In the Sarasota area the Gulf is best known for beautiful white-sand beaches and exciting offshore fishing. Fishing is productive in the Gulf because of the connection with Sarasota Bay and other local estuaries. Gulf waters are warm, shallow, and often calm. It's beaches are located along a string of sandy barrier islands created by wave-washed quartz sand. The islands and the passes between them historically shifted from place to place like continuously recreated sandbars. The average temperature is 70 in the winter, and 90 in the summer. Tides are shallow (less than 2 feet), with highs and lows typically occurring twice each day. The Loop Current travels clockwise around the Gulf, eventually forming the Gulf Stream. Locally, the current is predominantly north to south. The Gulf is about 1,000 miles wide, as much as 14,000 feet deep, and receives runoff from vast areas of the continent.
Red tide (Karenia brevis) is a naturally occurring algae that develops offshore and is then brought inshore by winds and currents. In nutrient-rich coastal waters, blooms can happen. Red tide algae release harmful toxins that can kill fish and even, when they are particularly abundant, marine mammals. Toxins can also cause respiratory issues leading to coughing, scratchy throat, and itchy eyes.
Learn More About Red Tide
Current Beach Conditions
Mote Marine Laboratory's Beach Conditions Map
Mote Marine Laboratory tracks Florida beach conditions daily. Its report includes information on weather, wave conditions, environmental and wildlife hazards, fish kills, and has maps of area beaches.
Florida Healthy Beaches Program
High levels of bacteria can cause disease, infections, or rashes. The Florida Dept. of Health performs regular testing and issues an advisory when warranted. Learn more about Florida Healthy Beaches »
Marine debris is "any manufactured or processed solid waste material … that enters the marine environment from any source".
How marine debris enters the Gulf of Mexico
- Some is litter that originates on land and is blown or washed into coastal streams, bays, and the Gulf by stormwater.
- Some is waste from commercial and recreational ships.
- Some is trash carelessly handled by beachgoers.
Unsightly plastic waste can end up on the beach and ruin a beach day. Regardless of the source, marine debris poses a hazard to birds, turtles, and other marine life, which may be sickened or die from ingesting it or become entangled in it and starve.
Learn More about marine debris
How can you help?
Both collective and individual efforts are needed to reduce marine debris. Periodic coastal cleanups, derelict fishing gear removal events, and fishing line collection programs use volunteers to reduce the prevalence of marine debris, and we can all make an extra effort to ensure we leave behind only footprints when we visit Gulf beaches.
Latest Beach Advisories
Check these pages to find out about adverse conditions at your favorite beach:
Best Beach Practices
Relax and enjoy the sun, sand, and water but rememeber to respect the following best beach practices:
- Relax and enjoy the sun, sand, and water!
- We all love our furry friends, but unfortunately pets are not allowed on the beach.
- Do not feed the wildlife
- Avoid walking through sand dune communities
- Leave nothing behind but footprints
Report an Issue
If you have a concern Report it!
For potentially life threatening emergencies dial 911.
Consult our list of regulations, concerns, and whom to contact to report environmentally harmful activities.
Fishing on the Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is home to hundreds of saltwater fish species. The bays and tidal creeks connect to the Gulf through inlets and act as a nursery for many, important fish species.
- Learn about and discuss the Sarasota Bay Estuary at the Sarasota Bay Fisheries forum!
- Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulates Florida fishing. Stay up to date on fishing regulations and fishing seasons!
- Fishing line can entangle precious bird species. Properly recycle line at these Recycling Bin Locations.
Boating on the Gulf of Mexico
Whether you prefer power, sail, or paddle-powered watercraft, Sarasota County has something for you!
Snorkeling and Diving
The Gulf offers a variety of underwater adventures to choose from depending on your experience level and interests. However, anyone diving or snorkeling in Florida waters MUST display a dive flag and all SCUBA divers must have appropriate diving certification.
- Water clarity can vary dramatically from site to site as well as by the time of year. Early morning is often the best time to schedule a dive trip before the heat of the day sets in and wind begins to kick up the water.
Dive Nearshore or Offshore
- Offshore snorkel spots
- For offshore diving there are many artificial reefs and shipwrecks at sites 45-100 feet deep. These structures provide good habitat for a multitude of fish and other marine life.
- Pinellas County Artificial Reefs
- Manatee County Artificial Reefs
- Sarasota Artificial Reefs
- Southwest Florida Reefs
- Charlotte County ARtificial Reefs
- Lee County Artificial Reefs
Popular nearshore / beach accessible snorkel spots
- Point O’ Rocks Beach at Beach Access # 13 off Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key is a favorite spot for snorkeling along the coast. This natural rock out cropping is a great place see inshore marine life in about 2-5 feet of water. On calm days visibility can be quite good at 10-15 feet and the cove area offers a good place for shell collecting. There is no immediate automobile parking available on the street so access is primarily by foot or bicycle.
- Higel Park (South Jetty) is located at 1330 Tarpon Center Drive in the City of Venice. This is the south side of the Venice Inlet and the rock jetty along the beach is an excellent place for observing a wide variety of fish in 3-6 feet of water. The nooks and crannies of the jetty and large boulders that have washed away from the jetty in the cove area offer good marine habitat for local fish, crabs and other sea life.
- Caspersen Beach at 4100 Harbour Drive South, offers a number of small rock jetties along the beach and is also a hot spot for finding prehistoric sharks teeth and other fossil materials. This is a wonderful place for novice snorkelers to enjoy themselves cruising along the beach or small jetties in shallow water of 2-4 feet in depth.
Local Dive Shops
- Gaspar's Dive N Board - (941) 698-0499
- Florida Scuba Repair - (941) 927-2822
- Florida West Scuba School, Inc. - (941) 483-3483
- Scuba Quest - (941) 497-5985
Learn more about Sarasota Scuba Diving
Wildlife and Ecosystems
Although it might look like a pile of brown, dead seaweed, beach wrack is full of life and important for the beach community. Wrack is a mixture of materials that is washed onto shore by waves and tides. This wrack provides shelter for many small animals which shorebirds, including snowy plovers and sanderlings eat!
What does wrack include?
- Marine debris
- Mollusk shells
- Seagrasses and algae
- Soft corals / sponges
Who lives and feeds on the wrack community?
- Ghost crabs
The Sand Dune Community
Water and wind shape the ecology of beach dunes, where plants are regularly exposed to salt spray, onshore winds blowing across the salt water and open sandy beach, and occasional inundation by seasonal or storm tides and periodic destruction by waves. Plant roots and stems trap the sand grains blown off the beach, building up the dune and growing upward to keep pace with sand burial. Shorebirds and sea turtles nest on beach dunes, including threatened and endangered species.
Beach dunes are dominated by herbaceous coastal plants, including salt-tolerant grasses like seaoats, seashore paspalum, and seashore dropseed. Wildflowers you may see on the beach are dune sunflower, blanketflower, beach morning-glory, coastal searocket, and beach croton. Threatened and endangered plants on beach dunes include sea lavender and coastal vervain. Trees and shrubs are uncommon on beach dunes, but you may see sea grape, inkberry, Spanish bayonet, and cocoplum.
The West Indian manatee is a large, slow, gentle, aquatic mammal. Much adored by visitors to Florida, manatees inhabit coastal bays and tidal creeks, traveling upstream in winter to seek the warmer waters of Florida springs.
- Manatees are herbivores and eat aquatic plants like seagrasses, eelgrass, hydrilla and water hyacinth. Though they spend most of their time in brackish water, they do need some fresh water, which they get from aquatic plants or from spring vents.
- They are federally listed as a threatened species, due mainly to human activity including:
- Boat collisions
- Seagrass habitat loss
- Loss of warm water springs
- Entanglement in fishing gear and other marine debris
- Harmful algae blooms
Learn more about these gentle creatures:
There are five sea turtle species commonly found on the Gulf Coast and all are protected.
- Sea turtle nesting occurs from May to October. Never disturb a turtle nest!
- Turn outside lights off during nesting season. Baby turtles mistake lights for moonlight and travel away from the water, exposing them to predators, traffic, and other perils.
- Don't leave beach toys, watercraft, tents, or furniture on the beach. They can obstruct the path of a mother turtle trying to find a place to nest.
- The Loggerhead Sea Turtle is the species that most often nests on Gulf Coast beaches. Loggerheads usually nest at night. Green Sea Turtles also nest on the Gulf Coast, but in much fewer numbers.
- Sea turtles eat jellyfish, sponges, crabs, seagrass and seaweed. They may mistake plastic bags, Styrofoam, or other marine debris for food.
Learn more about sea turtles:
The Gulf of Mexico beaches provide habitat for nesting resident and migrating birds. Some of Florida's Gulf Coast beaches are recognized by the Audubon Society and monitored by its local chapters.
Bird beach nesting season occurs May-September.
Learn more about birds on the Gulf of Mexico:
- Sarasota Audubon Society Beach Nesting Bird Program
- Birdwatching in Sarasota: Where & When to Go
- Checklist of Birds of Sarasota County
- Snowy Plover Adaptive Management
- Shorebird Identification
- Save our Seabirds
- Florida Shorebird Alliance
- Beach-nesting Birds Reference Guide
- Florida Audubon Coastal Bird Stewardship Program
Fishing Florida's Gulf Coast
Anglers love the Gulf coast of Florida, where there are ample opportunities for fishing both offshore and inshore, from boat, pier, or beach. Bays and tidal creeks are nurseries for juvenile fish and are accessible from small boats or kayaks, or by wading. Many charter services are available to those who lack a boat but want to wet a line in the Gulf. Most Florida residents and visitors will need a fishing license, available at tax collector's offices, at many fishing tackle outlets or online.
Shells and Sand Dollars
Beachcombing is a popular pastime of residents and visitors alike. With a few exceptions (oysters, clams, scallops in season) it is illegal and unethical to collect mollusks while they are still alive. Fortunately, there is no shortage of shells left behind by their former occupants. Similarly, live sea urchins, seahorses, and other marine creatures should not be collected.
- Seashells make great souvenirs
- Sarasota has great beaches for shelling
- The best time for shelling is early in the morning, at low tide, and after a storm!
- Only take sand dollars that are completely white. Grey or colored ones are still alive!