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In the midst of what is believed to be Florida’s worst bout of red tide in at least a decade, hundreds of people gathered along the beach on Anna Maria Island on Sunday morning and stood hand-in-hand to bring awareness to the devastating situation.
The local demonstration was part of a statewide effort called “Hands Along the Water,” which included 35 different Florida beaches, according to the event’s Facebook page.
People were asked to join along the beach and lock hands at 10:15 a.m. for 15 minutes to send a message that they will not stand idly by as the water and wildlife continue to be ravaged by the algae bloom, as well as the toxic blue-green algae flowing from Lake Okeechobee.
At least 500 people showed up on Coquina Beach on Sunday morning.
Elizabeth Shore, a fifth-generation resident of Manatee County, organized the local event in less than a week and was stunned at the turnout.
“I feel like it really came together well for something that was done in such a short time,” Shore said. “I think a lot of people care about the community and I’m proud of every single person who came out here to support us today and everyone should be proud of themselves.”
Traveling north up the southwest coast of the state, red tide slammed into Manatee County last week and has stuck around ever since. There is no telling how long it will take to clear out.
Many residents wore masks during the event to try to protect themselves from the respiratory irritations that routinely come when the algae bloom is present. Crews have been cleaning up the beach ever since red tide arrived, so only a few dead fish were seen lying along the shore — but the awful stench and murky waters still remained.
Shore co-owns Bunny & Pirates Bazaar, at 12404 Cortez Road W., and said ever since red tide rolled in, the business has been hit hard.
“It’s like a ghost town.”
But Shore said putting together the event was about so much more than her business.
Her father, the late R.B. “Chips” Shore, was well-known in the community, having served as the county’s clerk of court from 1977 until his death in 2015.
It was him, Shore said, who inspired her to take action.
“This is the first thing I’ve ever organized but I care so much for this community just like he did,” she said. “He spent a lot of his life cleaning up the beaches. I know this is something he would care deeply about.”
Jan Martini said she went got out to the beach hours before the gathering, at 8 a.m., to help organizers. Martini moved to Bradenton 47 years ago and said she couldn’t remember ever seeing red tide as bad as it is now.
“I have seen red tides, that’s a normal occurrence, but nothing like this,” Martini said after the demonstration ended. “Not large animals like manatees, turtles, dolphins and whale sharks showing up dead. … Tis a catastrophe.”
Organizers stressed the event wasn’t about anything political nor was it a rally.
“We want to demand change for Florida because our wildlife and our beaches are important to us and I think everyone can agree on that,” Shore said. “Because standing together in numbers is the only way our voices are heard, and that’s what today was about — standing in unity and holding hands. And saying we’ve had enough and no matter what side of the aisle anyone is on, we are standing together as one.”
At the end, the group all raised their arms to the sky to show their appreciation, love and commitment to Florida’s waterways and wildlife.