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April's Shoreline Spotlight
April 4, 2018

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Some of our diligent beach patrollers tell me that the most frequently asked question they hear is why doesn't the Town sweep, or mechanically rake, the beach regularly. To many, the perfect beach of their idea of paradise is only pure white sand, to others it is more complicated. But someone's definition of paradise does not determine if the entire beach should or could be mechanically raked. The short answer is the Town does not own or control much of the beach. The long answer is the beach is a living beach and that beach wrack is a vital part of a living beach.

Beach ownership is complicated and a recent bill signed by Governor Scott exposes a topic that few really understand. I am not a lawyer and I will not offer a legal opinion here, but this is my personal understanding. The only beach that the Town of Fort Myers Beach actually owns is at Newton Park. The Town has some control over the beach by the beach accesses, but those are street right of ways and are not owned by the Town. The State of Florida owns the "wet sand" part of the beach, and some believe the State owns the beach that has been renourished up to the Erosion Control Line (ECL). The vast majority of the dry beach is owned by the upland property owner. Conceptionally, as the beach builds and erodes, the beachfront property lines also move. Beach property owners can have their beach raked with certain rules and permits.

Wrack is the organic debris that washes from the water. You can often see a series of wrack lines marking the landward extent of the waves during different high water events on natural stretches of the beach. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, prohibits the raking of the lowest wrack at the high tide line under usual conditions. This wet wrack is particularly valuable to wildlife. The wrack also provides insight into what is in our waters, storm events can cause all sorts of marine life to wash up from sea stars, shell fish and aquatic vegetation. Some mechanical raking is allowed for the sake of the health and safety of people under exceptional circumstances, like when the wrack is excessive from a storm or other events.

There are ownership and regulatory restrictions that affect what the Town can do on the beach. And there are efforts that help preserve our version paradise. Ours is not the only paradise. There is paradise in rugged snow capped mountains, in vast grasslands thick with grazing animals, in lush forests, in raw rock deserts, and on warm supple beaches. But paradise has a deeper meaning, that connection and feeling of belonging to the greater picture. Part of that picture is the living beach - a beach rich in bird life, sea life, dunes, wrack and sand. A beach of pure sand is interesting, but a living beach is a healthy beach, a much richer tapestry of life, and a more interesting and inclusive version of paradise.

The MRTF is a Town committee of volunteers that encourages good environmental stewardship of our island. Our next meeting is scheduled for April 11th at 4:30PM in council chambers. We will be discussing Interpretive signs for beach accesses, ways of minimizing plastic trash, and our environmental and educational priorities going forward. The public is welcome and invited to comment.

- Bill Veach, MRTF Chair

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