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Tourism thriving despite impacts of red tide on Sarasota beaches

In Sarasota County, the red tide bloom has persisted since October.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Visitors to some beaches in our area could experience a moderate to high risk of respiratory irritation over the next 36 hours, according to The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Samples from health officials and researchers detected karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tide, is still present in Manatee and Sarasota counties. The toxic red tide bloom has expanded northward toward Tampa Bay and has been detected in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Depending on the day, the wind direction, and the concentration it can affect activities at the beach and on the water.

In Sarasota County, the red tide bloom has persisted since October.  The Florida Department of Health has advised people to stay out of the water but in places like Siesta Key that has not stopped tourists from thronging to the beach.

Some business owners on the barrier island said they have learned to just co-exist with the now frequent red tide blooms. They said even though it's getting in the way of activities on the water, it has not yet impacted their bottom line for now.  

"We really had no cancellations due today and full at 100% capacity today," Paige Hartman with the Inn at Siesta Key said.

"There's a lot of people out here on vacation, so they only have one thing on mind and it's the shopping and going to the beach so I feel like they're going to do that regardless because they spent money to come here," Andrew Malone of Fudge Factory Siesta Key said.

While there are concerns about the frequent events of red tide blooms impacting the coastal waters, tourism industry leaders say they can't tell yet because of different variables.

"It's too early right now to speculate what the impact of red tide is going to be on the tourism industry," Erin Duggan of Visit Sarasota said. 

Duggan said many accommodations are also at high capacity because of families displaced by Hurricane Ian and several professionals and contractors in the area working on recovery and rebuilding efforts.

She also said that because the wind heavily influences red tide, they largely advise visitors to get information about beach conditions at form the Mote Marine Lab run visitbeaches.org.

"So while we might be seeing these red tide conditions on one beach, it doesn't necessarily mean that every beach is being impacted so that is a huge tool that we use when communicating to visitors," Duggan said

"Our main business is tourism and we need to have people come back and want to come back and not worry about red tide so we need to get a handle on it," Hartman said.

Health officials say it's important that people heed to their advisory and stay out of the water. They also advise keeping dogs out of the water and away from dead fish and seaweed as they can be deadly for them.

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