Siesta Seen

Trolley app ‘pretty close’ to completion; Audubon steward issues first report of season on beach-nesting birds; SKA members get a geology lesson; respiratory specialist offers caution about red tide exposure; juvenile redfish released at Turtle Beach Park; Key Corners construction update provided; musical performances planned for Siesta Fiesta; and Luckners earn public plaudits

The Siesta Key Breeze waits for riders at its regular stop, in front of Morton’s Siesta Market in Siesta Village. File photo

The work to develop an app for the Siesta Key Breeze trolley came up on March 12, as the County Commission was holding a discussion about whether to proceed with privatization of the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus system.

Rob Lewis, interim director of SCAT, noted — as he had during the Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting in February — that the company operating the open-air trolley “is getting close to releasing a real-time tracking [mechanism] for your phone and mobile devices.”

The News Leader followed up with Lisa Potts, SCAT’s communications specialist, to find out whether the debut date has been nailed down for release of the app.

“There’s no definite timeline,” she reported on March 15, but “I know they’re getting pretty close.”

She also clarified for the News Leader that the app would be completely separate from the web-based tracking software SCAT makes available to riders of its regular buses. The app for the Breeze will be available for download for Android and Apple systems, Potts pointed out.

The Apple system takes more time to develop than the Android app, she explained. However, she had no details to offer, she said, about the reason for the longer Apple process.

The News Leader also took the opportunity to check with Potts about the February ridership figure for the Breeze. She said the total was 38,336.

Even before she undertook the necessary research to provide the News Leaderthat number, Potts affirmed readily that the trolley remains very popular.

First bird-nesting report for the season

Snowy plovers nest on area beaches this time of year. Photo from the Sarasota-Manatee Bird Stewards Facebook page

Kylie Wilson, who served last year as program coordinator for Audubon Florida’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship program in Sarasota County, is back at her post for this season.

In her first official report, dated March 15, she wrote, “This week the ‘CF’ buffer” went up on Siesta. This is the nickname for an enclosure that is in between [beach] accesses 11 and 10. This area is designated land for conservation so we are able to pre-post this segment of the beach every year.” At least one nest is found in that part of the beach each season, she noted. “I have already been seeing lots of Snowy Plover tracks in and around this buffer!”

However, she continued, that day, she also spotted both human and dog tracks in that vicinity.

“It is very important, especially with how busy the beaches will be over the next couple of weeks, to report any violations,” she stressed. “If you see someone entering a posted area please call the [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Foundation] FWC hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922).”

In response to Wilson’s notice, Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner — who has been a Sarasota Audubon volunteer — contacted Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Key’s Sheriff’s Office substation. Luckner asked that he make certain that Sheriff’s Office personnel working on the island understand the necessity of protecting the beach nesting areas.

Birds startled by dogs will abandon nests, leaving eggs unhatched, Audubon representatives have emphasized.

“We need strict adherence to NO DOGS on the beach,” Luckner wrote in her email to Cernansky.

“I saw the area today and alerted my staff of its location,” Cernansky replied.

Royal terns engage in courtship behavior on Siesta Public Beach. Photo contributed by Kylie Wilson

In her March 15 notice, Wilson of Audubon Florida also pointed out that the first Siesta Stewardship Training session is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 23. “It’s perfect timing because I have been noticing a lot more activity — particularly seeing more scrapes — and we will need Bird Stewards out there to help educate beachgoers and monitor the nesting areas. I’m looking forward to [the training] and I hope to see you there!”

“Scrapes” refers to preparations the birds make for nesting.

All interested persons are invited to meet at the Sea Turtle Pavilion at Siesta Public Beach for the training session. That pavilion is near the two-story snack bar building, the meeting notice explains.

Holley Short of Audubon Florida will lead the program, with assistance from FWC regional shorebird biologist Morgan Parks and Wilson.

After the training session, the notice continues, everyone will head out onto the beach “for a short bird walk to become familiar with the beach and the Snowy Plovers.”

The training is to end at 11:30 a.m., the notice says.

Siesta and the Appalachians

Dr. Philip Farrell addresses SKA members on March 2. Rachel Hackney photo

A number of the attendees at the Siesta Key Association’s Annual Breakfast Meeting on March 2 indicated by their responses to remarks of the guest speaker that they were unfamiliar with the geological history of Siesta Key.

The speaker was Dr. Philip M. Farrell, emeritus dean and professor of pediatrics & population health sciences at the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He and his grandson, Thomas Philip Farrell, have written a book — The Illustrated History of Siesta Key — that has proven very popular among island residents and visitors alike, as this reporter can attest, based on information from a family member who has spent a bit of time on the island this season.

Dr. Farrell explained on March 2 that the sugar white sand of Siesta originated in the Appalachian Mountains, which once were the height of the Himalayas, about 25,000 feet. Now, he noted, the Appalachians generally stand between 3,000 and 5,000 feet tall.

All that extra material migrated to Florida, he pointed out. “That’s the gift from the Appalachians to Florida.”

On another note, Farrell reported that Point of Rocks “is the only rock formation on Florida’s Gulf Coast in the 30 barrier island system. It probably resulted from a meteor strike.”

The Point of Rocks area, he added, is estimated to be no more than 3,000 years old, while the rest of the Key is about 2,000 years old.

Red tide respiratory protection encouraged

On a very different note during the Siesta Key Association’s annual meeting in March, outgoing president Gene Kusekoski asked guest speaker Dr. Philip Farrell for Farrell’s thoughts about one aspect of red tide.

Farrell is a physician who is a respiratory specialist.

“How big a threat” are the red tide aerosols during an intense period of the algae bloom, Kusekoski inquired.

This is an N95 respirator mask. Image from the New York State Department of Health

“It’s quite serious,” Farrell responded. Wearing a mask, he pointed out, “will definitely mitigate [a person’s exposure].”

Even simple masks that doctors’ offices provide for people with coughs — to keep the germs from spreading to others — have some benefit, Farrell said.

“The emergency departments of the hospitals here were overflowing with patients during the intense red tide period,” Farrell continued. “Sarasota doesn’t like to advertise deaths [from walking the beach],” he said, “but they have happened. … You have to keep those aerosols out of your … lower respiratory tract.”

Farrell also noted, “There are masks that are particularly good for small particles,” though they look like “space-age” equipment.

The best protection that he had found, Kusekoski indicated, is from a mask with the N95 classification.

And speaking of red tide …

Mason Tush, whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, reported during the Feb. 20 Siesta Chamber meeting for members that the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) would be releasing about 2,000 redfish into the water at the Turtle Beach Park kayak launch that day.

Because shrimp are not affected much by red tide, he added,

“There’s plenty of bait out there” for the new fish. Therefore, the hope, he said, is that the fish will grow quickly.

CCA Florida, Duke Energy and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began releasing more than 16,000 juvenile and adult redfish in Southwest Florida counties in February “to address the loss to the fishery as a result of red tide devastation,” the CCC Florida website says.

Juvenile redfish are ready for release. Photo from the CCA website

An update on a Village construction project

During a March 11 interview with Siesta architect Mark Smith, the News Leadertook the opportunity to ask about the progress of transforming the Key Corners Plaza into a completely new look with a Nantucket theme. (Smith is the architect for the project.)

Business partners Chris Brown and Mike Granthon hope to complete the project — which includes a sports-themed bar and grill — over the summer, Smith said. Unfortunately, that means they have “lost the season,” as Smith put it. Their goal had been to open before season began, he pointed out during the most recent Siesta Chamber quarterly meeting for members, which was held in late February.

Construction has been underway for months at the Key Corners Plaza. File photo

It took five months for Brown and Granthon to get the necessary permits from Sarasota County staff to begin the construction, Smith added during the Chamber meeting. “They’re going as fast as they can.”

Businesses in the plaza have been struggling, Ann Frescura, executive director of the Chamber, noted, referring to the fencing around the construction site.

Nonetheless, Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for Sarasota County, who serves as county liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., explained that county regulations do not allow for sandwich boards in the public right of way or the landscaping beds, to advertise businesses.

However, “They can put signage on the chain link fence,” Cece added. “That works.”

Tenants in Key Corners have been making use of the fence, Frescura responded.

Siesta Fiesta sneak peak

Siesta Chamber Secretary Stephanie Brown, general manager of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, reported that plans have been well underway for musical entertainment once again this year during Siesta Fiesta.

That annual fine arts show is scheduled for April 27-28 in the Village.

Musical performances will be offered on Saturday, April 27, during the day and evening, but not past 10 p.m., Brown noted. On April 28, the music will end at 5 p.m., which is when the festival usually is winding down, she said.

Kudos for the Luckners

Robert Luckner addresses an SKA audience on July 6, 2017, discussing the potential for increased wave energy to affect the north end of Siesta Key as a result of the dredging of Big Pass. File photo

During the SKA Annual Breakfast Meeting on March 2, as outgoing President Gene Kusekoski was discussing issues on which the organization had worked over the past year, he offered an accolade to two people that the audience members seemed to agree was most apropos.

Kusekoski was discussing the SKA’s years-long effort to prevent the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach. “All of this work would not be possible without the tireless effort of the ‘Energizer Bunny’ team of Catherine Luckner and her husband, Bob,” Kusekoski said. “They will dig through the dust bunnies to find relevant bits of information.”

Catherine Luckner is the new president of the SKA. Bob Luckner long has been a member of the nonprofit’s Environmental Committee.