Something’s got to give. Soon. The Marco Island beach is raked daily and large debris is removed by Collier County. Volunteer Beach Stewards walk the beach daily picking up at least one bag of trash – sometimes two or more. The City’s Beach Advisory Committee partners with the Marco Island Civic Association, Publix and local businesses and groups for monthly beach clean-ups which remove dozens of bags of trash in only a few hours. Friends of Tigertail, Inc. has quarterly clean-ups that hundreds participate in removing carts full of trash and debris. This equates to hundreds of people cleaning our beaches removing tons of trash and debris and still more and more trash is found.
Why do beach goers come to our beautiful beach and leave trash? Why do they ride bikes on the beach, bring dogs, drink out of glass containers (and leave them in the sand or sink them in the surf), leave straws and plastic cups in the sand at the hotels, dig deep, large holes and leave them for a safety hazard? Why do they harass the wildlife by walking and running through resting shorebirds, throwing shells at birds, feeding them and taking live shells? A question on the minds of these hundreds of people trying to protect and conserve the Marco Island beach is, if all these people come here to enjoy the #1 Island in the USA according to TripAdvisor.com, why would they want to trash and abuse the beach? Do they do this type of behavior where they live, too? Something’s got to give soon, since this is just the beginning of the crowds to be expected due to the TripAdvisor publicity and the development occurring in East Naples and the County Road 951 corridor. All these folks are headed Marco Island’s way and will be flooding our beach.
Here’s a list of somewhat interesting, and mostly disgusting, items found regularly on our beach: dryer sheets, soda and beer cans, fishing line, remains of sky lanterns and fireworks, mesh bags, plastic containers of sunscreen, fruit rinds from drinks, dozens of plastic straws (daily), styrofoam take-out containers, glass pieces and bottles, plastic cups, bottles and caps, miscellaneous clothing, flip flops (unmatched), broken plastic toys, countless cigarette butts, sun and eye glasses, and paper and plastic wrappers by the hundreds. Strange, but true, items such as an eye patch, dismembered shark fin and many soiled diapers have been found on the beach, left for “someone else” to remove. Why would a beach-goer leave any of this behind? Again, do they do this where they come from?
For many years, Marco Island’s beach was our secret. It has been said that Sanibel has the shelling (we all know Marco Island’s beach has more and more diverse shells); Naples has the sand (we all know our crescent beach is spectacular); Ft. Myers Beach has the recreation (we all know our vendors are the best, plus beach walkers have the beauty of Sand Dollar “spit”); and Estero and Pine Island Sound area has the wildlife (we all know Marco Island is teeming with wildlife and vistas with no impacts from the Caloosahatchee River freshwater discharges).
Being #1 is a two-edged sword; the secret is out now. Marco Island is unveiled and travelers now know what we knew all along about Marco Island’s beach. We need to step up and protect and preserve its beauty and quality.
Five years ago, and many, many years prior, the beach was relatively quiet and only busy in the peak season of February and spring break periods. The crowds would congregate at South Beach and the hotels. Stretches of beach would be open. Last weekend, the entire length of the beach was full, from Cape Marco to mid Sand Dollar Island “spit.” Dueto the only seasonal popularity of the past, a concern is that the police department has not given the beach priority. In the past few years, many locals, and the hotels, have noted that our beach now is a “day trip” for east coast Floridians and a year-round destination – not just “season.” It’s time now to step up the outreach and have some real enforcement of the beach rules: no trash, no glass, no dogs, no bikes, no holes and no harassment of wildlife.
The Volunteer Beach Stewards Program began two years ago after at least five years of the Beach Advisory Committee recommending to the city that a beach patrol and more enforcement of the city’s Beach Ordinance was necessary to address the increasingly trashy behavior on the beach. The committee researched beachfront communities in Florida and how they protect and patrol their beaches. It was discovered that Marco Island is one of the very few communities that did not have regular patrols or management plans for the beach. In fact, it was the only Florida community the size of Marco Island that did not have community outreach or regular enforcement of regulations on its beach. With this committee’s input, the Volunteer Beach Steward Program began and now has a couple dozen trained volunteers that regularly walk the beach and talk to people about the simple rules of the beach: no glass containers, no dogs, no bikes, no live shelling, dispose of trash properly, fill holes when leaving the beach, and share the beach with wildlife.
Oh, and these volunteers pick up lots of bags of trash. These tolerant and patient volunteers have been on the frontline keeping our beach beautiful as the tipping point is upon us. The program is improving the quality of the beach one conversation at a time and one piece of trash removed at a time. Florida’s American Planning Association (APA) recognized and awarded the City of Marco Island for this “grass roots” program that is making a difference in conservation and protection of natural resources in the state. In turn, the University of Miami has asked for the format of the program to initiate a pilot program of ethics on beaches in Miami. This outreach is a (sandy) step in the right direction, but enforcement is desperately needed to control the trash, glass, bikes, dogs, holes and harassment of wildlife that is common now and comes with the large crowds.
The next time you visit the beach, do your part to keep Marco beautiful, please:
• Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps, even fruit rinds from drinks, attract predators of nesting shorebirds and sea turtles, such as raccoons and crows. Litter degrades the beach quality and can entangle birds, sea turtles and other wildlife. Please be responsible and take all your trash with you when you leave the beach.
• No glass containers.
• Take a walk – no bikes on the beach.
• If you dig a hole, please fill it when you leave. Holes are safety hazards to beach walkers, emergency response and wildlife.
• No dogs on the beach – leashed or unleashed, by walking or by boat. This includes all of Sand Dollar Island “spit” and Hideaway Beach.
Something’s got to give. Soon. And it’s us – let’s do our part to keep our beach beautiful, safe and healthy for humans and wildlife, alike.
If you are interested in participating in a beach clean-up, being a Volunteer Beach Steward, or would like more information about Marco Island’s beach and wildlife, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island at 239-389-5003 or email at email@example.com. Please do you part, let’s keep our beach beautiful!
For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or firstname.lastname@example.org.