County crews continuing their battle with seaweed

Red drift algae — referred to as seaweed — covers a swath of Crescent Beach earlier this month. Photo by Rachel Hackney

Sarasota County crews have removed more than 300 tons of seaweed from county beaches since July 1, county officials have announced.

County staff and inmates from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Offender Work Program are continuing the effort to clean beaches from Venice to Siesta Key, “as more seaweed is being pushed ashore with each tidal cycle,” says a county news release issued Aug. 23.

All scheduled cleanup operations are subject to change because of environmental and crowd conditions, the news release adds.

Crews were continuing mechanical cleanup operations at Siesta Beach and expected to begin cleanup at Lido Beach on Aug. 23. All other county beaches require cleanup by hand because of sand composition and slope, as well as the presence of protected species, the release points out.

“Cleanup efforts on Siesta Beach have been hampered this week because of tides, crowds and state-imposed restrictions,” the news release adds.

“Seaweed has become an issue for communities all along the Gulf Coast and as fast as we clean it up, Mother Nature can dump more of it on the beach,” said George Tatge, manager of Sarasota County Parks and Recreation, in the news release. “In addition to dealing with the tides and the crowds, we also have to work within the state restrictions that limit us to mechanical cleaning on the wet sand only in order to protect sea turtle nests and other protected species, so we have a pretty narrow window of opportunity.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection modified the county’s beach-cleaning permit in late July because Tropical Storm Debby washed away almost all the stakes set out by Mote Marine Laboratory volunteers to indicate sea turtle nests. Mote had asked state wildlife officials to intervene, fearing continued mechanical raking would endanger the nests.

The permit modification is in effect at least until Sept. 8.

Work crews are scheduled to clean Caspersen, Manasota and Blind Pass beaches in the next few days, county officials say.

Increased amounts of seaweed are coming ashore on beaches throughout the Gulf Coast because of Tropical Storm Debby, which came through in late June.

Tourists and residents alike have complained to county commissioners and staff about the seaweed situation. On Aug. 22, Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on Siesta Key, received an email from a Michigan couple who own a condo on Midnight Pass Road. Their daughter had been staying there, they wrote, and “She reported the beach is a terrible mess — dead seaweed that has been there since [Debby] — at least twenty to thirty feet wide most of the beach — smells so bad you don’t even want to walk this # 1 Beach in the USA.”

They added, ” Everyone seems to be talking about this serious problem. Clerks in Beach Bazaar, waitress and waiters in restaurants all talking about the non action by someone to clean up our most beautiful beach.”

Patterson responded by pointing out the limitations with raking as a result of the situation with the sea turtle nests. She also wrote that although county crews were continuing to rake up the seaweed, “It keeps coming back with each high tide. Further it disappears and reappears as the tides come and go.”

As quickly as crews cleaned up the beaches, more seaweed came ashore, Patterson added, apologizing that the county was not able to do more than it is doing.

Visitors and residents may get the latest beach conditions by calling 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437).The hotline is updated twice a day.