‘No Swim’ advisory issued on Oct. 12 for Bird Key Park at western end of Ringling Causeway

Level of enterococcus bacteria found in sampling outside acceptable limits

As a precaution, Sarasota County health officials have issued a “No Swim” advisory for Bird Key Park Beach (Ringling Causeway), the department announced about midday on Oct. 13.

“The amount of enterococcus bacteria found during water quality testing on Monday, Oct. 10, was outside acceptable limits,” a news release explains. The beach remains open, but wading, swimming and water recreation are not recommended when “No Swim” advisories are in place, the release points out.

“Some bacteria are naturally present in the environment,” the release explains. “However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found a link between health and water quality. 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,” the release adds.

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) did resample the beach on Oct. 13, the release notes; staff expects those results late in the afternoon of Oct. 14.

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

The rapid response team from Sarasota County has determined the cause of the elevated bacteria level at Bird Key Park is likely “natural sources related to Hurricane Ian,” the report says. “The team observed a wrack line of decaying algae around the rocks and along the shoreline. Wrack lines, which provide food for shorebirds and wildlife, act as natural bacteria reservoirs.”

“Additionally,” the release points out, “the significant rainfall associated with the storm may be contributing to the higher bacteria levels by washing accumulated pollutants from the land surface into waterways.”

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

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

Local health officials emphasize that the beach remains open. However, DOH-Sarasota staff also warned that the public might “encounter hurricane debris in the water that could potentially cause physical injury,” if anyone tried to enter Sarasota Bay from the park.

“In addition,” the release emphasizes, “you should not eat shellfish such as crabs and shrimp collected in the immediate area of any beach with a no-swim advisory in place. Finfish caught live and healthy can be eaten if filleted.”

For more information, the following sources are available, the release notes:

  • Visithttps://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 http://www.visitbeaches.org. Click on the same link to 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 https://www.visitsarasota.org.