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Mote seeks to expand beach reporting system
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ST. PETE BEACH – If all goes as hoped, a successful beach conditions reporting system will soon be expanded to Pinellas County.

Tracy Fanara, program manager for environmental health at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, told members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council June 28 that the digital-based system is up and running, providing information on 31 beaches in four southwest Florida counties.

The purpose of the program, Fanara said, is to provide residents and visitors with updated information on red tide conditions, along with air temperature, water temperature, wind speed and direction, the existence of dead fish, jellyfish, respiratory irritation and rip currents, if any; crowd conditions, surf conditions and wave height. There is also a link to a site for more information about red tide.

The information is available at www.v­isitb­eache­s.org and is also available using a smartphone app (Beach Conditions Reporting System). There also are links on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration websites.

Information is uploaded by volunteers twice a day, at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., using a cell phone app.

“What we want to do is notify people as much as possible so they can go to a beach maybe a couple of miles away and have a positive experience and then in a couple of days go back to the beach that they originally wanted to visit,” said Fanara. “To do that, we developed a beach conditions reporting system.”

The system was originally launched in 2006 and expanded in 2015 when Fanara came on board at Mote.

“We wanted to expand the BCRS beyond using it for red tide conditions,” Fanara said. “So we put out a survey to see what kind of things people wanted to see.”

That’s when it was decided to add the current menu of information, which is used by viewers across the world.

Thanks to a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, Fanara said her goal now is to add the Pinellas beaches to the website, which she said has been in high demand.

Volunteers who report the information can be lifeguards, vendors or beach residents.

To volunteer or to get additional information, go to the contact link at www.v­isitb­eache­s.org or call Mote at 941-232-2437.

In other action:

• Indian Shores Mayor Patrick Sorrano expressed frustration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ policy to get beach residents to sign off on easement requests for beach renourishment to go forward. “Right now, it seems like we’re frozen and don’t have a plan,” Sorrano said, in relation to getting all residents to sign off on the easement request. The problem is that all the people who signed off on the easement and will not be getting renourishment because of the Corps’ rules. Unless residents in a block area sign off on the easement request, 1,500-foot segments will not receive sand. The next beach nourishment project is planned later this year and will go out to bid this month, said Pinellas County Coastal Manager John Bishop, who also noted that the county is sending out letters to individual property owners along the beaches in an effort to get them to sign the easement requests. In the past, the information has been relayed unsuccessfully to condo associations. The next renourishment will include Sand Key south to Indian Shores in most areas. If the bids come in low enough, Sunshine and Sunset beaches in Treasure Island, as well as Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach, will be included.

• Indian Rocks Beach Mayor R.B. Johnson reported plans are underway to construct a 32-unit townhome project on an empty lot in IRB on Gulf Boulevard between 24th and 26th avenues.

• Sorrano said Indian Shores will break ground July 17 on a $1.4 million utility undergrounding project along the east side of Gulf Boulevard.
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