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11.01.2017 Shoreline Spotlight

A monthly submission from the Marine Resources Task Force

November 1, 2017
By Bill Veach, MRTF Chair , Marine Resources Task Force

It has been a wild wet season. Relentless tropical moisture, thick humid days and of course Hurricane Irma. Even with our sheltered homes, most people evacuated to somewhere safer during Irma. We did. The weather reports scared the bejoubies out of us and we packed up the cars and joined the hoards of stressed out people heading north. We were lucky. We had days of warning with access to state of the art meteorological predictions. We had friends and family with spare rooms in safer locations. We had cars and credit cards. Fort Myers Beach was fortunate with the sudden turn that Irma took when she was so close to taking a worst case path through our fragile little island. I still remember that pleasant surprise I felt when I returned. Not only was my house still in good shape, but the reconfigured beach was filled with shorebirds and seabirds. They were out in the protection of the newly formed sand bar in large mixed flocks. How did they manage with no cars, no weather channel, no friends and family with safe houses? Without credit cards, how could put their evacuation expenses on their bill? Most of these birds spend all their time either on the beach or on rookery islands in the back bay, neither of these could be considered an effective hurricane shelter.

There must have been casualties, but I was happy to see quite a few shorebirds still on the beach when we returned. Did some instinct tell them to seek shelter? They had options, they had wings. But those wings may not help when the wind is blowing off shore faster then they can fly.

We had another record number of turtle nests on our beach this year, with 99 nests on Fort Myers Beach and 200 on Bonita Beach. That made added to a spectacular series of record seasons for nest counts. But the season also gave those nests numerous challenges. Turtle nests are vulnerable to storms and standing water. The female turtles bury the eggs, which gives them some important protection, but the nests can't fly to safety, and they can't load up the car and drive away. Tropical Storm Emily inundated nests in late July and flooded many of the early nests. Hurricane Irma washed away or inundated some of the late season nests. Recently hatched sea turtles are vulnerable to the strong waves and currents that hurricanes create. I have heard reports of hatchlings caught in marinas where they can't find their way out to the protection of the open seas. Preventable artificial light disorientations and man caused nest damage also caused fatalities. Those nests in the middle of the season had a reasonable success and gave many hatchlings enough time to get out to sea before Irma stirred up the soup. It takes decades before any of those hatchlings make it back to the beaches to make nests of their own.

Article Photos

Jessie Jimenez jogs the beach at sunrise — and picks up trash along her route. Courtesy photo.

Even though Irma spared most of us on Fort Myers Beach, it was a formidable storm that affected the entire state. We are downstream of most of Florida thanks to lake Okeechobee and we will continue to suffer affects from Irma. The heavy rains from Irma have filled the lake to dangerous levels and they will continue to flood our estuaries and gulf with dark, fresh water for some time. Most of the turtles should be far enough away from the mouth of the river to avoid the effects, but oyster beds and sea grasses will probably suffer long term damage, and fish spawning will also be hurt.

Most of us have already repaired our damage and moved on. The beach was eroded from Irma, but most of that sand is just off shore and will come back, particularly if we help by planting dune vegetation to help capture sand and rebuild the beach. The stuff that is hard to see will take the longest to recover. Sea-grasses add oxygen that fish need, oysters filter the water and supply food. And the estuary can't start to recover until the river flows stop damaging them. Like with the sea turtles, time will tell. Our quality of life and many of our livelihoods are dependent on clean, healthy waters and beaches. The damage, both Irma and man caused, may end up on our bills.

- Bill Veach, MRTF Chair

Fact Box

November's Murphy Award

This month's Murphy award goes to Jessie Jimenez of Fort Myers Beach. Jessie can frequently be spotted jogging the beach at sunrise with a trash bag. When she doesn't have a bag, she stuffs trash under her jogging top. Says she got a scratch and minor infection once from jogging with trash in her bra. It didn't stop her from picking up trash, she said she just can't leave trash sitting on the beach. She thinks about how that one piece she leaves will hurt a bird or other wildlife and she just cannot ignore the trash. The Marine Resource Task Force (MRTF) thanks Jessie for her efforts and hopes she remembers to bring her trash bags. MRTF is a volunteer advisory committee for the Town of Fort Myers Beach. Our next meeting is Nov. 8 at 4:30 in the council chambers. We will be discussing trash, interpretive signs and other topics. The public and public comment are encouraged.



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