It was sunny, hot and muggy while storm clouds loomed but that didn’t stop nearly 250 people from gathering on Gulfport’s beach on Sunday, August 12 at 10:15 a.m. to join thousands of others doing the same thing on coastlines throughout Florida as part of the grassroots Hands Along the Water movement.
According to the two local organizers of the statewide movement, the goal was to hold hands for 15 minutes in solidarity to defend water and wildlife in a peaceful and non-partisan way regarding the trends of green algae and red tide blooms.
People were encouraged to wear teal or blue-toned clothing as a visual theme.
Jenny Reisner and Deana Ali, both of Gulfport, teamed up using social media to include the municipal beach as one of the movement’s formal locations. Reisner has lived in the city for four years and Ali just moved to the area a few months ago.
One scientist who works for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota described the current red tide algae bloom along Florida’s west coast, located mostly south of Pinellas County, as “severe” during a live webinar on Friday, August 10.
As of Tuesday morning, August 14, Gulfport’s City Manager Jim O’Reilly and Marina Director Denis Frain confirmed that evidence of red tide had not reached Gulfport as of that time.
Both O’Reilly and Frain are monitoring weekly red tide status reports provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Frain is also frequently asking boaters arriving at the municipal marina if they have seen any evidence of dead marine life.
Though Gulfport’s beach is currently unaffected, Reisner and Ali wanted to be part of the public information movement for areas that are suffering and help others to do the same.
“We want recognition of and ask that attention be paid to the issue of red tide and green algae that are coming together to create a disastrous situation,” said Reisner. “We want our state government to step in and offer some concrete solutions to the green algae that is choking canals and rivers to the south of us and to move on research that has already been done regarding red tide.”
Her hopes began to be addressed by Florida’s Governor Rick Scott who on Monday, August 13, one day after the Hands Along the Water movement was held, declared a state of emergency over red tide for Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.
According to Tampa Bay’s Channel 10 Action News, Scott signed an executive order that directed $100,000 to Mote Marine Laboratory to be able to deploy more scientists to save animals, and $500,000 to Visit Florida so they can establish an emergency grant program to continue to attract vacationers who he hopes will spend money along the state’s coast, despite the presence or threat of red tide. In addition, the governor also directed $900,000 in grants to Lee County to clean up impacts related to red tide.
“I feel that if we don’t do something so simple like this , we’re not going to do anything,” said Ali. “Florida depends on tourism. And, who is going to come to the beach if it isn’t nice?
“And, the animals. I can’t watch another video of an animal being pulled out of the water” after dying from being in contact with red tide. “It’s sickening.”
Gulfport Councilmember Paul Ray also participated.
“Look what’s happening with 66 tons worth of dead fish being taken from of Sarasota County beaches in 10 days” because of red tide, said Ray. “That’s insane. It has to stop.”
About the large turnout at Gulfport beach, Ray said, “This is great. I’m very proud of Gulfport when I see this kind of thing happen. We reached from the Casino almost all the way to the walkway by the Recreation Center.”
Due to safety factors relating to the weather, Reisner was in favor of Sunday’s participants making their point then ending the show of group support a few minutes early so individuals would have the option of seeking the safety of shade from the sun under nearby trees and pavilions.
“I know the goal was to stand for 15 minutes, but we did what we needed to do for why we all came together,” said Reisner. “The turnout was amazing. That is Gulfport caring about the water.”
At least one participant came from as far away as Port Charlotte to be in Gulfport. “I go to Venice Beach and red tide has been really bad,” said Tracy Brown.
Brown came to Gulfport with Ali Samona of Sarasota to participate in the movement because red tide at the beaches in their areas make it hard for them to breathe.
“I’ve lived in Sarasota for 11 years and this is the worst red tide ever,” said Samona. “It’s sad.”
The out-of-town pair also wanted to enjoy the beach at Pass-a-Grille afterward.
Brown summed up the red tide situation by saying, “I’m hoping it can be improved.”
Red Tide Resources
To monitor the status of red tide in Florida on your own, visit these resources regularly:
• Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – red tide status data for the entire state: myfwc.com/redtidestatus
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – red tide status in the southwest part of Florida: tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/hab/gomx_condition.html?region=swfl.
• Mote Marine Laboratory of Sarasota – daily beach conditions for the southwest and panhandle regions of Florida: visitbeaches.org or call 941-BEACHES (941-232-2437).