On Friday afternoon at the Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront in Melbourne, guests would rather sit by the pool than venture to the beach, where a toxic algae outbreak is causing red tide up and down Florida’s East Coast. Out-of-towers staying at the beachside hotel — just south of the Eau Gallie Causeway — lounged poolside and in the Jacuzzi, chitchatting and sipping cocktails. Leading up to the wooden deck to walk down to the beach, signs were posted warning guests of the health risks of swimming during the outbreak.
“Red tide warning,” the sign reads. Fortunately, the smell of dead fish — piles of which washed ashore along beaches in Brevard County this week — was absent at the Hilton tiki bar. A lone sunbather and an angler even were enjoying the beach down below. Still, some guests are understandably disappointed, said Ibraham Measher, general manager of the hotel. “They come to the beach to enjoy the water and the sand, and, obviously, they can’t,” he said. “We’ve seen some negative impact,” Ibraham said. “Obviously, people are probably staying away. We’ve seen a drop in our restaurant, especially at the pool bar, but also some cancellations.”
Clean up efforts continue from Satellite Beach to Melbourne Beach on Thursday, as red tide leaves countless thousands of dead fish along the beaches. Tim Shortt, FLORIDA TODAY Space Coast tourism officials are closely monitoring the impact of red tide on their industry.
The Space Coast Office of Tourism has prepared a one-page fact sheet with “helpful information about red tide” that it is distributing to local hotels. The fact sheet describes what red tide is; indicates its potential health hazards for humans and pets; and suggests to tourists other things they can do on the Space Coast besides visiting the beach.
Among the suggestions: the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the Brevard Zoo in Viera, the Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures in Cocoa Beach, airboat rides, and various shopping and dining areas.
Tom Williamson, president of the Cocoa Beach Area Hotel and Lodging Association and vice chair of the Brevard County Tourist Development Council, said his discussions with local hoteliers indicate that the initial impact has varied from hotel to hotel.
Williamson, a partner and general manager with Ocean Partners Associates, said the four Cocoa Beach hotels in his group have seen minimal cancellations.
But Debra Green, general manager of the International Palms Resort in Cocoa Beach, said her hotel had a number of last-minute cancellations last weekend that she believes primarily was related to red tide concerns. in all, about 50 total nights of hotel room rentals were canceled, Green said.
Ashley Waite, manager of Coconuts on the Beach, a popular restaurant and outdoor bar a stone’s throw from Cocoa Beach, said there were a few days — when the red tide was at its worst — that you could sense the tide’s effects in the air. A common irritation from red tide is respiratory irritation.
But, overall, business has been steady, she said.
“We were relieved,” Waite said, thinking back to past outbreaks.
Other businesses that offer non-beach fun actually may be seeing more business due to the red tide occurrence.
Andrea Hill, marketing and communications director for the Brevard Zoo, said the zoo usually sees an uptick in attendance when it’s too hot or too cold to go to the beach — or when there are other issues, as in this case.
“Sometimes, in these instances, we do better,” Hill said.
Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said the county implemented a public outreach and awareness program that included the posting of notices at all of its beach access areas, beachside parks and lifeguard towers to warn beachgoers of red tide conditions and potential health risks.
“While there may be times throughout the day some beach areas are less populated than normal or, worse, littered with dead fish and keeping beachgoers away, we can’t provide any specific numbers that beachgoers might have headed to other beach areas in the county or gone to other places until the conditions slack off,” Walker said.
“Red tide is patchy, so while it might be bad in one area at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, it might not be bad at all in that area at 4 p.m. that very same Tuesday. Every day, it seems, there are some areas of the beach that have been hit harder than others, but then the current changes and the winds shift and then it’s like there was never an issue at all.”
Walker said that while some other Florida counties have closed beaches as a result of red tide, “Brevard County chose not to close our public beaches, knowing that conditions change on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis, and that others aren’t as impacted by the effects of red tide as others.”
“We felt it was the right choice to leave our beaches open, but to post notices to people that red tide conditions may be present, here’s what to look for, and here’s what we recommend if you experience any health conditions that might result from red tide,” Walker said.
Caroline Glenn is the Education Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.