For almost a year now, the focus on Tigertail Beach mostly seemed to center on what many saw as the poor treatment of the former long-term concessionaire there at the Collier County Park. However, on Thursday, April 8, District 1 Commissioner Rick LoCastro brought together many of the stake holders regarding the situation at Tigertail.
Little of that conversation was about concessionaires, but instead, focused on what many have referred to as the continued deterioration of the waters that lie between Sand Dollar Island and the beach. Sand Dollar Island separates those waters from those of the Gulf of Mexico. Over the years, storms have over-washed the island and begun to close off the flow of water into the eco-system and lagoon.
As they have in the past, the organization known as Friends of Tigertail led the conversation regarding the issues being faced by the once popular park. Linda Colombo, who serves as President of that organization, was joined by Linda Ryan of the Hideaway Beach Taxing District, and Mohamed Dabees, Ph.D., P.E., Coastal Engineer and Vice President with Humiston & Moore Engineers, who has worked for over a decade on the issues.
“The Hideaway Beach Taxing District was established by ordinance in April 2004 by the Marco Island City Council. The District has invested approximately $3,000,000 of private money to help keep the north end of the lagoon from completely choking off flushing action, which could cause high bacteria count in the waters of the dying lagoon,” said City Councilman Erik Brechnitz, who also attended the meeting.
Brechnitz is a resident of Hideaway Beach and was a major proponent of the independent taxing district that has paid for the renourishment of the Hideaway Beaches and maintaining the channel that provides flows of water into and out of the Tigertail Lagoon. The county ceased helping to renourish and maintain that stretch of beach and the waterway leading into the Tigertail area a number of years ago.
“What is needed here is a concerted team effort to save the Tigertail ecosystem. We understand that Tigertail Beach is a county beach, but we need to work together with the county to see the necessary funds are dedicated to making the plan a viable one which they will buy into,” said Brechnitz.
Rick LoCastro, the newly-elected County Commissioner for District 1, agreed with Brechnitz that it needs to be a “team effort” to convince those at the county, as well as at the state and federal levels, to make the investment to save what has been a thriving county park and destination for tourists. “This didn’t just happen overnight, so we have to be realists in dealing with the situation,” said LoCastro.
The county is scheduled to invest approximately $1,000,000 to update parking and concession facilities, restrooms and the youth playground area. LoCastro questioned the rationale of such a plan if the free flow of water into and out of the lagoon were choked off and killed the ecosystem.
Hurricane Irma in 2017, as well as subsequent storms such as Tropical Storm Eta in 2020, caused an over-washing of Sand Dollar Island, creating a subsequent “Landward Sand Spit Migration,” which has exacerbated the situation.
Friends of Tigertail and the Hideaway Beach Association and Taxing District, with the assistance of Humiston & Moore, proposed the following potential courses of action to help deal with the ongoing issues:
- Maintain the lagoon area as a wet estuary.
- Address shoaling in the lagoon through initial dredging and future maintenance dredging with consideration to seagrasses.
- Restore Tigertail Lagoon and Sand Dollar Island to 2017 or earlier conditions.
- Use excess sand to restore and enhance Sand Dollar Island which will prevent further over-wash.
- Establish and maintain a circulation channel on the back side of Sand Dollar Island.
Should nothing be done, the area will no longer exist as we know it. The Tigertail Beach Park will no longer be viable, as there will be no attraction to come see an ecosystem that no longer exists. As a result inaction, it is anticipated that property values within Hideaway Beach will be impacted, which will, in fact, impact both the City of Marco Island and Collier County.
Regional Biologist for Florida Fish and Wildlife Ricardo Zambrano took a more reserved view and reminded attendees that this is more of a “dynamic system” that constantly has been evolving over the last two decades since he arrived. He reminded attendees of how Sand Dollar has evolved. “I keep hearing people referring to the degrading of the system. It’s not degraded, but it is evolving with new species arriving,” said Zambrano.
Linda Ryan from Hideaway spoke of the areas where their work has restored habitat for some species that would have been lost. She spoke of the collaborative effort with environmental stake holders in organizations such as Rookery Bay. Those efforts have helped to guide them in their planning and the successes they have had.
LoCastro promised that this would be the first of a number of meetings where appropriate input would be allowed so all involved could have a say in how to proceed toward solutions regarding both the habitat for species of wildlife, and an appropriate venue for the county park that has been enjoyed by so many over the years here on the island.