Visitors to Siesta Beach on the Fourth of July were able to take in an impressive fireworks display, but they may have created an unpleasant sideshow in the process.
Jose Rojo has been visiting Siesta Beach with his family for about 15 years. In the past few years, he said he’s noticed a decline in the attention given to maintaining the quality of the beach, both from visitors and from the county.
“I think I started noticing it right after the big announcement that Siesta Beach was the No. 1 beach in the USA,” Rojo said. “Before, it was like it was our own hidden gem; they don’t take care of the beach like that now.”
Rojo shared his concerns about what he perceived to be the worsening state of the beach in an email sent to the Siesta Key Association at the beginning of the month. Association President Michael Shay said that he’s heard other complaints similar in tone to Rojo’s, and acknowledges there’s often an increase in garbage around major holidays.
Still, he doesn’t believe the garbage on high-traffic days is a significant issue, but rather a reality that comes with attracting a large crowd.
“I don’t have a concern that it’s going to scare people away,” Shay said. “Whenever there’s a large crowd anywhere, there’s going to be a decent amount of garbage. When garbage is left there, it’s not picked up instantaneously.”
Rojo said any changes he’s noticed wouldn’t prevent him from coming back in the future.
“Siesta Key has become my home away from home,” Rojo said. “That’s why it hurts so much — I don’t want to see that going away.”
County Parks and Recreation Director Carolyn Brown said the department recognizes the importance of maintaining the cleanliness of the beaches and its impact on tourism. This year, 13 additional workers were brought in to work the July 4 shift to handle the increased traffic between Siesta and Turtle Beaches.
Brown agreed holiday trash buildup wouldn’t negatively impact tourism.
“I think the beauty of the beaches speaks for itself,” Brown said. “I think people can realize that large quantities of people bring that in association with these special holidays.”
Partially echoing Rojo’s complaints, Brown said a portion of the issue has to rest on the shoulders of those visiting the beach.
“Our citizens and visitors visiting our pristine beaches need to be responsible stewards, to take care of their trash,” Brown said.
Shay said there’s been discussion of adding more garbage pails at the beach to mitigate the influx of trash that builds up between occasions on which the pails are cleaned out; Brown said the county brings in extra trashcans on peak holidays. Ultimately, Shay said, the current system is effective the majority of the year.
“You do get a number of days throughout the year that are a lot more traffic because of the holiday, and the pails may not be sufficient, but again, you’re talking about a handful of days,” Shay said.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].