Red tide is affecting Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches, and possibly costing you some bookings, but we have a few suggestions for your clients to explore beyond the beach. Red tide is a higher than normal concentration of naturally occurring, microscopic algae called karenia brevis, which is often referred to simply as k. brevis. According to the Visit Sarasota website, this algae produces brevetoxins that can kill marine animals and be harmful to humans.

Red tides form many miles offshore, and the majority of the time cause no impact to humans. However, when red tides travel inshore, as they have this year, they can cause respiratory irritation among beach-goers. Some swimmers can experience skin irritation and rashes after swimming in waters with severe red tide; some also report eye irritation, according to the Sarasota County website.

Florida is a wonderful destination and while it’s known for its beautiful beaches, there are lots of other things to see and do,” says Kathy Burk, owner of Incredible Vacations by Kathy, an Independent Agency in the Avoya Network

While vacation-goer Patti Estevez Franyie was staying in Sanibel with her family in late July she said she experienced some itchy throat, and says that just about everyone in her group was coughing, but the red tide situation had not gotten too bad by that point. However, she describes the last three days of her trip as “a massacre on the beach.”

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Dead fish on the shores of Sanibel due to the current Red Tide situation. (Photo courtesy of Patti Estevez Franyie.)

The current red tide situation has washed dead fish ashore, and according to the Florida Department of Health, during these conditions it is advised that beach-goers avoid swimming in the water where dead fish are present.

“There has been a lot of dead sea life on the beaches this past week,” says HJ Sauer, Dream Vacations franchise owner and vacation specialist based in Sarasota, Florida. “The county is cleaning them up. The fish kill that comes from red tide and is deposited on beaches are impacted by the direction and strength of our offshore winds. This past week the winds were from the west so that pushed a lot of dead fish onto the beach.”

Estevez Franyie says, “We got very lucky that we spent half our vacation with a pretty clean beach and water. However, this is our yearly family reunion/vacation in Sanibel, and by the second week sea slugs were coming up all over. It was gross and within a day it smelled of rotting fish. The sea slugs came first in huge piles. By Wednesday of the second week, puffer fish and horseshoe crabs littered the shore. And by Thursday, the smell was unbearable. I went for a walk on the beach Thursday morning and walked about three miles and more fish were all over the beach—drums, small grouper, crabs, silver fish floating in the water, and a dead adult sea turtle. It was devastating to see. We spent that day in the pool with the kids.”

A spokesperson from The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel reported that, “The Lee County Parks & Recreation staff has been cleaning county beaches, parks and boat ramps affected by the red tide fish kill. A debris removal contractor has also been hired to assist in cleaning the beaches.”

Adding that, “As for blue-green algae, the county is testing several new technologies in its efforts to remove and destroy the organisms. We are implementing a pilot program to remove the blue-green algae from the most impacted areas. The county has secured $700,000 from the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Management Grant Program through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This grant will fund the removal, processing and disposal of harmful algae blooms from select test sites in unincorporated Lee County and affected municipalities (most notably Cape Coral).”

Sauer adds that, “The county [Sarasota] is very reactive to this and while they had dead fish on the beach, it took just a day or so for the county to initiate a cleanup plan. If another beach incident arises and the winds push more fish on shore there would be several days that would not be ‘picturesque’ for sure. However, using our beach guide you can drive or Uber to another beach where the issue is less pronounced or greatly reduced.”

Siesta Key
Sunset views of Siesta Key. (Photo courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.)

Keep Your Clients Informed
Now, you might be wondering what you should do if you have travelers heading to a Florida Gulf Coast beach for vacation.

“There have been clients who have called upon hearing reports of red tide in the area,” says Sauer. Those of us living on the Gulf Coast are used to red tide to some degree most seasons. Red tides can last as little as a few weeks or longer than a year, although longer instances of red tide are rare.

“We suggest travelers monitor beach conditions to make informed decisions on whether to visit our area,” says a spokesperson from The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel. “We also recommend that they keep in touch with their hotel or lodging contact as this is the best source for current conditions at the destination.”

“Hotels do not alter their cancellation policy for red tide, but they should provide local conditions on their beach if called,” says Sauer.

The spokesperson from The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel adds that, “We are focused on providing guests with up-to-date and accurate information about beach conditions, so we send them to two primary links—Mote’s Beach Conditions Reporting System and the Florida Department of Health’s Florida Healthy Beaches Program.”

Matlacha
Travelers can explore the artsy Matlacha area. (Photo courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.)

Fun Beyond the Beach
If the beach is a no-go, there is still much to draw your clients to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“Florida is a wonderful destination and while it’s known for its beautiful beaches, there are lots of other things to see and do,” says Kathy Burk, owner of Incredible Vacations by Kathy, an independent agency in the Avoya Network. “We are located in Sarasota County, directly on the Gulf of Mexico, and just a short drive from the vibrant Sarasota area. A little south, Venice has a great downtown atmosphere, arts center, theater, and is a unique historical Florida vacation destination. Depending on where in Florida travelers were heading, there are some great activities to consider for a memorable vacation.”

sarasota
Visitors can explore Young Venice. (Photo courtesy of Visit Sarasota.)

Estevez Franyie says that, “Overall, our vacation was great because we were together. But the family mostly enjoys being together on the beach until the sun goes down. That didn’t happen as much this year because it was just impossible.” However, despite not being able to enjoy the beach, the family group made the best out of their trip. They “went to the movies, out to lunch and dinner, played cards inside, and went out for bike rides.”

The spokesperson for The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel says that, “each Monday, the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau provides our industry partners with a look at events happening on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.” For more information on what’s happening during your client’s visit, sign up for the newsletter updates here.

For those heading to the Fort Myers and Sanibel area, suggest those clients who are up for some outdoor fun visit Caloosahatchee Regional Park, which is made of pine flatwoods and oak hammocks and offers 20 miles of biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails. Another option is the Six Miles Cypress Slough Preserve, a 2,500-acre wetland where guests can walk along the 1.2-mile boardwalk to observe the local residents—gopher tortoise, alligators, and more than 400 types of birds. A visit to Matlacha brings travelers to a creative community filled with eclectic art exhibits such as the Wild Child Art Gallery and the Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens. Guests can enjoy strolling the streets of this Instagrammable artist hub lined with brightly colored paintings and sculptures. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge features over 25 miles of bike trails across Sanibel Island; and the Everglades Wonder Garden in Bonita Springs offers guests a yoga with the flamingos class where guests can do a downward dog alongside native Florida flamingos—the class is $10 and starts before the park opens to the public to offer yogis a peaceful atmosphere. Another interesting visit is the Mound Key Archaeological State Park (only accessible by boat), which has an eco-history that dates back 2,000 years and features the recently renovated Mound House on Estero Island, an active archaeological dig site, and hosts a museum built on the former home of the ancient Calusa Indians.

Sanibel
Antique cars on display at Edison & Ford Winter Estates. (Photo courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.)

The Edison & Ford Winter Estates gives them the opportunity to stroll back in time through the winter homes of the iconic inventors Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. The property is filled with former inventions and antique cars, and features a 20-acre botanical garden that was designed by Edison for scientific study. Over in downtown Fort Myers, The Shell Factory is a haven for all things quirky, and is the largest retailer of seashells in the world. Here, guests can take in unusual exhibits such as the year-round Christmas House, and the botanical garden with over 400 exotic animals.

Big Blue brewery
Stop for a beer at the Big Blue Brewery. (Photo courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.)

And, if enjoying a cold beer is what your clients are seeking, suggest the Brewery Trail, which features over 33 locally owned breweries and distilleries.

Travelers heading to Sarasota also have plenty of offerings beyond the beach. “What is great in Sarasota is that there is so much to do beyond the beaches. From the state-of-the-art museums of Florida such as The Ringling, Selby Gardens, and two state parks, to name a few, there is still plenty to experience in Sarasota County,” says Lynn Hobeck Bates, communications manager for Visit Sarasota.

“Near Sarasota there is the Mote Laboratory & Aquarium, which is also an operating research lab studying red tide,” says Burk.

“Being a resident of Sarasota I enjoy the many music and entertainment activities we have,” adds Sauer. “The Ca’ d’Zan (John and Mabel Ringling’s estate) is a great tour, as well as the scheduled circus performances we have due to our circus heritage. There is the Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary that has dozens of lions, tigers, and other animals.”

For those who are up for a quick road trip, Burk says, “Visitors of all ages can enjoy a trip to the Kennedy Space Center and for families there is always the option of Florida’s theme parks—Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Busch Gardens are just a few. Visitors in the Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg area can visit the Salvador Dali Museum, which offers the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Europe. Fort Lauderdale and Miami also offer a lot to do off the beaches, including Las Olas Avenue’s mecca for shopping and dining and Miami’s Brickell Avenue, and fantastic shopping at Bayside Marketplace and Brickell City Center. Miami is also home to many wonderful art museums, including Perez Art Museum, world-class dining and an active nightlife scene,” adds Burk.

For more information on Sarasota, go visitsarasota.com; for information on The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, visit fortmyers-sanibel.com. To keep up-to-date with the red tide conditions, visit the NOAA Forecast for Red Tide in Florida.

For more options on Florida stays, don’t miss an array of options here.