Thursday, February 16, 2006

Siesta Key Basks in 80 degree February Weather

On Valentine's Day we had the coldest weather of the season here on the west coast of Florida. I woke up to ice on my car windshield and frost on the front lawn in St. Petersburg. But by the following day, I found myself on Siesta Key beach in such a crowd you'd think it was late April!

siesta beach in february photo.jpg

In shorts and a t-shirt I walked the beach for hours down on Turtle Beach, exploring the shifting sands just north of Midnight Pass. The hurricane damage to the sea oats at Turtle Beach has still not been repaired--just piles of sand by the road. But as for the rest of Siesta Key, hurricanes are far from anyone's mind as we all bask in the best beach weather possible in February.

Siesta Beach is the best of all beaches on the lower west coast of Florida, and this week is the best of all weeks to be at the beach.

David McRee -- Beachhunter

Friday, February 10, 2006

Florida Red Tide Survey Shows Improvements Needed

The year 2005 will be remembered by many who visited Florida's Gulf Coast beaches as having one of the worst occurrences of red tide in recent memory. Beaches from St. Petersburg all the way to Marco Island were affected, some more than others. Publicity was fairly widespread, despite the reluctance of tourism officials to spread the word.

For those who don't know, red tide is a natural bloom of algae in the bay and Gulf waters that discolors the water and can cause fish to die by the millions. It also releases toxins into the air that can cause respiratory irritation to humans.

Even though red tide is a naturally occurring organism, it is usually present in the waters in very small numbers. Sometimes, for unknown reasons, it multiplies in an out-of-control way, creating deadly conditions for marine life, and unpleasant effects for humans. In 2005, massive kills of marine life occurred. Among the casualties were fish, crabs, rays, sharks, manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles. The stench and dead fish kept visitors and locals away from the beaches for months.

By the Fall season of 2005, red tide seems to have gone away, and the beaches are getting back to normal.

During the summer months I posted a survey on my website to find out how the red tide affected people who were planning to go to the beach. It is not a scientific survey since the respondents were self-selected, but it is revealing. Here are the questions and the results:

Has red tide kept you away from Florida Gulf beaches?
25% said NO, they will go to the beach anyway.
35% said it negatively affected their vacation.
40% said they have stayed away from the Gulf beaches.

Has news of red tide caused you to change upcoming vacation plans?
16% said they were not planning a beach vacation.
28% said they would still come to the beach.
56% said they changed their vaction plans because of red tide.

Should Florida do a better job of telling visitors when red tide conditions are present?
80% said that Florida should do a better job.
20% said that Florida does a good job of keeping visitors informed.

Who bears the responsibility to inform visitors about red tide conditions?
12% said State and local governments bear the responsibility.
2% said beachfront resorts/hotels and other beach facilities bear the responsibility.
5% said newspapers, TV, and other media bear the responsibility.
81% said both governments and beachfront resorts/hotels bear the responsibility.

Do you need more precise and timely information on which beaches are being affected by red tide?
88% said yes.
12% said no, that they have enough information.

Where do you live?
31% of respondents live within a one hour drive of the Florida Gulf beaches.
14% live in Florida, more than a one hour drive from the Gulf beaches.
50% live in the United States, in a state other than Florida.
5% live in a country other than the United States of America.

The respondents to the survey are people who were actively searching the internet for information about Florida beaches.

The survey clearly indicates that many visitors do not want to visit beaches affected by red tide. We, as Florida businesses that benefit from tourism, should put ourselves in their shoes. What if it were our beach vacation that was ruined by dead fish and coughing and burning eyes? How would we feel toward the hotel owner who booked a room for us knowing that we would be unable to enjoy the beach? What kind of goodwill does that create? What kind of repeat business does that generate?

There needs to be a central clearinghouse for information on red tide, and a way to get the information into the hands of visitors and residents. In this day of instant information reporting via the internet, how hard can that be?


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Take the Day Off

A few days ago I took a short drive to Treasure Island after working out at the gym. I went straight to Sunset Beach at the south end of the island. The visitors are here, traffic is picking up, and the weather has been unusually warm for January. This particular day the temperature was in the mid 70's with a nice breeze from the southeast.

The beach was filled with retirees in the middle of the afternoon. One man in his eighties stopped me on the boardwalk for a chat. He was obviously wondering what a 45 year old able-bodied man like me was doing on the beach in the middle of a workday. Was I a tourist? No, I told him, I live here. Just not working today.

This launched him into a monologue about how ones "working days" are the best days of one's life. Why, during his long career at the oil refinery, he HATED to miss a day at work. He couldn't understand why anyone would want to take a day off. One of his co-workers never missed a day on the job in 35 years. When he retired, he got a nice gold watch. (Something to really look forward to, no?)

He then worked his way into talking about the skyrocketing price of real estate on the island, obviously sorry that he hadn't purchased a little piece of beach real estate back in 1970 when his wife had suggested it...

walking on the beach photo.jpg

After using up 15 minutes of my time on the parking meter he tired of the one-way conversation and bid me adieu. I sauntered on down the beach, perfectly content to have a totally unproductive afternoon, generating no income whatsoever.

There is a time for work, and a time for play, and a time for doing nothing. Here's to those of us who know how to find a good balance, so as to not find ourselves old and full of regrets.