By Natalie Strom
Recently, I had the pleasure of becoming a Volunteer Beach Steward for the City of Marco Island. A training session for those interested in this position of great power was held at the Marco Island Police Department Community Room on Tuesday, November 20. Marco Island beach ordinances, wildlife, sea turtle nesting season and neighborhood watch aspects were taught at the two-hour session. As I get ready to hit the beach with my new knowledge, I thought I would share some of it with you, the beach goer, so that during my volunteer time I can do as little as possible.
The training session was led by Marco Island Community Resource Police Officer Al Schettino and Marco Island’s Environmental Specialist, Nancy Richie. Beach Patrol Officer Sal Pernice and Marco Island’s “Sea Turtle Lady,” Mary Nelson, also offered words of wisdom.
Addressing the volunteers as “Ambassadors of Marco Island,” Officer Schettino explained that the goal of the Beach Steward is to “provide verbal information about the City of Marco Island Beach Ordinance and assist beach goers with wildlife, directional, and/or public inquiries.” It was made perfectly clear that as Ambassadors, we are NOT law enforcement – but we can and most certainly will call them on speed dial if we see beach goers in violation of an ordinance.
Here are some Marco Island ordinances you should be sure to follow:
• Please don’t take living shells – they have a family.
• Glass is not allowed on the beach AT ALL – bring a can instead.
• Cigarette butts are garbage. Please dispose of them properly. Especially at South Beach; there seems to be an issue with beach goers smoking near the bench at the end of the boardwalk. Beach clean-ups have found an alarming amount of butts in this area.
• No pets allowed on the beach. Sorry, but no dogs, cats, guinea pigs, canaries, hamsters or goldfish – or any other pet for that matter. However, service dogs are permitted.
• Wheeled vehicles are prohibited. This includes bicycles, strollers and rollerblades. But seriously, NO bicycles on the beach.
• You CAN drink alcohol on Marco’s beach! But, not in glass and not at an alarming rate. Bring cans and please, don’t get belligerent. The police are also understanding about this. As Officer Schettino explained, last Fourth of July, beach goers were offered plastic cups by officers when they were seen with glass containers. The officers even recycled the glass bottles for them.
• No shark fishing – people are trying to swim here! You are allowed to fish, but only with the right tackle and the right permit. “Everyone needs a fishing license, even from the shoreline,” stated Nancy Richie.
• No open fires or barbecues.
• No overnight camping.
• No removal of sand. We paid for it! On a serious note: please fill in holes that are dug in the sand. This causes a major safety hazard. Large or small, holes along the beach can cause serious injury.
• The dunes are protected, so please don’t disturb them.
The 24 Beach Ambassadors will be walking the beach to remind people of these ordinances and also to discuss the unique and diverse wildlife on the beach. “We have one of the top five critical beach areas in the world,” explained Nancy Richie, regarding Sand Dollar Beach, located just north of Tigertail Beach. This protected stretch of beach is home to myriad migratory bids that nest there every year. “A dog is like a freight train to a bird.” Nancy again stressed the importance of keeping dogs off of the beach.
Beach Stewards are prepared with information about these special bird species: black skimmers, least terns, snowy plovers, willets and more.
Just as the migratory bird population utilizes Marco’s beaches for nesting, so does the Loggerhead sea turtle. A threatened species, the Loggerhead’s nesting season is from May 1 through October 31. Mary Nelson is Marco Island’s sea turtle monitor and she explained the life cycle of the sea turtle and the importance of keeping our beaches dark and clean. Mary stressed the importance of respecting the nests – do not go near marked nests and do not approach sea turtles if seen on the beach. Beach Stewards will be able to answer questions during sea turtle season and are on high alert when it comes to protecting the roped off nests.
The session commenced in a “graduation” where we all received orange t-shirts, labeling us as beach stewards and orange packets filled with pertinent information for our new roles as “Ambassadors of the Beach.”
The program was developed in May of this year with the Marco Island Community Affairs and Police Departments and the Beach Advisory Committee. Each volunteer is asked to donate at least one two-hour shift per week, once a month. They may be called in for special events, such as holiday weekends when the beaches are more crowded, marine mammal strandings or other beach events that may need volunteers.
Stewards monitors the beach, making it clear that they are there for questions, and answering those that may arise. The Stewardship allows the volunteer to become familiar with Marco’s beaches while interacting with beach-goers in a friendly, courteous and educational manner. For those interested in becoming a Volunteer Beach Steward, contact Nancy Richie at (239) 389-5003.