FORT DE SOTO — The waters of the Gulf of Mexico aren’t crystal clear every day at Fort De Soto, but they are among the cleanest in the nation.
Pinellas County’s unspoiled barrier island park is one of three Florida beaches that have exceeded national standards for pollutants for five years running.
Two other southern Gulf beaches, Bowman’s Beach in Sanibel and Coquina Beach South in Longboat Key, also made the list of 35 superstar beaches named by the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group.
As a state last year, Florida ranked 13 out of 30 states with recreational beaches, with 10 percent of all water samples exceeding safety levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Officials at Fort De Soto offered a humble explanation for their pristine waters.
“Most of it is just a natural phenomenon. Because we’re on the corner of the Gulf and Tampa Bay, we get a lot of tidal action out here,” Chief Ranger Michael Agliano said.
That tidal action tends to flush out pollutants that may be discharged elsewhere in the Bay, meaning the waters surrounding the island don’t hold on to the harmful bacteria that forces beach closures in some places.
“We’ve never been closed because of water contaminants,” Agliano said.
Lakes, on the other hand, often have nowhere to expel these contaminants, which explains why many of the 17 beaches named “repeat offenders” on the council’s annual report are in landlocked states such as Ohio and Indiana.
None of Florida’s 636 reported coastal beaches made that list, though 80 that were monitored had unsafe bacteria levels.
In Tampa, bayside beaches such as Ben T. Davis North fared poorly, with 25 percent of all 2013 samples exceeding safe limits.
Beaches along the Gulf that took samples mostly had low levels.
About 10 percent of 3,500 beaches in the survey fell short of stricter water quality standards rolled out by the EPA last year.
“The higher failure rates actually indicate that water quality nationwide in 2013 was essentially stagnant,” the council’s senior attorney, Jon Devine, said in a statement.
The council used the annual beach report as a platform to advocate for the Clean Water Protection Rule, which would restore tight environmental restrictions on streams and wetlands.