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Manatee County using drones to identify red tide debris off shore

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Posted at 5:33 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 17:49:26-04

MANATEE COUNTY., Fla.  — Red tide continues to pummel areas along our Tampa Bay area coastline, forcing counties to get creative when it comes to keeping our beaches clean.

In Manatee County, they say they haven't gotten hit as hard as other areas, and things are looking better, but still, they have had to battle algae and debris throughout the summer. So in order to do that, they're taking to the sky. Sending drones out over the water to identify the hardest-hit areas, in order to guide cleanup crews to the places they think that debris will end up.

“Our beaches are known throughout the world. They’re gorgeous. And we want to keep them that way,” said Lea Harper, Building and Energy Technology Section Manager, and a drone pilot for Manatee County.

But the sight and smell of dead fish are quick to send any visitor the other way. So Manatee County is working extra hard to keep any red tide debris from sitting on the sand.

“We’re getting the drone out over the water to see if we can identify any water discoloration such as, like this brownish, reddish color that is prevalent with red tide. Sometimes we’ll see foam associated with that. We look for biomass such as seagrasses, or fish,” said Harper.

And once they find a bloom, they pass the information along to the beach cleanup crew.

“'Hey, it looks like this may be coming your way by the afternoon, or once tide changes in the morning you’re gonna want to have some folks specifically in this area,'” said Harper.

It's been an ongoing effort for the county's drone team, and the cleanup crews, for nearly 6 weeks.

“The worst days that we had when we were down south on the islands was when we really saw just dark, murky water. It looked stormy almost," said Harper.

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But on the bright side, things are looking a lot more clear in Manatee County. Both from the FWC sample maps, and from the people cleaning things up on the ground.

“Each day we go out, we assess what needs to be done, we collect it and bring it back, dump it in one of our dumpsters, then do it again the next day,” said Liza Click, a beach maintenance supervisor for Manatee County.

Click says, for Manatee County, red tide hasn't hit quite as hard this year as it did in 2018, and she's hopeful it never will.

“I think it’s clear. We were slow the last week or so… just because there were still fish here and there, but it's starting to disappear and people are starting to come back out,” said Click.

While the efforts of the drone team and the cleanup crews don't eliminate the algae, it does make a beachgoers day a little more pleasant when the beaches are clean.

To check the red tide sample maps, click here.