For the animals that make their home on the island’s beaches, though, it was devastating.
According to Norma Jean Zvrosec of the Coastal Wildlife Club, which monitors sea turtle nests on Gasparilla Island, Little Gasparilla Island and Manasota Key, virtually every nest from Gasparilla Pass to Boca Grande Pass has been washed over if not washed away completely.
“It will take a few weeks to know for sure how bad it is,” said Zvrosec. “We will survey all of the nests that we had marked to see if there are still any with eggs remaining. Some of the nests further up in the dunes may have survived.”
As of last Friday’s report, the total number of sea-turtle nests on Gasparilla Island was 242, not counting nests in the state park south of the range light. It was a total that exceeded last year’s at this time by almost 100 nests.
“It is heartbreaking, after all of the hard work of the turtles and volunteers,” Zvrosec said.
Gasparilla Island Administration Park Manager Chad Lach reports that all four of the state parks that he runs have been hit hard.
“All of the parks did experience some flooding,” said Lach. “This was caused by both the rain and the high tide. At Gasparilla Island State Park the only flooding that occurred was near the seawall parking area when the high tides breached the dunes. At Don Pedro Island State Park we got just over 13 inches of rain between Friday and Monday. The west part of Don Pedro land base experienced flooding from the tides. The tides and high winds resulted in damage to the dock at the land base. About two-thirds of the dock is missing.
“At Cayo Costa State Park the rain and high tides resulted in both campsites being flooded and all of the campers on the island being evacuated for their safety. At Stump Pass (on Manasota Key) the whole southern end of the park was completely underwater, caused by the high tide.”
The turtle nests at the parks fared the same as the others on the barrier islands.
“Any of the turtles that nested on the beach, the nests have been washed out,” Lach said. “We had five nests on the beaches of Gasparilla Island State Park, and now they are all gone.”
Turtles were not the only animals to bear the brunt of Debby’s heavy rains and high tides. Shorebird nests were also wiped out.
“The least tern and plover nests were eradicated,” said Jeff Snapp, who monitors and photographs local birds and wildlife. “I went out onto the beach when the tide started coming in, and in just 30 minutes, the water went from ankle deep to knee deep in the nesting area.”
Snapp managed to get a few pictures of adult and fledgling birds returning to the beach when the tide went back out, but all of the eggs that had been laid were washed away.
“If something happens to the first nest, the birds will usually make another one to replace it,” explained Snapp. “But at this point, some of them were already on their second or third nest. I don’t know if there will be any more this year.”
Island beaches didn’t fare as well as others in the county did, either. According to Justin McBride, who is with Lee County’s Department of Natural Resources, we did lose some beach ... but gained some back.
“We gained elevation at almost every beach access we checked,” he said. “The beach did what it was supposed to do, which is to create a bar just offshore. That’s why the waves were breaking a little farther out. That protects the beach. The sand will gradually work its way back inland.”
McBride said beach renourishment in this area is scheduled for sometime in 2014, and that the island actually “got off pretty easily,” beach-wise.
Ironically, ditch cleaning at the northern end of Lee County’s island jurisdiction had just been done, at least partially. According to Bob Green, who works with Lee County’s Department of Transportation on the island, ditch cleaning had not been done since he started here in 1999. Workers cleared them last week.
Trees along roadways were recently trimmed and cleared of coconuts as well.
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