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Red tide killing beach business

The perpetual red tide in the Gulf of Mexico is not only killing fish and other wildlife, it's killing tourism business.

"It's been bad news, and the bad part is it's been relentless. But this is reality," said Jim McCarthy of McCarthy's Inns on the Beach on Manasota Key.

"Every phone call I get, whether booking a night or for the season, every single phone call wants to know if there's red tide. We've had a lot of cancellations. A lot of people are reluctant to give deposits," McCarthy said.

Other inn, motel and hotel owners on Englewood Beach are suffering.

Ita DeSouza, owner of Island House on the Beach, also said people were calling in advance and asking about the red tide.

"They call a couple of days in advance to confirm. When I have to tell them the truth, then they cancel," DeSouza said.

"We're just getting cancellations every day. We haven't had a guest for the last two weeks. It's really bad for the business," he said.

DeSouza said this year was the worst he has seen in more than a decade owning his motel.

Fishermen, bathers and shell collectors are staying away.

"Canadian and English, the ones that fish and shell, they're not coming because we've had outbreaks of red tide," said Brett Stone, the owner of Beach Croft Motel, which is situated next to Charlotte County's Englewood Beach. "I have to call the county. I'm sure they're wondering why their bed tax is so low."

Cassie Bellamy, manager of the Sea Oats Beach Club, said because that establishment has only offered time-share accommodations the last 23 years, the red tide outbreak hadn't affected the club financially. But, she added, she has noticed that owners are not taking advantage of their investment.

When people do show up, Bellamy said, they complain of coughing, sniffling and "ugly dead fish."

The dead fish aren't always present, but the affects of red tide and its intensity come and go with the wind.

"This past weekend, we did have the red tide, dead fish on the beach smelling and people coughing," Bellamy said.

Good for vultures

D.J. Cutler, marketing director of Palm Island Resort on Palm Island, said red tide had not been particularly bad there until last weekend.

"Just last Friday, two guests left. One did have respiratory problems. We gladly give them back their money," Cutler said.

She said the resort may have lost some business, but she didn't notice a significant amount.

"It's been very odd. Manasota and Boca Grande have been affected badly, but for us, we haven't seen an awful lot. It's really been kind of mild," Cutler said.

Cutler said Palm Island Resort keeps plenty of information about red tide available for vacationers.

She said people perceive it as very dangerous, so they direct inquisitive guests to appropriate Web sites, such as the Mote Marine Laboratory Web site, and they provide pamphlets for them.

But for Englewood Beach, red tide is still a major nuisance.

"I'm trying to think of a good side," McCarthy said this week, and then paused. "It's good for the vultures."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site on Thursday, the forecast for the weekend had the red tide bloom continuing to stretch from Pinellas County to Collier County. Very low to moderate patches are expected in southern Sarasota and Charlotte counties throughout the weekend.

You can e-mail Rachel Alexander at:

By Rachel Alexander

Staff Writer

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