SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues to report high levels of red tide throughout Sarasota County. Dead fish are starting to wash ashore at the county’s most popular tourist destination, Siesta Key.

Small business owners admit they’re concerned with how red tide is going to impact tourism on the key. Their minds go back to 2018, when red tide wreaked havoc on the area, devastating businesses of all kinds.

“It was really, really bad that you had to walk around with a mask. We had no people, it was a disaster,” said Diane Louise Theron.

Theron owns Made in Rome Organic Gelato in the village. After struggling due to red tide in 2018, she created a new flavor at her shop with a fun twist. ‘Red Tide’ is a chocolate flavor with red Italian peppers, sea salt and a cherry sauce in the middle. The spice makes your through tickle similar to the algal bloom. She says it’s been a big hit, especially recently with red tide back in the area. “We sold out last night,” said Theron.

The small business owner is trying to stay hopeful that conditions don’t get any worse.

“Everybody is so thrilled because business this year is the best that anyone has done in years and years and years on Siesta Key. Hopefully, it won’t be like a few years ago. This year it is going to be shorter I hope,” said Theron.

Photo: WFLA

Other business owners, we spoke with tell 8 On Your Side, they usually don’t feel the effects of red tide until after cancellations start at local vacation rentals. Fortunately, Siesta Key hasn’t reached that point.

8 On Your Side spoke with multiple vacation rental companies who say they’ve been receiving calls from concerned visitors, but no cancellations yet.

“It happens very very quickly and people want to feel safe and they want to feel comfortable and we just do the best that we can to accommodate them and address their concerns. It hasn’t been too bad yet so far, but I am hearing that it is getting worse,” said Tania Johnson with Stay on Siesta.

So far there isn’t a strong stench of dead fish on the key. Everyone from locals to visitors hopes it stays that way.