only positive sampling along the Southwest Florida coastline at press time May 20.

Brand said there is no way to predict red tide. He maintains development of another red tide bloom is tied to ocean currents.

“If the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico is in the southern position, historical data shows no red tide occurring. On the other hand, if its farther north, it’s a better chance,” Brand said.

For now, Moore continues to take anglers to fish in the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island and hopes officials will take measures to help stop growth of red tide and brown algae.

“It’s been proven aerators work to help stop algae. The bubbles mess with the algae growth. Aeration systems installed at the mouths of our canals could help keep algae out of our waterways and improve the overall health of our waters,” Moore said.

DEP weighs in on brown algae

In an email from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Dee Ann Miller included information about brown algae, which was recently observed in Manatee County waters:

“The cyanobacteria sampled in Manatee County are found worldwide and are a natural part of our freshwater, brackish and marine environments in Florida.”

The email said algae typically increases in the spring and summer months, when water temperatures and daylight hours increase.

They are photosynthetic organisms and, like plants, convert sunlight into energy, using nutrients from their environment.

Higher levels of nutrients can lead to higher levels of growth. As it floats and begins to decay, the alga can emit a foul, rotten egg odor from the production of gas and organic breakdown.

The DEP advises people to avoid contact with algae and stay out of the water if a bloom is visible.

However, not all alga is harmful to humans or marine life.

People are encouraged to report blooms to the DEP hotline at 1-855-305-3903 or online at floridadep.gov/dear/algal-bloom.

Former CNOBB members deposed in Sunshine suit

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Rose Vincent, left, defendant in the ongoing Bradenton Beach lawsuit against six former board members, defendant John Metz’s attorney Jodi Ruberg and Carol and Michael Harrington await depositions May 14 at Vincent M. Lucentes & Associates Court Reporters in Bradenton. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The depositions push on as neither side will settle in a lawsuit that has cost Bradenton Beach taxpayers more than $200,000.

Michael Harrington, former webmaster for the now-defunct neighborhood group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, was deposed May 14 in a lawsuit initiated in August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former board members for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law.

Harrington, not a defendant in the suit, initially was deposed Jan. 23, but attorney Robert Watrous, representing Clarke and the city in the lawsuit, asked for more time with Harrington in light of information that emerged during the first deposition.

Additionally, Harrington’s wife, Carol, also a CNOBB member, was deposed May 14.

Carol Harrington is sister to Bill Vincent, CNOBB founder, and attended and assisted with CNOBB meetings.

The six defendants — Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent — were members of the grass-roots group when they allegedly violated the Sunshine Law by discussing city business at CNOBB meetings and through phone calls, emails and text messages.

Mapes, Metz, Shay and Bill Vincent served on the P&Z board and Martin and Rose Vincent were members of the Scenic Waves Partnership Committee.

Taking deposition

Watrous asked Carol Harrington if she attended any P&Z board or community redevelopment agency meetings, to which she replied, “No.”

He also established, through the course of the deposition, that Carol Harrington rarely attended city commission meetings, but asked her if the topics discussed at CNOBB meetings were similar to those in a city commission meeting.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I think they had different goals. CNOBB was for people to voice their opinions.”

Watrous asked her if members of CNOBB were “like-minded people” displeased with the quality of life in the city.

She answered that people were upset that the city wasn’t doing more during the moratorium on permitting large vacation rental homes and had discussed that matter at meetings.

She also said she did not remember hearing any discussion at CNOBB about prohibiting a parking garage — a topic that the group allegedly discussed at meetings, and a topic that could have come before P&Z and Waves members.

She said, if anything, the group discussed providing registered voters with information regarding stipulations on parking garages included in the city charter.

“It might have been something discussed as far as information going out to registered voters,” Harrington said.

Watrous asked her if CNOBB members were for or against a parking garage.

“I think they would be against it,” she responded,” But it wasn’t mandatory to think that.”

Analyzing computers

Michael Harrington uploaded information to the CNOBB website, including meeting agendas and recordings.

Throughout discovery he provided nearly 10,000 documents to Watrous and his paralegal, Michael Barfield, including emails, text messages and other exchanges of information between himself and the defendants, or other members of CNOBB, as well as web information relating to the organization.

During his Jan. 23 deposition, Harrington told Watrous he allowed the computer he used for CNOBB business to be destroyed. He said it had crashed and would have been more expensive to repair than replace.

Near the end of that proceeding, Watrous said he planned to continue the deposition and would file a motion to have a forensic evaluation of Michael Harrington’s current computer to recover emails or other documents he suspected Harrington deleted upon the initiation of the lawsuit.

During the May 14 deposition, Watrous asked Harrington to describe his computers — past and present — and explain what happened to each.

Harrington said the computer he used for CNOBB business crashed and the hard drive was not salvageable. But he said most of the work he did for CNOBB was stored online, through emails — not on his hard drive — and those records already were provided.

Shortly after the lawsuit was initiated, the CNOBB website, including meeting recordings, was taken offline.

Watrous asked Harrington if Bill Vincent asked him to take down the site or if he did it of his own volition.

“I was told, I believe, by Mr. Vincent that we were dissolving because of the brouhaha,” Harrington said. “I took the website down and that was it.”

“Did anyone ask you to take the website down?” Watrous asked.”

“I don’t remember that,” Harrington responded. “I took it down because it was defunct.”

At the conclusion of Michael Harrington’s May 14 deposition, Watrous said that if Michael Harrington can produce the login information for the Dropbox account he used while managing information for CNOBB, the plaintiff might not require a forensic investigation.

Attorney Jodi Ruberg, standing in for Metz’s attorney, Thomas Shults, attended the deposition, but did not cross-examine Carol or Michael Harrington.

At least 10 more depositions are planned, including Metz, who is scheduled to be deposed May 30. Depositions also are planned for Rose Vincent, city planner Alan Garrett, building official Steve Gilbert, the mayor and city commissioners, several more CNOBB members, as well as a continuation of city attorney Ricinda Perry’s March 20 deposition.

A trial is planned for mid-July.