‘No Swim’ advisory issued for Bird Key Park

Bacteria found in Nov. 22 water samples exceed acceptable limits, county Health Department reports

Image courtesy Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County

On Nov. 24, as “a precaution,” Sarasota County Department of Health (DOH-Sarasota) officials announced that they had issued a “No Swim” advisory for Bird Key Park, which is located between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Key.

The amount of enterococcus bacteria found during water quality testing on Monday, Nov. 22, was outside acceptable limits, a news release explains. “The beach remains open, but wading, swimming and water recreation is not recommended when no swim advisories are in place,” the release points out.

“Some bacteria are naturally present in the environment. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found a link between health and water quality,” the release continues. “Signage advising the public not to swim or engage in water recreation will stay in place until follow-up water testing results meet the EPA’s recreational water quality standards.”

DOH-Sarasota is expecting to receive results of follow-up testing at the park on Friday, Nov. 26, the release says.

“Enterococcus bacteria can come from a variety of natural and human-made sources,” the release explains. “These include pet waste, livestock, birds, land-dwelling and marine wildlife, stormwater runoff, and human sewage from failed septic systems and sewage spills,” the release adds.

No sewage spills have been reported within 1 mile of the park within the past two weeks, the release notes.

“The rapid response team from Sarasota County has determined the cause of the elevated bacteria levels is likely due to natural sources. The team observed a wrack line of decaying algae along the shoreline,” the release says. “Wrack lines, which provide food for shorebirds and wildlife, act as natural bacteria reservoirs.”

DOH-Sarasota Environmental Administrator Tom Higginbotham emphasizes that the Florida Healthy Beaches program protects beachgoers when conditions are unsuitable for swimming, the release points out. “This is done by testing beach water weekly and providing up-to-date explanations of the results.”

“When these bacteria are found at high levels in recreational waters, there is a risk that some people may become ill,” Higginbotham noted in the release. “People, especially those who are very young, elderly or who have a weak immune system” who swallow water while swimming can get stomach or intestinal illnesses, he added. Further, if the water comes in contact with a cut or sore, “people can get infections or rashes,” Higginbotham said.

Local health officials emphasize that the park remains open. However, residents and visitors are urged not to wade, swim, or engage in water recreation at Bird Key Park until the advisory is lifted.

File photo

In addition, no one should eat shellfish, such as crabs and shrimp, collected in the immediate area of any beach or park with a no-swim advisory in place, the release points out. “Finfish caught live and healthy can be eaten if filleted.”

“To help keep beach water safe for swimming and recreation, do not allow pets to roam on beaches and in park areas,” the release says, adding that persons should pick up pet waste. “Additionally, children in diapers and people of all ages with diarrhea should not go into the water,” it points out.

For more assistance, DOH-Sarasota offers the following information:

  • Visit https://ourgulfenvironment.net and click on “water monitoring” and then “bacterial testing” to check beach water testing results of area Gulf beaches.
  • Call 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437) or visit www.visitbeaches.org. Click on the same link to download the mobile-friendly version of the beach conditions report.

The local visitor and convention bureau, known as Visit Sarasota County, also provides extensive information about the Sarasota area, including its beaches. The website is www.visitsarasota.org.