Who’s scooping up all the dead fish from red tide? It could be your neighbor

About a hundred helping hands made quick work of cleaning up dead red tide fish from the Palma Sola shore on Wednesday.

The event, organized by Manatee County government, was fueled by concerned residents. The county previously set up a red tide hotline that has received more than 200 calls. According to a county spokesman, dozens of those callers wanted to know how they could help.

“This is absolutely driven by volunteers,” said Melissa Nell, the county’s Natural Resources and Parks volunteer division manager. “From the county perspective, we can see a need for help and put out a call, but it’s the volunteers who are the ones to answer that call.”

Cleanup efforts began at 7:30 a.m. and, thanks to a turnout of about 50 volunteers, began to wrap up about an hour and half later. Nell said the group made better progress than she had hoped for.

Melissa Toye moved to Manatee County a few months ago and said she’s been impressed with the cleanup efforts but felt a responsibility to do her part as well.

“I think community service is important. It’s not a pleasant job, but many hands make light work,” Toye said.

One volunteer who lives nearby said he saw coverage of the cleanup on a local news station and made a late appearance to give as much help as he could.

“I think everybody needs to pitch in,” Dennis Cavanagh said.

Volunteers donned masks and gloves to help clear the Palma Sola shore of dead fish and other sea life Wednesday morning. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Working all along the southern shore, volunteers used rakes and shovels to scoop dead fish into buckets. Those without buckets made piles for others to come scoop up. County workers dumped the buckets into larger trash cans for the biomass to be hauled to a landfill.

Nell said Palma Sola was chosen as the volunteer site because it’s one of the locations in the county that requires a more fine-tuned cleanup approach.

“We’ve got a number of delicate areas in the county that require boots on the ground instead of mechanical operation,” she explained. “My boss likes to compare it to the Marines and the Navy SEALS.”

County officials declared a red tide state of emergency Tuesday and announced a $750,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection toward reinforced cleanup efforts.

The next volunteer cleanup event will take place at the Perico Preserve from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

For more red tide information, call the county’s red tide hotline at 941-749-3547 between 8 a.m and 5 p.m. daily.