We tend to think about the sea life we can easily observe like turtles, dolphins and fish. But these overt creatures are on the top of a complicated food chain. The invisible life at the bottom of the food chain feeds this biological machine and makes the spectacular larger creatures possible. Plankton, including the larval stages of invertebrates, are so plentiful that largest creatures on the planet can subsist on them. Many invertebrates, crustaceans and some fish also go through several larval planktonic stages before they resemble what we know as adults. The sand dollar goes through a series of forms - small change well before it is worth a buck. Mass spawning events work by filling the waters with more eggs than the prey can consume, leaving enough to survive and grow. Bacteria and viruses also play their part. Normal season variations change what is in the water as creatures great and small migrate with water temperatures. Occasional events, either natural or man made, can disrupt the balance. Clarity is not necessarily a sign of cleanliness. Our fine sand gets stirred up in the waves and thick vegetation releases tannins that tint the water. Even invitingly clear waters can hold dangers.
Jacques Cousteau once said that "When you enter the water you enter the food chain, and not necessarily at the top". This productive ecosystem in the waters around our island is a wonder of complexity and drama. When we step into our waters, we are players in the game. All natural waters have risks, but our waters have typically safe. Most healthy people have no ill affects, and high bacteria counts are rare. Anyone with a compromised immune system or certain medical conditions should consult their physician before entering into any natural, living waters. Anyone with open sores should avoid getting them in contact with the water, and prompt proper wound care is critical when someone cuts themselves while in the waters. Our sand is fine, the water is inviting, but the ocean is not a chlorinated swimming pool and extra care should be taken. Water testing will not detect all risks, like sharks or how well you swim. There has never been a documented, unprovoked Shark attack on Fort Myers Beach.
So, please make sure a trip to the beach is a healthy and pleasant one. Bring back some pictures and a tan, but be careful with open sores and don't provoke any sharks.
The Marine Resource Task Force, or MRTF, is an advisory committee for the Fort Myers Beach Town Council. We advice the Town Council and promote good environmental stewardship. MRTF meets in the council chambers the second Wednesday of each month, the next meeting is March 8th at 4:30PM. We will discuss water quality testing, the MRTF float in the upcoming shrimp festival parade, a proposal to collaborate with the Friends of the Matansas Preserve to create a Island Naturalist course and the next month's Murphy award.
- Bill Veach, Fort Myers Beach Marine Resources Task Force Chairman