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Shore thing? Sand regifting at its finest on Boca Grande beaches

October 19, 2023
By Garland Pollard

The old NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” opens with actor MacDonald Carey voicing over the phrase, “Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” 

That might be the same introduction to any documentary on the beaches of Gasparilla Island. Each day, and through each storm, the sand moves, returns and disappears, and sometimes even returns again, noticed intimately by the beach’s regular characters.

“You would not know there had been a hurricane,” said Dan, a contractor from Ontario, Canada who brought his extended family to the beach at Fourth Street on Wednesday, Oct. 18. “It doesn’t look that different.”

While there, he questioned this reporter as he was measuring the distance between the sand level and the seawall, which was about 30 inches, about a foot higher than last week.

“What are you, an inspector?”

Dan then offered to measure the width of the beach, which at mid- high tide was about 30 feet. He paced it off. He then pointed north to the 9th Street sailboat. That beach attraction was, in previous visits, completely visible, and now is mostly buried.

Dan’s family, who began coming to Boca Grande when he bought a house in Venice to escape COVID lockdowns in Canada, had previously tried to access the beach at 5th Street, which had been a favorite spot.

“Why would the beaches be closed then?”

Beach access at Fifth Street access point was officially closed the week of Sept. 22, when Lee County cited the fact that Hurricane Idalia had washed away the access ramp. At the time, a county press release said that they had the “intent” of opening access again. The release said:

“Lee County will work with its state and federal partners to address the beach erosion at that site with the intent of ultimately restoring the beach facility.”

At the closing, the Fifth Street access was merely blocked off by simple traffic horse barricades. But since the closure, the county erected a seemingly permanent, and quite impenetrable, Trex-like board fence at the end of the street.

Ian and Idalia

The beaches of Gasparilla Island were renourished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the early summer of 2019. After Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022, there was dune destruction up and down the island, removing sand deposited during the 2019 rebuild. But it was Idalia on August 29, 2023 that actually took out much of the sand near The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club.

Much of that sand has returned in recent weeks.

This week, the cool front that came through Sunday night and extended until Tuesday, deposited sand to the beaches around 4th Street, just south of the Beach Club. The height of the sand was noticeable from week to week, as it was the site of an alligator rescue last Thursday, and trappers had to drag the reptile down the beach to take him to safety.

Looking at access on Banyan Street, the beach has eroded more, so there is not a wide beach. But at 1st Street, at the end of the seawall, there was plenty of space and an easy jump from the seawall to the beach. That had not been the case as recently as last week.

At the northern public access points for the beach, the actual beaches are still wide, but the sand levels are much lower. Dunes have been patly washed way, including at points at 19th Street and 7th Street, and sea oats were exposed.

“There’s a lot of sand missing,” said Bobbie McGee, who was parked quietly on the 19th Street beach with her mother, Donna Miller, this Wednesday. 19th Street is her favorite spot, and she can clearly point out where the dunes have eroded.

“There’s just less sand,” she said.