Tourism threatened in Martin County by blue-green algae blooms, tourism leaders making changes

Posted at 11:10 PM, Jun 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-28 04:49:32-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. -- Tourism leaders in Martin County are switching up their strategy to bring travelers to the Treasure Coast now that  many the waterways are covered in lime-green algae.

They are closely watching the impacts the algae may have on 4th of July holiday travel to the area by vacationers.

“When they’re seeing this, it puts a hesitancy. Do I want to go there?” said Nerissa Okiye, Marketing and Tourism Director for Martin County.

She’s also taking calls from people who booked their trips to Martin County months before the waterways turned green, “We’re getting calls now, ‘I'm coming down with my family, what do I do?”

In previous years, such as 2013, when algae threatened mainly the local rivers, the local economy took a major hit. Many businesses reported lost profits. Some even closed their doors.

But In 2013, tourism leaders could still attract travelers to the ocean.

Now, even the beaches in Martin County are closing because of the green, potentially toxic algae blooms.

“We had a whole campaign that said even though our river is in crisis and threatened, our beaches are healthy. Then this hit me and I'm like, wait a minute,” Okiye said.

Okiye says she is working to spotlight all of the fun things to do in Martin County that do not involve the water in any capacity.

That includes creating the website where residents can post pictures that promote the positive aspects of Martin County.

“Here’s arts and culture. Here’s a gallery. Here are the restaurants. Go deep sea fishing,” Okiye said.

Lifetime residents like Theresa Morris know the ebb and flow of tourism in the county. She says she is already seeing the impact of the latest algae crisis.

“I have noticed a decline in tourism and the slowing down of businesses, restaurants aren’t as busy,” Morris said.

Okiye is hopeful the 4th of July will still see plenty of business if people booked their trips months ago. She says the latest images of the algae spreading across the country, however, could have a ripple effect that grows in the months to come.

She also encourages people to shop locally to help sustain local businesses at risk.

Martin County has established a hotline for the public to obtain information on water conditions at local beaches.

Call 772-320-3112 to obtain daily information on beach conditions.

That information will be updated every morning after 8 A.M  by Martin County Ocean Rescue staff.

At this time, Ocean Rescue is flying double red flags at all four guarded beaches in Martin County: Hobe Sound, Bathtub Reef, Stuart and Jensen. Beachgoers are being advised to avoid contact with the water until further notice.