A string of cars parked along the Palma Sola Causeway, a packed parking lot at Manatee Public Beach and shores packed with beachgoers Friday could only mean one thing — visitors are enjoying the island again.
For several months, local beaches were plagued by a persistent bout of red tide that kept tourists, locals and — most importantly — dollar bills away from Manatee County’s top travel destination. Weekend crowds, as well as an updated report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, confirmed that the algae bloom has largely dissipated from waters across the state.
Seasonal visitors Kelly and Rich Goodin were among the massive crowd Friday afternoon on Manatee Public Beach. The couple traveled from Springfield, Ill., to spent a few months in the area. Kelly said she arrived just in time to get a whiff of red tide’s stink.
“We dodged almost all of it this year, but I did get a chance to come out and see what it was about around Thanksgiving, and it was awful,” Kelly said.
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But since then, the barren beaches lined with dead fish have become much more palatable. The waters were clear Friday as visitors frolicked in the water.
“Today’s perfect,” Rich said, gesturing toward the hundreds of people lining the coast. “What more could you want?”
Also visiting Manatee Public Beach on Friday, Daisy Broudy, a visitor from Massachusetts, lounged in the sun reading a book. She explained that while she was enjoying a sunny beach day, her husband was struggling to reel in any catches out on the water.
“He hasn’t caught anything because the red tide wiped out a lot of the smaller fish that the bigger fish would eat,” she said. “He’s hearing the same thing from his other fisherman friend, so it’s not like he’s making excuses for why he hasn’t caught any fish.”
Based on her husband’s experience with recreational fishing, Broudy wondered how local businesses were handling the rebound.
“We’re from a cold climate so this just wonderful to be here, but on the other hand it’s terrible if we don’t come because then the businesses can’t survive,” Broudy said.
The Goodins also said they felt a certain sense of duty when it came to supporting businesses on the island during their extended vacation.
“We’re going to do our part,” Rich said. “We limit ourselves when we’re back home so that we can spend when we’re down here.”
“Hopefully the combination of red tide being gone and the warm weather helps these businesses out,” Kelly added.
At Shell Island Gift Shop, 301 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach, an employee said sales have been on the rise for the past few weeks — about the same timeframe that FWC has given the Manatee area an all-clear designation for concentrations of red tide.
“It’s picking up,” Martha Hamel said. “For a while you couldn’t breathe out here and people would take day trips and head as far north as Indian Rocks to get away from it. It’s much better now, though, especially in the past three weeks.”