‘No swim’ advisory posted for Bird Key Park

County Health Department officials have issued a ‘no swim’ advisory for Bird Key Park. Photo by Norman Schimmel

A “no swim” advisory has been issued for Bird Key Park, a recently renovated recreational area directly west of the Ringling Causeway bridge on the north side of Bird Key.

Sarasota County Health Department officials received testing results from beach water samples taken on Wednesday, Oct. 10, showing an elevated level of enterococci (enteric) bacteria, a county news release says.

“We never like to issue advisories and are sensitive to their impact on the community,” says Sarasota County Health Department Environmental Administrator Tom Higginbotham in the news release. “However, the intent of the Florida Healthy Beaches program is to provide residents and visitors with accurate, up-to-date information about water quality at our 16 area beaches.”

Local health officials emphasize that people can still visit and enjoy the beach. However, residents and visitors are urged not to wade or swim in the water or engage in water recreation until the advisory is lifted. Shellfish collected in the immediate area of the Ringling Causeway (Bird Key Park recreation area) or any beach water that has a brown tint should not be consumed, health officials point out. It is safe to fish and consume fin-fish from these waters, they say.

Signage advising the public not to swim or engage in water recreation at of the Ringling Causeway (Bird Key Park recreation area) will remain in place until followup water testing results meet the Environmental Protection Agency recreational water safety standards, the news release adds. The Health Department planned to conduct followup water sampling on Friday, Oct. 12, with results expected in the afternoon on Saturday, Oct. 13.

EPA water quality standards are very protective of human health, the news release points out. The “no-swim” advisories are based on elevated levels of indicator bacteria, some of which are naturally present in the environment.

“We know that these bacteria inhabit the intestines of warm-blooded humans and animals,” Higginbotham said. “Therefore, when these bacteria are detected in high concentrations in recreational waters, there is a risk that some people who swallow water while swimming or have contact with water entering the skin through a cut or sore may become ill with gastrointestinal illnesses, infections or rashes.”

Enteric bacteria can come from a variety of sources, including stormwater runoff, pet waste and wildlife and human sewage. The local rapid response team comprising officials from Sarasota County Environmental Utilities and the City of Sarasota Utilities has ruled out sewage spills, stormwater outfalls and runoff from heavy rainfall as contributing factors to the elevated bacteria levels, the news release says. Since Bird Key Park is an approved recreational area for dogs, enteric bacteria from pet waste cannot be ruled out, it adds.

“Our world-class beaches are a wonderful asset to our community,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. “When making beach day plans, be sure to check the latest reports on beach conditions.”

To check on those reports, the following options are available:

• Visit www.OurGulfEnvironment.net and click on “water monitoring,” then “bacterial testing” to check beach water testing results of area gulf beaches.

• Call 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437).

• The Visitors Center also provides extensive information about Sarasota, including its beaches. The website is www.visitsarasota.org.