As a member of Marine Resource Task Force, I am pitching our Town officials to revive the Beachscape program and look for volunteers who own beachfront property to participate in a trial beach planting project. The goal of the project is to demonstrate how native plants can reverse erosion, protect property and create a beautiful highlight to beach front properties. The surf reached some of Gulf front houses when tropical storm Andrea passed well to the North of our island earlier this month.
Beach front property is a huge investment; it makes good business sense to try to protect that investment. There are some practical ways you can protect your investment and beautify your beachfront lot. You are legally restricted to what measures you can take to protect your property from storms, but beach vegetation is effective and encouraged. Beach vegetation also creates a soft visual barrier that provides some privacy while preserving intimacy with the beach. The Town of Fort Myers Beach and the MRTF are considering reviving a program to help you plant erosion inhibiting beach vegetation that can help protect your property during storm events.
- The cycle of sand: Simply stated, our beach builds up by accretion when wind blown sand is trapped by beach vegetation and the seaweed in the rack that is left by the tide. The build-up tends to be greater during the dryer seasons when the sand is looser and winter storms bring periods of strong winds. A great deal of the erosion that reduces our beaches is caused by wave action during summer storm events. Even weak tropical storms can cause significant erosion. A healthy, living beach can inhibit, or even reverse, erosion with the help of sand trapping vegetation. This vegetation can trap enough sand to create small dunes that create protective barriers. Our dunes tend to be considerably smaller than the large dunes on the more exposed Atlantic coast of Florida, rarely more than a couple of feet high.
- Beach Raking: Many property owners prefer to have their beach raked and keep an blanket of our white sugar sand lead from the water to their house. But beach raking and that loose blanket of sand put your property at much greater risk. Beach raking destroys sand stabilizing seedlings and reduces compaction which will cause additional loss of sand by wave action during storms. Beach houses that have their sand raked have dramatically less sand and are more vulnerable to storms. The houses that were reached by waves during Tropical Storm Andrea have had their sand raked while neighbors were well protected.
-Plant selection: The dominant beach dune plant are sea oats. They thrive on the beach and have a web of interconnected roots that help resist the forces of wave action during storms. The Florida DEP recommends that 60 to 80 percent of the dune plants be sea oats. There are many other native dune plants that can help add color and variety to the beach front vegetation.
-Beach planting vs. re-nourishment: Beach re-nourishment is an expensive and temporary fix for beach erosion. Beach plants continuously capture sand and create additional beach once they are established, while beach re-nourishment requires political and public will and financing every time it is done.
I am sure that fellow beachfront property owners lock their doors, buy insurance and buckle their seat belts. It makes financial sense to take some simple and inexpensive measures to protect your beach front investment. Contact members of the Marine Resource Task Force and your City Council and let them know that you are interested in participating in the Beachscape program.
Bill Veach is a member of the Town's Marine Resource Task Force and a Estero Island beachfront property owner.