After weeks of clear beaches, Longboat Key this week started seeing and smelling the effects of red tide again with foul odors and some accumulation of dead fish along the gulf beaches.
Streets, Facilities, Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Richardson said Longboat Key’s dead fish accumulation wouldn’t normally garner a pickup, but the town is receiving assistance from Manatee County.
“When I came onto the island Monday morning at 6:30 a.m., I could smell it, so I was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,’” Richardson said, adding the odor typically associated with red tide is the bloom itself drifting ashore on west winds, not the dead fish.
The conditions prompted the town to call Manatee County for help, according to the county’s Natural Resources Division Manager Mike Elswick.
Richardson said a Manatee County worker is going from north to south with a tractor and a beach raker to pick up dead fish.
“It’s pretty much a one-man job type of thing, and then once his hopper gets filled, it has to be emptied into the Dumpster, which we do have a Dumpster placed at the Atlas beach access,” Richardson said.
Elswick made an analogy about the capabilities of Manatee County’s machinery.
“It’s sort of like on the side of the road rehab (with) a John Deere Gator,” Elswick said. “We could do that with five or six people, but we've got one person (and) one machine that does the work of many just because of the efficiency of that wide rake.”
Town staff is helping the Manatee County worker unload the hopper by transporting the dead fish to the Dumpster, Richardson said.
“(On Wednesday), they did pretty much from Broadway to the Ohana house,” Richardson said. “(Thursday) they started at Gulfside (Road), which is right next to our shop here at Public Works on the north end, and they’re working toward our Atlas beach access.”
Richardson said he is appreciative of Manatee County’s assistance.
“They have more resources than us, and as a small town, I only have so many employees,” Richardson said. “So, if I have to deploy half my staff out on the beach or doing the canals, it takes away from what we need to be doing.”
Elswick said crews are limited to picking up areas where their equipment fits.
“There are some places, obviously, where there’s hardened seawalls that prevent access, but then there are also areas where the escarpment...makes it unsafe for the tractor to operate,” Elswick said.
Since July, red tide conditions have fluctuated in Longboat Key. It marked the same month Manatee County began utilizing its drone program to help the town monitor the conditions.
Town Manager Tom Harmer said Tuesday that town staff is monitoring the situation. Harmer attributed some of the red tide impacts to west winds.
Longboat Key allocates $50,000 each year for red tide cleanup. However, the town’s policy typically requires three to four tide cycles and a moderate level of dead fish accumulation before the town initiates a cleanup of a specific area.