Marine Resources Task Force
The Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF), the citizen-volunteer advisory committee to the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach on environmental matters, met Wednesday afternoon, September 11, with a quorum of Chair Bill Veach, Vice Chair Shannon Mapes, and members Steve Johnson and Mary Rose Spalletta.
The two primary MRTF topics over the past several months have been helping the Town to update its Fertilizer Ordinance and creating a Glyphosate ban for Fort Myers Beach, as this chemical is blamed for pollution of area waters and potential health risks. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt briefly joined the MRTF meeting to report, “The Town is still waiting to hear from the State of Florida on the Fertilizer Ordinance language. You may know by now that the State has found the original and revised Glyphosate Ordinance language unacceptable, so that is back in your hands.”
Veach added, “Both (state responses on Glyphosate bans) seem pretty definitive that State Law preempts anything that the Town may pass, so I don’t know what angle we can pursue to take on this. There are two good things to come out of this, however: The Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce reached out to us to make a presentation on proper uses, and the City of Cape Coral contacted us about how they can limit their Glyphosate use.” Mapes thought the latter crucial, as Cape Coral is the largest city in Southwest Florida and directly on the water, “so anything that you apply there goes right into the water! I will reach out to them with suggestions.”
MRTF is preparing to reorder its reusable canvas bags, to limit plastic bags on Fort Myers Beach. The Town financed the initial allocation, with the understanding that MRTF would fund reorders through sponsors. Johnson stated that there are 16 advertising squares available on each bag at $695-per-square. This will raise $11,120 and allow MRTF to purchase roughly 2,500 new reusable bags. Sponsors receive half the allocation, or roughly 75 bags per advertising square, with MRTF distributing the rest. MRTF voted unanimously to proceed.
Lizards & Manatees
MRTF members spent considerable time discussing two matters not on their agenda: invasive lizards and manatee deaths in Fort Myers Beach waters.
“I was not excited about the topic of lizards until they started eating my beans in my garden,” exclaimed Mapes! “My neighbors and I are in a competition and keep a running score; one caught 8 in two days! If you have a trap, they favor rotisserie chicken from Walmart or Publix, but not bananas or dog food. I did some research and the City of Sanibel contracts this service to a trapper; would the Town pay for a trapper?”
Veach responded, “The Town brought this to us, to come up with a strategy to manage the growing lizard population, so I will pass that along to them.” Mapes stated that Lee County Animal Services does not deal with lizards; only dogs and cats. Spalletta said that Rick Bauer, Lee County’s new Land Stewardship Coordinator for Fort Myers Beach properties, “is a herpetologist and knows a lot about lizards. We need to know how many different beasts we are dealing with here, and where they are on the island.” MRTF then voted unanimously to invite Bauer to a future meeting. Mapes implored island residents “not to use poison, as it will kill other animals we do not want to kill, like cats and racoons.”
A Town resident recently asked MRTF to investigate how many of the 33 Lee County manatee deaths occurred in Fort Myers Beach waters, as that figure easily leads all Florida counties. Mapes reported, “I found just 7 related to Estero Bay, with over 20 in the Caloosahatchee River, over which we have no control.” Johnson said that number is actually six, and over the past five years, Fort Myers Beach-related manatee deaths range annually from 4 to 6, “with all those in the Back Bay and none in the Gulf, so I don’t see any jump in our numbers. The Back Bay is already marked with ‘No Wake Zone’ and Manatee signs, so I am not sure what we can recommend to Council.”
Veach agreed, “We do not have a big tool box for this, as the Town jurisdiction does not much apply here. What is necessary is enforcement of ‘No Wake Zones’ and related signage, and that would come under either Lee County or the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.” Spalletta concurred, “As much as we would like to help here, I don’t know what we can do, other than perhaps to encourage her to go to local marinas and ask them to remind people about manatee safety.” Mapes added, “She can speak with Lee County, as 20 of the deaths are in the Caloosahatchee River. We agree that we would like fewer Lee County manatee deaths, but it is all about enforcement and we cannot do that.”
Natives & Shovels
Under “Member Items,” Spalletta reported, “The one Green Turtle nest on Fort Myers Beach successfully hatched, and we have not given up hope for another one, as they nest through September!” Mapes is investigating grants, “to replace invasive (trees) on Fort Myers Beach with natives, like Gumbo Limbo trees and live Oaks, and there appears to be many grants available for this. We have trouble getting people to care about this, but if you can replace your invasive trees with native ones for free, then maybe people will care, as part of my motivation for this is to improve our water quality.”
Veach said, “I saw on the news a South Carolina beach community is banning large shovels, allowing only toy ones, and this may be something we may consider proposing to Council, as the big holes people now dig into our beach promote false nesting sea turtle crawls and are a danger to hatchlings.” Spalletta added, “We will look terrible banning shovels; I would rather hammer people about banning non-turtle-friendly lights.”
The Town is now accepting applications from residents for Advisory Committee appointments through Sept. 27. “MRTF will have potentially three openings, so we encourage those with an interest to apply,” said Veach. “Finally, the City of Bonita Springs is talking about forming their own MRTF, so it is good to see that our message is spreading!” The next MRTF meeting is Wednesday, October 9, in Town Hall at 4:30 p.m.
By Gary Mooney