Local Tourist Development Council’s are working to correct misinformation after an Atlanta meteorologist got on the airwaves Wednesday saying some Panhandle beaches were closed and infected with a flesh-eating bacteria.
In Walton County, two specific beaches received health advisories, including Miramar Beach and Blue Mountain Beach. But that is only an advisory; people are still allowed in the water.
Atlanta is the primary metro for tourism for both South Walton and Panama City Beach.
“We had a lot of calls to our partners and to our hotels and to our accommodations – people trying to get the facts,” said Jon Ervin, the Director of Marketing and Communications for Visit South Walton. “Two beaches had bacteria present and again, there’s bacteria present everyday. But if there’s elevated conditions, normal notice is given.”
The television station WSB-TV reported high levels of fecal matter had closed Okaloosa and Walton county beaches, saying the bacteria made is unsafe to swim. He called it “the, kind of, flesh-eating bacteria.”
County Department’s of Health test water quality weekly and report the results. If the fecal content is above normal levels, they issue a health advisory, but that does not mean beaches are closed.
“I saw last night on Facebook that beaches down here were closed,” said Amy Wyatt, one South Walton visitor.
Reports swirled from Georgia to Alabama claiming Panhandle beaches were in bad shape. It even affected Bay County who had no poor beach samplings.
“Fourth of July is the peak of our tourist season,” said Dan Rowe, the Executive Director for the Bay County TDC. “So we did get a number of calls but I believe most of those folks heard the news are coming because everything here is great.”
Both Walton and Bay County officials say the beach is open for business.
WSB-TV in Atlanta has since retracted the original statements and has made clarifications on the science portions.
Some updated sampling results came in Thursday afternoon: Miramar Beach has since been cleared although Blue Mountain Beach is still considered poor.
Visit South Walton says they’re working to contact other media entities that picked up WSB’s story to correct the information.