ST. PETE BEACH – Labor Day weekend was damp here, but far from dirty or disgusting in that red-tide sort of way.
Along Pass-A-Grille’s beach, not only did red tide not come ashore, but the ongoing perceived threat of it annoyed some beach goers and businesses. On Monday morning the beach was pristine and air quality, no doubt bolstered by a brisk wind from the east that fought against the Gulf’s algae bloom, was stellar.
Not a dead fish was in view and not a cough could be heard.
“Everything you’ve seen online has not been helpful at all,” Amanda Jaradat, a part-time resident of the area who splits time in Nashville, said as she walked a beach access. “In fact, it’s been misleading. The website we watched (via the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission) only shows three colors (yellow, orange and, most severely, red) and now that it’s red here it gives the impression that things are as bad as the other areas that truly are bad.
“I mean, what red tide? This is silly,” Jaradat said.
Last week for the first time, the FWC website reported that a red-tide bloom discovered 10 miles off the Pinellas County coast – specifically straight out from Pass-A-Grille – had entered its red-color designation. That means conditions had reached high concentrations of bacteria as far as the commission was concerned.
Counties to the south have been plagued by the same designation for weeks, but contrary to Pinellas have suffered massive dead-fish wash-ups and diminished air quality.
Juliann Savatt, a regular visitor from Milton, Pennsylvania, said she had checked the Pass-A-Grille Facebook page for weeks leading up to her visit with her husband, Tim. It was always a good report, she said, but she still worried.
“We were going to come regardless. Nothing was stopping us,” she said as she and Tim read books with their toes in the Gulf. “Now that we’re here, we are very relieved. Not only is it at least equally beautiful as before, I’ll say I’ve never seen the water this clear.
“There was nothing to worry about.”
Thus far, the ongoing reports predicting a red-tide landing that has yet to surface has had ill effects beyond the shores, some say.
“Has it hurt us? Very much so,” Maggie Caruso, co-owner of the Havana Inn on Gulfway Boulevard, said on Monday afternoon. “We did have the influx of people coming from the south (in recent weeks), but then they said Fort De Soto and Pass-A-Grille were affected. I had most rooms booked but the ones left to fill ended up staying empty. Things were sensationalized, by both the news media and social media.”
Added Christiane Vinet, Caruso’s desk clerk, “I got frustrated and tired seeing the warnings. We have received calls constantly. Usually, all of our rooms are sold out this weekend.
“This should not have happened. The beach is fine.”
Byron Bates, general manager of the nearby Sea Critters Café on Pass-A-Grille Way, sympathized with the hoteliers.
“I heard they are not where they’d like to be, and I’m sure some people were scared away by the reports,” he said.
How was his weekend business?
“We are actually up from last year, but still not where we expected to be,” he said. “For us, the inclement weather probably made us suffer the most.”
The notion that the red tide is out there in the Gulf didn’t stop Indian Rocks Beach resident Tom Cipolla from taking a scheduled boat trip off Pass-A-Grille to Shell Island with his friends.
“I’ve been through several red tides so I’m not really worried what’s out there. It’s nature,” he said. “This has been extreme this time around seeing all the dead fish (to the south), but it will be fine. It will pass.”
Caruso echoed the idea that red tide is part of life here and laments the increased concern.
“Usually, people tell you they get a tickle or a cough and they move on,” she said. “This time, it’s different. You go online or turn on the TV, and it’s the first thing you see. Everyone talks about it. Yet, it’s not here.”