Sanibel Island business revitalized, now free of red tide

Reporter: Anika Henanger
Published: Updated:
Photo by WINK News.

For the first time in more than a year, the entire state has been red tide free for at least a week. Sanibel Island was heavily affected during summer 2018, as dead animals lined its beaches. The island suffered more than $46 million in losses.

Residents and visitors told WINK News business is booming now that the beaches are clear Friday.

“We couldn’t find a place to park,” said Roger Booth, who was visiting from Canada.

With the business back so is the traffic on the island, but people are happy to have it if it means keeping their jobs and feeding their families.

GPS warns Sanibel is crowded, and it’s not easy to find a place to park with big crowds.

“We have a secret parking spot, so we’re not telling you where that is,” Elmira Hill said.

Visitors like Booth said traffic won’t stop them, but red tide last year did.

“Stopped us from even going on the beach,” Booth said. “It was kind of choking. It burned your throat and the smell. It was not good.”

Sanibel Island Mayor Kevin Ruane released a statement Friday that reported the previous losses on the island due to red tide. Cancellation rates on the island were at nearly 80 percent, and 850,000 pounds of dead marine life swept the beaches.

“News about red tide travels a long way north, and we ask people before we come down what they experience,” Booth said.

Ruane said ‘sad images’ cost nearly $47 million in revenue from July to December in 2018. So, he’s asking for people to raise their voices about Lake Okeechobee releases to stop this from happening again.

“It’s very important to keep those initiatives going,” Booth said. “Otherwise, people they’ll hear it, and they won’t come.”

Shop owners like Joey Almeida said Sanibel is already seeing an uptick since the red tide has gone away.

“There was a lot of momentum in the negative to start with and now it’s reverberated to that positive,” Almeida said. “People who may have missed trips during the red tide are rescheduling.”

Clear water and high temperatures are a welcome surprise after a devastating year. Almeida said he is extending his store hours because of all the customers he is receiving. However, some shop owners are remaining cautious and have not hired people back yet.

“The red tide made us realize that more than what we’re used to in the offseason how important is that people come and visit,” Almeida said.

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