A voluntary dune planting project has been completed.
Several members of a Town of Fort Myers Beach advisory committee along with other volunteers, friends and Beach Elementary students pitched in to a worthy cause for a beach dune vegetation demonstration last week.
Members of the Town's Marine Resources Task Force spearheaded a "beachscape" program by helping with the planting of four different types of natural vegetation in a three-property section on the Gulf front off the Connecticut Street beach access.
Members of MRTF, friends and family plant vegetation in a designated dune area that encompasses three properties. Beach Elementary's Daniela Santiago pitches in. The dune will help in stability from a rising tide caused by storm surges.
Sea oats, panic grass, railroad vine and dune sunflower were laid out on lands owned by Bill Veach, the Town of Fort Myers Beach (beach access) and Ann and Scott Saderaid. Native ink berries, a planting that has been lost on the Beach over the years, were also added.
"We are trying to add a little bit of diversity to the dune system with those plants," said Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen, MRTF's liaison, who was involved in the all-day project. "This is a demonstration project that involves this beach access and properties on both sides of it. It's important to note we are not blocking anybody's access."
The process began at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday with prep work. Afterwards, sea oats and panic grass were planted towards the outside of the dune and closer to the Gulf, while the other vegetation was placed within the middle of the dune.
"That simulates the process in a natural dune where typically the pioneer plants are on the outside," said Laakkonen.
Town officials purchased plants at wholesale cost, and money to pay for the plants is coming out of MRTF's allotted funds. There are hopes that the program will be expanded to other sections of the beach incrementally.
"MRTF will be deciding which sections will have the most to benefit from the program and will be sending out information at that time," said Veach. "Even though I have not made any direct contact with other beachfront property owners, I am already having other owners contact me with interest in participating in future plantings."
Veach, who is reimbursing the Town for his plants, called the day's work "an outbreak of infectious volunteerism." He stated hand-painted wood signs would be staked to identify some of the plants and another sign to identify the program.
"The effort from the volunteers was amazing," he said. "People just showed up and started planting. The ground was literally crawling with volunteers popping plants into the ground. It made short work of an otherwise herculean task. The result takes some imagination to visualize what it will look like in a year's time, but I am enthusiastically looking forward to these baby shoots turning into a deep green patch of beach building plants with a generous sprinkling of colorful flowers and graceful seed stems."
Vegetation has been known to trap sand blown by wind and moved by waves from the surf zone to the dune area. It is viewed as a critical component to maintaining beach stability and serving as a source to rebuild the beach after a storm event.
"One of the hopes in this is if you get enough established vegetation, we could hold off the need for re-nourishment," he said earlier. "Erosion can undermine the foundations of patios, porches and even buildings."
Ann Saderaid and friends also took part in the demonstration plantings.
"I think it's going to help the development of the eco-system and prevent a lot of erosion from storms," she said.
"This eco-system is awesome. It's a place for sea turtles to rest or nest," added Gina Bettini, a retired horticulturalist, who was helping Ann. "Why would you not do it with the overall benefit to nature? These plants are such a nice variety also."
Back in June, Veach urged fellow MRTF members to look into the "beachscape program" again and made a plea for fellow beachfront property owners to join him in this endeavor of a trial beach planting project.
Residences and businesses along the shoreline are known to be huge investments. Unfortunately, these structures are also the first to be impacted when any type of tropical storm or hurricane in the Gulf send winds and surf ashore. If there is no dune vegetation in front of the beachfront structures to block sand from reaching the property or buildings, sand and whatever else the surf drags up can collect near your doorstep.
Veach is also conducting this voluntary program in hopes to show the positive effects of vegetation to other Town officials. Those residents that have removed dunes on their properties throughout the years are ones that tend to have the wrack line much closer to their homes.
If the program is implemented island-wide over time, the vegetation requirements for the demonstration area may involve roughly 75 percent coverage in a 10' by 10' area or could lean toward a more natural look.
"Some houses have around 10 feet with at least 75 percent, others have a more natural look with islands and areas that are not 75-percent wide, but extend further out towards the beach," said Veach.
The outreach has produced mixed reviews.
"While the feedback I have been getting has been overwhelmingly favorable, I think there are a fair number of people who are enamored with a broad expanse of beach where they can gather and play games," said Veach. "Many other beach goers favor the privacy they get from the plants and set up their beach camps right at the edge of the vegetation. I am optimistic that the demonstration will show how the plants help our natural beach stay healthy and help push back against the persistent forces of erosion that can narrow our vulnerable beach. I also believe that many of our beach dogs are excited with the new marking options that are available to them."