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November’s Shoreline Spotlight: The beach is back

By Staff | Nov 14, 2018

Mark Friend and Trevor Bixby. Steve Johnson

Now the beach has the appearance of a return to normality.

The dolphins are back to frolicking, and large flocks of migrating sea and shore birds are coating the sand bars.

I really wanted to write about the resilience of our beach, the fun and energy that our wildlife brings to our island and the return to normal.

They say you really appreciate good things when they are gone.

I think you also realize what you missed when it returns after an absence.

It is easy to harp on about what is wrong, and ignore the beauty that is before us.

I wanted to write that the horrors of summer are past and we are ready for a clean, fun-filled, and busy season.

I failed.

It was a fairly common conversation on the beach in the summer.

Where are the dolphins? Where are the shorebirds? Did they die or move somewhere else?

Are they visiting their grandkids up north?

It was a horrible summer not just because of the dead sea life littering the beaches, but the absence of frolicking dolphins and diving sea birds gave the beach a lonely, lifeless feel.

A visit to a historic battlefield requires some imagination to visualize the horrors that occurred where now only vegetation battles for sunlight.

It is such a delight to see our abundance of life return.

On the surface, literally, things seem to be recovering nicely and the return of our lively beach is a welcome sight. But what is the deeper picture?

Hundreds of tons of dead sea life were removed from the beach, but even more died and sank or drifted away.

Examination of near shore reefs showed the sea floor was hypoxic (no oxygen) and everything was dead.

Hurricane Michael seemed to stir the bloom up, both washing it away from our beach and spreading it around.

Every one of these lost sea creatures had a role to play in the bigger picture, including the numerous and varied ocean cleaning crew.

Everything from catfish to filter feeders are involved in cleaning our waters.

Some have the ability to move from less affected waters, but others are slow moving and will take time to recolonize the dead reefs.

Damage this deep will take years to recover from.

The ability of our ocean to clean itself has been damaged, but will recover if given a chance.

But the red tide is still out there, with moderate concentrations from Tampa to Charlotte, and as I write this, as close as Captiva.

We are clean now, or maybe just getting a temporary reprieve.

Red tide, or Karenia Brevis, blooms are still around.

A shift in weather patterns could bring it back to our shores.

I am personally sick of the blooms and sick of writing about it, but it is the elephant in the room. It feels like stopping the conversation is surrendering and acceptance.

All the world’s oceans are connected. Currents move larva and other creatures around the oceans. Currents also move pollutants, algae, and toxins.

What we do can have profound affects far from our shores, and the actions of others affect us. The ocean is a vast, complex, and interconnected marvel.

Some of this massive bloom has caught the Gulf Stream and is plaguing the Atlantic coast, following the route of sea turtle hatchlings.

Some algae got churned up in hurricane-angered waters and died. But it is the algae that is still out there, and that will come again that keeps me thinking, and writing.

Vital sea grass, oyster beds and fish hatcheries have been damaged, but they can recover with our help. The ocean and our waters have an amazing ability to heal itself, if given a chance.

Let’s not surrender to a lifeless ocean.

Let’s be part of the solution. Let’s give the ocean a chance.

Let’s keep water part of the conversation.

We can enjoy the water’s current beauty while still working to preserve its future.

November Murphy award

The Marine Resources Task Force (or MRTF, called “Murph”) is an all-volunteer advisory committee on Fort Myers Beach.

We meet the second Wednesday of each month at 4:30 in the Town Council Chambers. Each month, MRTF awards a “Murphy” to citizens observed demonstrating good environmental stewardship.

This month’s Murphy goes to Mark Friend and Trevor Bixby from Marco Island Water Sports.

They were riding jet skis during the red tide outbreak and found a rare and critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle swimming in circles and floundering near Mound Key.

They called the FWC sea turtle network and took the turtle on their jet ski to Big Carlos pass.

There they met with local Turtle Time volunteers Steve and Cindy Johnson who transported the turtle to CROW.

The turtle survived and was released off Marco island, which then had low levels of red tide.

A big thank you to Mark and Trevor for helping the endangered turtles!