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Martin County tourism staying transparent during algae alert

Posted: 8:19 AM, Jul 31, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-01 16:02:23Z

The toxic algae alert is making national headlines.

NBC News crews visited Southwest Florida, where blue green algae has filled the waterways. It's the same issue many parts of the Treasure Coast are dealing with right now.

That kind of national attention is something the tourism department for Martin County and the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce must navigate.

“We’re trying to showcase all of the things you can do but the misperception is -- everything is shut down," said Nerissa Okiye, tourism and marketing manager for Martin County.

Okiye said her department is taking lessons learned from the 2016 crisis and applying it to this year. 

So far, they’ve received a few messages and emails concerns from potential tourists, who are worried about what they’re seeing on social media when it comes to algae. Some of them have already booked their trips.

“I think some of the misconceptions is that the area is blanketed in algae or that there’s no access to water," she said. 

Okiye said transparency is key.

“While you definitely don’t want to be taking part in some activities right now, a lot of the things tourists typically do are not impacted by our water conditions.”

The bureau has ramped up its website -- www.protectourparadise.com -- to stay transparent with tourists.

They have recently launched the “Here and Now" campaign, which features photos posted by tourists themselves -- only within the last five days.

“It’s all user generated content that’s been taken within a five-day period," said Okiye. “So, it’s not the tourism bureau, showing a pretty picture that may be from a month ago, two months ago. It’s all very relevant content."

The site also has a scrolling marquee on the top with the latest water conditions. Tourists can click for answers on common toxic algae questions, find contact numbers and emails, and look through links to water quality reports.

"People are still able to go off shore fishing," said Okiye. "All of our beaches have remained open. We haven’t had any beach closures like we did in 2016, which is very good.”

Joe Catrambone with the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce received an email from a potential tourist who had planned a fishing charter trip to Stuart but decided to go to New Smyrna instead. He shared his response with WPTV.

"Unfortunately, we are once again threatened with the possibility of a recurring disastrous  algae bloom that plagued us in 2016. It is nowhere near those proportions. While our estuary is inundated with freshwater due to releases from the Lake we are still open for business. Business in our hotels and restaurants is still vibrant, off shore fishing is as good as it's ever been. Granted kayaking and paddle boarding is not, however our beaches are open," Catrmbone said in a response to the tourist. "I certainly can understand your frustration, can you imagine ours? We've been on a mission to fix the problem for decades, relying on the Feds to get things done, especially funding is nearly impossible. Having said that, I'm pleased to say we are getting closer, there is a plan in place and actions occur daily to complete the process."

Martin County tourism officials are taking any calls or emails of concern from people right now. If you would like to contact them, click here.

“It’s a very delicate line. We want people to come, but we want to make sure we’re not giving them false information and false experience when they come down," said Okiye.