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Marine Resources Task Force tackles pollution

July 19, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

From fertilizer runoff to litter, the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) is gearing up to protect the island.

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council tasked MRTF to examine local water quality and what could be done to improve it. As part of its list of suggestions, MRTF stated the town should examine its fertilizer ordinance to see what regulations could be tightened up to reduce nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, from running off into the water. The council then asked MRTF to take on that research.

At Wednesday's meeting, MRTF assembled six recommendations to help reduce pollution in the town's canals.

Article Photos

Here are a few items that are commonly left on the beach or washed ashore. Graphic by Jessica Salmond.

The most obvious? Increasing the buffer zones in which fertilizer applications are allowed.

The current ordinance has a relaxed distance on application, with only a three-foot buffer between application and an open body of water and a voluntary 10-foot buffer between a contained body of water, like a retention pond.

That's compared to the county's 15-foot regulation and Sanibel's 25-foot buffer.

The MRTF staff agreed to suggest an increase from three to 25 feet for the required buffer, and also 25 feet for the voluntary buffer. They're also proposing a 10-minute limit on watering after fertilizer application; updating the impervious surfaces definitions to include plastics or membranes lain beneath flower beds and gravel; and a 10-foot buffer between potted plants or raised beds and water bodies.

"At a minimum we should match the county, but we should ask for 25 feet," said Bill Veach, MRTF chair. "If you live on a canal, you shouldn't be fertilizing."

Tony Lubig, a board member, supported the 25 feet but thought the council would not approve of such a leap from 3 feet, especially since lot sizes on the beach tend to be smaller and shallow.

But the fact that Fort Myers Beach is more developed than Sanibel is what encouraged Veach and board member Shannon Mapes to go for the extended buffer.

"When you look at Google Earth, it's all houses," Veach said. "The back bay is right there. I think it makes more sense to be more aggressive than the county and match Sanibel."

Rae Blake, the town's environmental technician, said she could connect with University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture's extension office in Lee County and try to set up a homeowner's fertilization class, so residents and property owners could learn more about fertilizer and its connection to water quality.

"They have a lot of material already, I definitely think we should work jointly with them," Blake said.

Talking trash

On July 5, a crew of more than 50 volunteers with Keep Lee County Beautiful compiled 360 pounds of trash from Bunche Beach, the Sanibel Causeway beaches and Fort Myers Beach.

That's not including two other locations who haven't tallied yet, said Trish Fancher, the KLCB executive director.

Fancher said most of the litter was empty plastic bottles, straws and cups, and cardboard from fireworks.

"These are lightweight items, so if you think about collecting 360 pounds, that's a lot," she said. "We had 20 garbage bags full just from Bunche Beach."

After MRTF successfully got the council to support a plastic straw ban - which will come back for adoption at an upcoming meeting - the board has now turned its eye to other beach trash.

"No body likes trash, but people do leave it there," Veach said. "Where does it come from? Businesses, people bring it in with them, or it washes up from the Gulf."

Veach wants to see what the town can do to increase awareness of litter and trash on the beach and its harmful effect on wildlife. While the town can't control some things, like washed-up trash, he hopes MRTF could brainstorm some ways to improve the situation.

Blake found a list from MOTE Marine Laboratory in Sarasota that calculates how long different items can take to break down - 1 million years for a glass bottle; 600 years for monofilament fishing line; 450 years for a disposable diaper; 20 years for a plastic bag.

Fancher said this kind of awareness is something she's working on at KLCB. She is making and distributing a poster that shows how long some trash takes to decompose, and she's hoping to share it with other organizations and businesses to spread information.

"We would love to offer these posters to the task force," she said. "We try to get people to really think about it."

Veach said the town has employees, volunteers, ordinance and public outreach in its toolbox to help reduce litter. Public Works employees used to pick up large trash items, such as washed-up tires, from the beach: but now they don't drive on the beach, and they don't pick it up, said Lubrig.

MRTF asked the town to reduce the amount of driving done on the beach by town staff, as the staff were driving on the sand to collect trash from the cans at beach accesses. So, Public Works staff eliminated beach driving altogether for the time being, instead driving on Estero Boulevard to the access points.

The board also discussed raking the sand, as it does not catch smaller trash items.

"Raking buries it," Veach said. "Then after a storm event, it comes up like tulips in spring."

The board agreed it could help support local clean-up efforts, although the members didn't think MRTF needed to organize its own. KLCB's biggest cleanup, the Coastal Cleanup, is set for Sept. 16 and Fancher said she's expecting about 2,000 people already on Fort Myers Beach.

In addition, MRTF is going to research a heavier awareness campaign, examining extra signage in some of the beach's most heavily-trafficked areas.

"I'd like to see a carry-in, carry-out campaign, especially with cigarette butts," Mary Rose Spalletta, a board member, said.



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