ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Manatee County’s public beaches on Anna Maria Island are closed until further notice as of Friday, March 20.
The beach closures are a precautionary measure being taken because of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
On Thursday, March 19, Manatee County issued a press release that said, “County and municipal officials today announced that the beaches of Anna Maria Island will close tomorrow, March 20, at 6 a.m.”
“Resort guests, those who live on the Island and those who can find a legal public parking space outside of those areas that are closed will still have access to the beach at this time. We still want you to keep the six-foot distance and no groups larger than 10.” – Lt. John Cosby, BBPD
The press release also said, “Manatee County lifeguards will remain on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily to ensure the safety of those who disregard the closure. A double red flag indicating no swimming will fly from lifeguard stands.”
The county-owned parking lots at Coquina Beach and Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach closed Friday morning as announced. So did the parking lot at Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach. The gates at Coquina Beach and Manatee Beach are locked and signs affixed to the gates say, “Beach closed.”
The ungated Cortez Beach parking areas along Gulf Drive South are closed and blocked by barricades, plastic tape and “Beach closed” signs.
Thursday afternoon, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer issued a press release in response to the county’s announcement.
“The Holmes Beach Police Department and Code Compliance Department are enforcing this policy by eliminating public parking. We will continue to proactively patrol the beach to be sure our residents and guests are following the guidance of social distancing. Many additional parking areas will be changed to no parking zones. The enforcement guidelines will change based on the daily observations,” according to Tokajer’s press release.
Lt. John Cosby, of the Bradenton Beach Police Department, said, “Resort guests, those who live on the Island and those who can find a legal public parking space outside of those areas that are closed will still have access to the beach at this time. We still want you to keep the six-foot distance and no groups larger than 10.”
Cosby and Tokajer said they had no plans to close the street-end beach accesses.
On Friday morning, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy issued an email addressing the city of Anna Maria’s beach closures.
“Although our beaches remain closed to the general public, they are open to residents and their guests while practicing safe social distancing. There are sheriff deputies as well as city and county code enforcement officers posted at many beach access points to enforce and clarify this position,” according to Murphy’s email.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells addressed the beach closures during a county press conference Friday afternoon.
“First and foremost, I want to assure the citizens of Manatee County that we are not out on the beaches trying to arrest people who do show up there and maybe have not received the message. We are asking for voluntary compliance. We are not there trying to incarcerate people for walking on the beach. That is not the goal,” Wells said.
When asked for further clarification on the extent of the beach closures, Manatee County Information Outreach Manager Nick Azzara said, “In the announcement we sent yesterday, when we closed the beaches, we tried to make clear that this was largely a self-policing exercise and that we were relying on our residents and visitors to make a good faith effort in heeding those warnings. We’re asking people to avoid the beaches.”
Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Saur said there were no plans to close the county boat ramps.
Tour of the beaches
The Sun made a tour of the Island beaches on Friday.
At Coquina Beach late Friday morning, two officers and two vehicles from the Bradenton Beach Police Department were stationed at the main entrance where the gate was open so the free Island trolley could continue making its regular stops.
The beach concession stand was closed and there were only two people walking the shoreline of the otherwise empty beach.
Across the street, the North and South Coquina boat ramps were open to boaters. Manatee Beach Patrol personnel were stationed at the entrances to both boat ramp parking lots and they turned away those who sought to park there for non-boating purposes.
To the north along Cortez Beach, there were people on the beach, but not in large numbers.
Slightly north of that, there were people on the beach between the Moose Lodge and the BeachHouse restaurant, some in the water.
At approximately 3:45 p.m., there were fewer than a dozen people at Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach and the central part of the beach was empty. The beach areas south of Manatee Beach were much busier.
Because of the executive order that Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Friday afternoon limiting Florida restaurants to takeout service only, the tiki bar was already closed. The AMI Beach Café and gift shop closed later that day and remains closed until further notice.
Two blocks north of Manatee Beach, the 45th Street beach access was open as usual. There were people on the beach, but not in large numbers. The beach areas north of the 45th Street beach access were much busier.
Those entering the city of Anna Maria at the north end of the Island are now greeted by a digital sign that says, “Beaches closed.” A similar sign stands near the new City Pier.
The Bayfront Park parking lot is closed and blocked by “Beach closed” signs and plastic tape.
There are two new mounted “Beach closed” signs at the entrance to the North Bay Boulevard beach access that leads to Bean Point.
Murphy told The Sun he plans to add additional signs that say, “Residents only.” He said city residents may be asked to provide identification and rental guests may be asked to show proof of rental when accessing Anna Maria’s beaches.
Vacationing Wisconsin residents Mary and Ralph Cornell were parking their bikes by the dune walkover before taking a walk on the Bean Point beach.
Regarding the beach closings, Mary Cornell said, “I think it’s the wise thing to do. They’re just trying to keep the number of people down, but it allows the local residents and people like us who stay for a long period of time to walk the beach. We don’t gather in big groups. We just want to be able to see the beach and the sunsets. You have great sunsets here and we really don’t want to miss those.”
There were about 20 people on that stretch of the Bean Point beach, including a few families.
Just after sunset, there were still many cars parked at the Palma Sola Causeway on Manatee Avenue despite the presence of several “Beach closed” signs.
At 10:30 Saturday morning, an occupied police car from the Bradenton Police Department was parked at the east end of the non-barricaded causeway parking area. There was no one on the beach and no other cars parked on either side of the causeway.
When contacted Saturday afternoon, Lt. Cosby said everything was going fine and they had not had any problems.