Toxic algae slime cost Rochelle Neumann's business more than $100,000 two years ago. Red tide may close it for good.
Neumann and her husband run Cortez Surf & Paddle in Cortez, Florida, a watersports rental and guided tour company. Just two years ago, they moved from Stuart, Florida, after the toxic algae slime that coated the waterways of the St. Lucie River killed their business there.
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"We were closed for almost six months," said Neumann. "There were signs up everywhere saying do not touch the water."
After two major algae events in 2013 and 2016 cost the Neumann's more than $100,000 in business, they picked up and moved to the other side of the state.
But now they are facing another major threat from a marathon red tide algae bloom. The blooms off Florida normally start in October and end in winter, but this one has lasted for nine months and been devastating for marine life.
The couple has already been dealing with the fallout from red tide for a few months. They got business from red tide-choked Fort Myers, Siesta Key and Sarasota. "We were getting business from those that lost it down South," she said. "Which wasn't a good sign for us."
Neumann said that two weeks ago people started telling them about red-stained waters choked full of dead fish. Now, all of their bookings during their busiest season have halted.
"I have no way of knowing if this is going to last two weeks or four more months," she says. "This may shut us down permanently."
The state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says that, "red tides can last as little as a few weeks or longer than a year."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott did activate Florida's Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program for businesses impacted by the red tide outbreak. It allows small business owners to apply for interest-free loans, up to $50,000, for damages. The Neumanns plan to look into it but are wary of taking on more debt.
$4 million lost in ten days
New numbers from the Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce, 70 miles south of Cortez, depict just how damaging red tide has been.
The Chamber says that the islands experienced only ten days of red tide in July, but it accounted for some $4 million in lost business over that time, according to its own survey of businesses.
Hotels in that survey reported people had not only canceled their reservations, they had also cut stays short. The survey suggests that the biggest impact is being felt by businesses that serve tourists.
Karen Phillips-Hansen's beach wedding plans are jeopardized by the red tide. She and her extended family rented a house and bought flights. They were all excited to spend a weekend on the beach together; now they worry whether they should make the trip at all. Phillips-Hansen's out-of-town photographer already canceled.
The person she's renting from said they went out on the beach and there was no red tide. But she's heard very different things from some of the local residents she's spoken with.
And she can't cancel the reservation they made for the rental property.
"So now what do I do?" she told CNN. "I have no idea. I started a Facebook group from our wedding a while back and I'm thinking that I should inform my guests, but of what?"