Since the first week in May, Goodlanders have been swatting and scratching their way through life, facing relentless attacks from swarms of salt marsh mosquitoes, waiting eagerly and ravenously outside their doors. A mosquito that breeds in salt water is one of the worst nightmares for a community surrounded by the stuff. These guys usually proliferate elsewhere, but gusty winds blowing steadily from the east deposited enough of them here to cause a problem – a big problem.
“In a typical year, we don’t normally see these mosquitoes in such abundance,” says Patrick Linn, the executive director of the Collier Mosquito Control District (CMCD). “The last time we had a salt marsh mosquito season this bad was in the late 1980s, when they killed a rancher’s cattle by suffocating them.” Abetted by the abnormally high tides and extended heavy rains, these mosquitoes found a home in the surrounding mangroves. They lay their eggs in depressions just above the high tide line, each female laying about 100 eggs. Then, when water from rain or spring tides fills them in, the eggs hatch bringing more mosquitoes, which lay
more eggs. The vast majority of this activity occurs in the protected wild life sanctuaries, which are out of bounds to CMCD. Linn says that the CMCD has to restrict its spraying to unprotected populated areas. “The pests are coming off the mangroves in broods easily numbering in the trillions,” says Linn, “Southerly winds are bringing them into populated areas.” Linn declines to characterize this invasion as biblical, but trillions of mosquitoes sure sounds like it. Wind or no, places like Goodland, Marco Island, and Isles of Capri are particularly vulnerable. They are surrounded and hard by the untouchable mangrove forests and salt marshes.
So what is CMCD doing to contain this unwelcome onslaught? Actually, quite a lot. As of this writing (6/16/17), since May 1, CMCD has treated the above area 17 times, mostly with insecticides according to Robin King, CMCD’s public relations specialist. Places like Goodland and Isles of Capri are sprayed by CMCD’s Hughes MD- 500 helicopters, of which they have five, to insure surgically precise spraying. For larger populated areas, their fleet of three Skyvan airplanes is deployed. The Skyvans are capable
of spraying 3,000 acres in one mission. The aircraft, based at Naples Airport, are serviced by seven mechanics and five full-time pilots. CMCD has 32 employees (28 full-time), which also include research scientists, field and operations technicians, and the administrative staff. Governed by an elected board of five commissioners, they have a big job. “We have more than 40 species of mosquitoes in Collier County,” says King, “Five of those are capable of vectoring diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and Zika.” The mosquitoes have always been here; CMCD is a relatively recent arrival.
In 1950, Collier County had only 6,488 residents. About 1,200 of them lived in Naples, which had grown rapidly after WWII. Tourism was becoming a big part of the town’s economy, and the hordes of mosquitoes posed a threat. With the tiny county seat located in distant Everglades City and strapped for money, the Naples city fathers took things into their own hands. In November 1950, a successful referendum was held to establish an independent special taxing district with the sole mission of controlling mosquitoes in Naples. The result was the
creation of the Naples Mosquito Control District, which covered only the six square miles of Old Naples. Special districts, which are allowed by state law, are independent special-purpose governmental units with substantial independence from general purpose governmental units. There are 61 such districts in Florida today. They are funded mostly by property taxes levied by the counties. Marco Island area residents can find a list of these special taxes, to which we are subject, on their county tax bill. The CMCD takes the smallest piece of the pie. With the success of the Naples Mosquito Control District, more and more sections of the county wanted in, and today, the Collier Mosquito Control District (name changed in 1975) is responsible for mosquito control in 401 square miles, virtually all of the populated areas of the county’s 2,000 square miles. They do it on a budget of only $11M, $6.5M of which is derived from property taxes, the remainder coming from various other sources as a result of conducting their business. So what effect has all this spraying had in Goodland? I walk over to the post
office almost daily. My half-mile route brushes against mangrove trees for almost half its length; the other half goes through downtown Goodland. The mosquitoes are everywhere along the route. I have killed as many as seven or eight at a blow. They particularly seem to like the vicinity of the post office, where the most human activity occurs. Pedestrian traffic here has all but disappeared. These gals (it is only the females who bite) will follow you into your homes, cars and boats. They have been reported as far as 12 miles out in the Gulf.
On the day after a morning spraying (they are all done at or near sunrise), there does seem to be less mosquitoes around. CMCD field technicians’ reports tend to they estimate the density of the mosquitoes, by observing the number that alight on their arm, watching for the first minute, then counting for the second. They actually come out to Goodland and do this. After the spraying, they do the same thing. The results from two such sprayings are startling, showing reductions of 84%, from a count of 25 before
spraying, down to four afterwards and 80% from a count of 50 before and 10 after. Within a few days however, the mosquitoes are back in overwhelming numbers. This is largely because the spraying has not affected millions of eggs, waiting to be hatched in the usually dry depressions above the high tide line in the protected areas. The larvicide sprayings, which have worked so well over on the mainland, are prohibited in areas like Goodland. We are too close to the protected sanctuaries. Targeting the flying adults (with insecticides) is our only option, says King. So, the CMCD helicopter dutifully turns off the nozzle when approaching the edges of Goodland, leaving the eggs in the mangroves undisturbed and awaiting only the next spring tide or downpour to hatch. There have been plenty of both this spring. In my 11 years here, I can recall nothing remotely close to this.
How long will this persist? There is reason to hope it will end with the beginning of the dry season, or sooner if fresh water from heavy summer rains overtake the salt marshes. Depending on weather
conditions, floodwater habitats can change quickly. This tremendous infestation, for now, could be merely an aberration. After all, the last one of this magnitude occurred 37 years ago. This one appears to be the product of a perfect storm, of steady easterly winds blowing these mosquitoes in from the east, combined with the reported 14 inches of rain in a few weeks’ time, along with the usual higher spring tides at this time of year. The wild card here is climate change. National Geographic reports that some extreme weather events, which used to appear only once or twice a century, are now forecast to occur at least once every 20 years. Climate change will affect coastal communities like Goodland, Marco Island, and Isles of Capri sooner than most. Notwithstanding, we love it here and are determined to make the best of it. In the meantime – Thank you CMCD. Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.