December's Shoreline Spotlight
December 6, 2017


I smelled it before I saw it, and I am not talking about an old college roommate. I was walking the mid-island part of the beach when I smelled a small pool of standing water that was damned in by the beach berm and was not draining. The pool had been there for a while, baking in the sun with no new water to make it fresher. Like my old college roommate, this pool could have used a good dousing.

What was interesting about this small pool is that it was full of life, even though it had that anaerobic pond-like smell. Three different species of wading birds were chasing some trapped fish around. There was a snowy egret, a reddish egret and a tricolor heron all fishing with different styles. The tricolor was uncharacteristically still, waiting for fish to swim within striking distance, while it seemed like the reddish egret was trying to attract, or distract, the fish with some kind of interpretive dance. The reddish egret would lunge, stop, jerk forward with its wings held over its head and freeze before starting some new dance move.

Flocks of shorebirds crowded the edge of the pool, digging so much sand that these small patches of sand looked like it was freshly tilled. sanderlings, sandpipers and ruddy turnstones packed tightly along the shore. I am not sure what was causing the smell, but it didn't deter these birds from a good meal.

This small pool may have been isolated, but it was not unique. A large berm has formed at the high tide line along most of the beach, with a series of troughs landward of that berm and that can fill with water. In some places the pool is small, in some places it is right up along seawalls, in some places there were rows of berms and troughs. The beach recovering from Irma. Irma washed some sand further inland into dunes and washed some sand out into the gulf. Almost as soon as the effects of Irma stopped, steady wave action started washing the sand up into the first berm. The sand accumulates until higher tides or bigger waves wash the berm and drive the sand into the trough.

The moon is just past new as I am writing this, and our tides tend to be bigger just after the new and full moons. Waves are just washing over the berm carry some sand down the back side of the berms into the troughs. Some pools drain through breaks in the berm. This slight overwash will erode the berm and fill the trough enough to even out the beach a bit, before the berm starts to gather more sand with the half-moon tides. One good storm can flatten out the beach and remove all of the berms and troughs, as anyone who has walked the beach the morning of a storm has witnesses. Troughs, berms, sand castles and beach holes all eventually succumb to the power of the waves. As soon as the beach is smoothed out, the waves will start building the berm again.

Watching these berms provides insight into how our barrier island behaves. Barrier islands move, grow and shrink like beach berms, but much slower and larger. A storm surge that washes over a barrier island will cause it to slightly migrate towards the mainland, similar to how high waves push the berm into the beach dunes.

If you visit the beach every day, week or year, every visit is different. Wildlife, sand, and the changing colors of the sky and water make every visit unique. The shape of the beach changes with storms and with the seasons. If it seems like the beach is a living, breathing thing it is because it is. I find it poetic that the undulating sand seems to be trying to mimic the waves that created them. The beach will have changed in the time between when submit this story and when it is published. In fact, the beach has changed from when I started writing this story and as I wrap it up. The small ripe pool has cleaned up and has gotten significantly larger, like my old college roommate. And soon, the smelly little pool, like my college roommate, will have moved on.


Regular Size Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer