With seaweed continuing to wash up on Sarasota County beaches, county workers tackled Lido Beach on Thursday, Aug. 2, George Tatge, manager of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, notified the county commissioners this week.
Cleanup will proceed on Siesta Public Beach on Friday, Aug. 3, he wrote.
The high tide on Lido and Siesta beaches was about 1 p.m. Aug. 1, he pointed out in a late-morning email he sent the same day, making any cleanup attempt unproductive until Aug. 2.
Additionally, he wrote, “with the full moon [July 31], very high tides are currently inundating near shore areas of our beaches, resulting in limited opportunities to conduct seaweed cleanup operations.”
Siesta Public Beach has been experiencing moderate-to-heavy accumulations of seaweed in some places, Tatge wrote.
He pointed out that county maintenance crews worked on Venice Beach over the previous weekend.
“Additional restrictions on mechanized beach cleaning in Sarasota County have recently been issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” Tatge also pointed out in the email.
The county received a letter from the state’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems on July 31, modifying the existing beach-cleaning permit that limits mechanized cleaning to the wet beach until Sept. 8, he wrote.
In an Aug. 2 interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Tatge explained that the wind and flooding associated with Tropical Storm Debby in June had resulted in the loss of a vast number of stakes marking sea turtle nests. As a result, he said, DEP had notified the county that staff could not undertake any raking or grooming on the dry portion of the beaches.
“[Wildlife officials] don’t know where the turtle nests are,” he added, because of the lost stakes.
The concern is that grooming activities normally allowed in the summertime might harm the unmarked nests, Tatge said. Therefore, the permit modification is allowing county staff to clean up only “the very, very wet beach.”
He had received complaints from people on Lido Aug. 2, Tatge added, because of the limited cleanup.
Moreover, he said, the permit modification allows the county to use only its access points to reach the wet sand. Yet, the county has limited ability to reach the beaches from publicly owned property around the county, Tatge said.
Typically, Tatge said, workers would be able to make three or four passes to collect seaweed by the water’s edge of a beach. The permit modification limits that work to an area about 12 feet wide, he said, so staff can do only about two passes.
The number of people on a beach also can limit county cleanup activities, he told members of the Siesta Key Association during their regular meeting on Aug. 2.
“The No. 1 issue is public safety,” he told the News Leader. “It’s imperative that we don’t have an accident out there.”
He added, “We’re not going to make everybody very happy right now.”
Tatge told the SKA members, “You’re going to see more seaweed. It’s going to be on the beach longer.”
Although Sarasota Audubon also has been concerned about endangered beach-nesting birds on county beaches, he said, DEP rules regarding the birds are not as broad or detailed as those regarding the imperiled sea turtles.
Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association and a Sarasota Audubon volunteer, said Aug. 1 that she and her fellow volunteers are concerned about the snowy plovers on Siesta Key, especially, as the birds have had a difficult nesting season as a result of the tropical storm and predatory actions by crows.
Two plover nests have been reported on Siesta, she added, with three chicks possibly hatching at any time in one of those nests.
Luckner said she was hopeful the mechanical raking taking place to pick up the seaweed would not have a negative impact on the chicks; they are so difficult to spot against the sand, they easily can be run over.
“What a tough summer for all the nesting wildlife,” she wrote in an email.
On the positive side, Tatge told the SKA members, the seaweed is an excellent source of food for the beach-nesting birds.
County beach maintenance staff “will continue to monitor [seaweed] conditions throughout the county,” Tatge wrote the commissioners, “and plan cleanup operations around tides, crowds, surf conditions, and other operational constraints.”
Tatge added that if a change in the weather pattern occurs as expected next week, it should bring relief in form of offshore winds. Wind blowing onto the shoreline has exacerbated the seaweed situation over recent days, he indicated.
In the meantime, the SKA is assisting Tatge and other county staff in establishing a hotline notification system for the condominium complexes and private property owners along the beach, so they will know what measures the county is taking to deal with the seaweed.
Luckner told the News Leader the SKA also would put a link to that hotline on its website and post appropriate county notices on the site and on the SKA’s Facebook page.
Tatge pointed out in his email to the commissioners that accumulations of seaweed at many of the beaches meet the county’s policy guidelines for the cleanup to be paid by funds from the tourist development tax revenue. That standard, he wrote, is 5 cubic yards over a continuous 2-mile stretch of beach.
Staff, equipment, contractor hauling expenses and the landfill dumping fees can be covered by the TDT revenue, he wrote.
During the month of July, Tatge pointed out, the county mobilized crews four times — to Lido, Siesta and Venice Beaches — and those crews hauled to the county landfill more than 130 tons of seaweed they had collected.