The oil from BP’s drilling disaster is still spewing almost 400 miles to the northwest of Anna Maria Island, but it still has not reached our beautiful white beaches. Our feeling of appreciation for these beaches has been heightened as we think the unthinkable: that our abundant wildlife and beautiful clear water and white sand beaches could be seriously harmed by the catastrophe that is doing so much harm to the environment north of us.
Signs that islanders cherish our special beaches are apparent as the holiday weekend approaches here. In particular, there is a new group in Anna Maria called NEMO (North End Merchants Organization), which is planning an extensive trash clean up on July 5, after the anticipated dumping of trash on the beaches by thoughtless visitors. Volunteers will meet at the Roser Community Church, at Ginny’s and Jane’s at the Old IGA, and at Crosspointe Fellowship Church at the south border of the city of Anna Maria. Each group will focus on a particular stretch of beach within Anna Maria.
In addition to this organized effort, there likely will be many individual volunteers who just naturally take it upon themselves to walk the beach with large garbage bags after the fourth, picking up the debris and litter. In past years, members of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch have been particularly generous in performing this task, not only after the holiday, but in the course of their activities through the entire sea turtle nesting season. Turtles and birds can be badly injured or die from ingesting plastic, or from becoming tangled in it.
It’s not only trash that threatens wildlife on our beach during the Fourth of July festivities. Nesting birds and sea turtles are startled and disturbed by loud sounds and bright flashes of light. This is why environmentally conscious locals hope that, instead of setting off their own illegal fireworks, the public will take advantage of the well-organized professional fireworks displays that will be presented at the Chiles Group’s Sand Bar and Beach House restaurants.
A demonstration of love for our clean, white beach took place on Saturday, June 26, at noon, when people joined a national demonstration against offshore oil drilling by joining hands on the beach. Petitions were signed calling for a legislative ban of offshore drilling in Florida waters.
Meanwhile, locals mourned the imminent transfer of their much-loved local public beach concessions to United Parks Service. Under the new ownership, which begins on July 21, the restaurant and shop facilities at Manatee Public Beach will receive a “make over” and capital “improvements” … despite the fact that improvements were made not too long ago, and the current facility has satisfied many happy customers for years. The fact is, locals do not want their simple beach facility turned into a slick operation. It seems the decisions makers in Manatee County have put money before their obligation to serve their constituents’ wishes, as they accepted UPS because it offered the county the highest compensation plan and lots of fancy touches such as a roaming beach cart with refreshments.
All this goes to show there’s more than one way to damage a near-perfect beach experience. The modernization of the island’s beloved beach restaurant is a done deal. Let’s hope the bigger threat of oil on our beaches is not a done deal, and that the Obama administration finally figures out how to speed up a successful end to this disaster.
Meanwhile, there is every reason to think this coming July Fourth weekend on Anna Maria Island will be as good as it gets.