County commissioner suggests more frequent beach cleaning in ‘tourist-centric areas,’ with red tide killing fish

County administrator points to policy created in 2013

With reports of red tide-related problems mounting over the past couple of weeks — including an abundance of dead fish on parts of the Sarasota County shoreline — Sarasota County Commissioner Mark Smith raised the prospect this week of an update to the county’s beach-cleaning policy.

During his report to his colleagues as part of their March 7 meeting, Smith broached the topic thus: “I’m sure we’ve all heard about [red tide], [and are] familiar with it.”

He continued, “My community out on Siesta Key is in communication with me on a daily basis, even nightly.”
Smith added that, during a recent meeting with County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, Lewis had explained that “there’s a beach-cleaning policy from 2013,” though Smith said he had not had the opportunity to review it prior to the board session that morning.

“In the tourist-centric areas of our county,” Smith told his colleagues, “I believe we’re going to have to find a way to maybe go a little above and beyond, because of the economic impact [related to visitors’ complaints].”

He did not offer any further remarks on the issue, and none of the other commissioners commented on it.

The following day, March 8, Sarasota County Communications Department staff sent out a Red Tide Alert to persons registered through the county for such notifications. Additionally, Media Relations Officer Brianne Lorenz emailed members of the news media with relevant information.

The alert said, “Red tide is present at Sarasota County beaches.

Each morning, Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff evaluate county public beaches and access points to determine if red tide impacts and marine debris wash-up meet the beach cleaning policy threshold. If accumulated debris meets the threshold, mechanical or manual (hand picking, rakes) are deployed [for cleaning].

“Sarasota County Parks Recreation and Natural Resources staff perform regular beach maintenance including beach raking,” the alert continued. “Today, March 8, mechanical beach raking occurred on Siesta Beach.

“Here’s the standard weekly schedule for beach raking:

“Siesta Beach: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays

“Lido Key: Thursdays

“(When resources are available, routine mechanical beach raking as a maintenance operation will continue to occur. Please note, this is different from fish-kill-related beach cleaning.)”

Then the alert advised people wanting more information to visit

These are among the factors listed in the county’s 2013 policy that trigger the “removal of large amounts of shoreline debris”:

  • 1. “Accumulation reaches an estimated volume to fill one 5-yard truck per 2-mile continuous section of beach that is accessible to motorized equipment or vehicles if two tidal cycles have not removed it naturally; and
  • 2. “Beach to be cleaned is:
  • a. “Owned by the County and open to the general public; or
  • b. “Below the approximate mean high water line and in close proximity to a County-owned public beach or beach access; or
  • c. “Part of a Federal or State beach re-nourishment project and seaward of the Erosion Control Line (ECL); and
  • 3. “Cleaning can be accomplished in compliance with all applicable Local, State and Federal regulations; and
  • 4. “Funding is available.”

Lorenz’s March 8 email to news media representatives repeated the information in the Red Tide Alert. Then she reminded the recipients that the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota (DOH-Sarasota) issued a Red Tide advisory on Feb. 8, and that remains in effect “as [red tide] is present at all county beaches.”

The DOH-Sarasota Healthy Beaches sign, she continued, “has been flipped to the Red Tide advisory. Individuals with respiratory problems should consider staying away from the beach as red tide can impact your breathing.”

Lorenz encouraged those who have not done so to register for the Red Tide newsletter, which may be achieved by doing the following:

  • Text: Sign up by texting the phrase “REDTIDE” to 888777 for text alerts on the latest newsletter.
  • Email: Sign up for the Red Tide newsletter online at

Further, Lorenz noted, persons may follow @SRQCountyGov for the latest red tide information. They also may check or for daily beach conditions.

Additionally, as The Sarasota News Leader reported last week, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) produces a Red Tide Respiratory Forecast, which the organization described as “a beach-level risk forecast activated during red tide conditions that tells beachgoers what red tide impacts are expected to be at individual beaches at different times of the day.”

In a March 1 news release, GCOOS explained, “This Forecast is produced using ocean current and wind projections produced by the National Weather Service that are combined with cell counts of Karenia brevis, the organism that causes Florida red tide, gathered by a team of volunteers along Florida’s west coast.”

The latest information from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on red tide conditions —released during the afternoon of March 8 — said that the highest number of bloom concentrations of Karenia brevisin Southwest Florida had been found over the past seven days in Sarasota County. Of the 79 samples with concentrations of the algae exceeding 100,000 cells per liter, 27 were collected in Sarasota County.

The next highest count was 26, from in and offshore of Pinellas County, FWC added. Eight such samples came from Manatee County; eight from Collier County; five from Charlotte County; four from Lee County; and one from offshore of Monroe County.

In its previous seven-day report — released on March 1 — FWC said that 16 samples from Sarasota County had bloom concentrations — second only to the Pinellas County total, which was 17. Another 15 bloom concentration samples were collected in and offshore of Collier County, FWC noted, but only one was found in Manatee County, two in Charlotte County, three in Lee County and one offshore of Monroe County.

Karenia brevis was observed at very low to high concentrations in both Sarasota and Pinellas counties over the seven days leading up to March 8, FWC added in that report.

3 thoughts on “County commissioner suggests more frequent beach cleaning in ‘tourist-centric areas,’ with red tide killing fish”

  1. The Board thinks its job is to clean up Red Tide, without apparently any interest in understanding the historical reasons why it consistently plagues Sarasota’s beaches, tourism, and health. There are people in our community who have insights into how key rivers – especially the Kissimmee, Peace, and Caloosahatchee – are loaded with astonishing levels of nitrates. Part of this overload comes about because of actions taken by the state, most particularly by Rick Scott, who canceled DEP initiatives that would have taken important steps to reduce the underlying causes of red tide. Sadly the powers of development, phosphates, and Big Sugar were more compelling to the state than any need to save our waters, beaches, and residents from the deleterious effects of red tide. The data exists that explain why this is, and what needs to be done about it. But our infinitesimally blindered elected officials – at all levels, from county to state – apparently could care less to inform themselves.

  2. How many fish does it take to fill a 5 yard truck? Shouldn’t there be an equation? An objective standard?
    Assuming 100 dead fish don’t fill a truck, are we all to suffer the odor?

  3. What the County Commission really needs to do to address red tide is to have stricter prohibitions about the use of pesticides, septic tanks and better control of sewage pouring into the Gulf

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