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13/03/23: Local crews keeping beaches clean

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – After more than three weeks of west winds pushing red tide and subsequent dead fish toward local Gulf of Mexico beaches, an easterly wind shift on Thursday gave some beachgoers a slight respite.




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“We’ve been fighting the west wind for weeks,” said Mark Taylor, Manatee County Natural Resources employee and the operator of a mechanical beach-cleaning rake. “We appreciate a little break, the east wind is our friend.”


The beach rake that Taylor drives along the beaches has a spring-loaded conveyer with stainless steel tines that scratch the surface of the sand and pick up debris, including dead fish.


“We try to do the public beaches first,” he said. “That’s our priority always. They populate early with fish and it’s been a heavy amount of them.”


The fish go up the belt and are dumped into a 2-yard hopper on the back of the apparatus.   When the hopper is full, Taylor backs up the vehicle to dumpsters at Manatee Beach, Coquina Beach and Bayfront Park and empties the load.

Rather than doing his normal run along Manatee and Coquina beaches, Taylor was sent to the northwest end of Anna Maria Island on Thursday, where the beaches were littered with dead fish.


“The wind is pushing it in today to Bean Point from the rocks and to Bayfront Park,” he said Thursday.


The predominant types of fish Taylor is seeing on the shore are catfish, pinfish and baitfish.


“The eels, the catfish and the baitfish come first,” Taylor said. “I’m seeing Spanish mackerel, pelagic, and grouper. Today I dumped a load of fish and one large grouper was in there, probably about 3-foot long.”


At Bean Point on Thursday, dead fish were scattered from the shore to the dune lines more than 60 feet away.

“The full moon we had recently and the huge tides washed the fished up to about a 100-foot span,” said Liza Click, supervisor of the Manatee County Property Management Grounds Division. “We’re seeing sheepshead, trout, catfish, dogfish, a lot of mullet and an occasional big grouper washed up on the sand.”


The county has four rakes to cover the local beaches and has been operating three of them recently.


“This past Sunday we had three beach rakes going off,” Click said on Thursday. “Winds play a big part in our day. Today was a great day.”


Click, who operates a beach rake, said her day begins at 4:30-5 a.m.


“The good thing is, we’re not in turtle season so I can get out there early,” she said. “I start at Coquina and once I get to Cortez, I’m closer to the buildings and I can get done by 6 or so.”


Click said the dumpsters where the fish are disposed of are emptied three times a week, and the county is getting ready to put down lime under the dumpsters to alleviate the odors of dead fish.


Taylor said that so far the fish kills are less than he saw during the heavy red tide of 2018.


“It’s not as bad as ’18 was,” he said. “In ’18 we had much larger quantities of fish on the beach.  We’re able to manage right now. We had to bring everybody out in ’18. I worked 28 12-hour nights and days then.”


In 2018, Taylor said there was a run of dead horseshoe crabs along with the fish.


“What’s interesting is at Bayfront is primarily bay species. It’ll be mullet and trout and sheepshead,” he said. “And then out front (in the Gulf), you’ll get the grouper and the mackerel and maybe a pompano even.”


Taylor said thus far, the fish cleanups have been manageable for county crews.


“At some point, we have the beach clean each day right now,” he said.


Red tide intensifies

For the first time this year, some local waters are showing high levels of red tide.


Water samples taken on March 10 at Longboat Pass showed high concentrations of the red tide organism Karenia brevis, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). High levels can cause respiratory irritation, shellfish harvesting closures, probable fish kills, water discoloration and detection by satellite.


Red tide levels were reported as medium at Kingfish Boat Ramp on Anna Maria Sound just east of Anna Maria Island and at the Rod and Reel Pier in Anna Maria. Medium levels can cause respiratory irritation, shellfish harvesting closures, probable fish kills and detection by satellite.


Palma Sola Bay registered low levels of red tide.


According to the FWC, red tide was observed at low to high concentrations in 12 samples collected in Manatee County, background to high concentrations in 38 samples collected in Pinellas County and background to high concentrations in 51 samples collected in Sarasota County.


For updated information on red tide, visit the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast at RedTideForecast.com, which tells beachgoers what red tide impacts are expected to be at individual beaches at different times of the day. The forecast is also available in Spanish at PronosticoMareaRoja.com.


Beachgoers also can get updates at visitbeaches.org, the Mote Marine Laboratory beach conditions reporting system, which documents respiratory irritation and fish kills at local beaches.


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