Fort Myers Beach seasonal resident Eddie Foster attended Town Council meeting after meeting this Winter, advocating that the legislative body ban plastic straws on Fort Myers Beach, because they are unsightly trash and a health risk to wildlife and the environment. While Eddie returned north for the summer, her cause is gaining traction!
Spurred by Eddie’s repeated presence, Town Council finally forwarded the issue to the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) to examine it and make a recommendation. The 7-person panel, minus two members, voted unanimously 5 to 0 on Wednesday afternoon, May 10, to advise the Town to ban all beach straws unless they are biodegradable. “Miami Beach banned straws,” said MRTF Chair Bill Veach, “and encountered few problems. Its businesses are comfortable with the regulations, without complaining too much, so that is the ammunition for us to get the rule here.”
“Eddie said there are a lot of straws at the Lani Kai Island Resort,” added MRTF member Shannon Mapes. “There are always straws in front of the Junkanoo and the Red Coconut RV Park. The difference is the Lani Kai uses green-shaded biodegradable straws. I called the Lani Kai and asked why did they change, and they said they wanted to be proactive and that they care about the environment, but not every business thinks like they do. Unfortunately, biodegradable straws are three to four times as expensive as plastic ones.”
Despite the added cost, Shannon thinks beach business owners will comply: “When people come here, and you say we can’t give you a straw because the Town Council decided they are bad for wildlife, that makes the Town the bad guy and not the waitress. Park rangers tell me they find straws in the mouths and stomachs of turtles and manatees, so once you tell that to people, I don’t see anyone who will still say, ‘I demand a straw!’” “I can see a lot of people saying that,” countered MRTF Vice Chair Keri Hendry Weeg, “but that is immaterial to the safety of the wildlife.”
Shannon does favor biodegradable straws as an effective alternative, as “plastic takes 500 years to break down, while biodegradable ones disintegrate pretty quick.” Bill asked how enforcement would tell the difference between plastic and biodegradable ones, with Shannon replying that those at the Lani Kai are bright green and easy to see. Bill wondered if it were possible to expand the ban to businesses like the 7-11 convenience stores. He does see a benefit to the higher price of biodegradable straws: “since they have a higher cost, then businesses are less likely to give them out.” “The Town can advertise this as a plus,” added Keri, “to people who are eco-conscious, as they will like that. I applaud the Lani Kai doing this!”
The Wrong Season
In other matters, MRTF began its review and update of the Town’s Fertilizer Ordinance that dates back to 2006. It hopes to include the addition of plastic sheathing as an impervious surface and will encourage the Town to expand its current 3-foot fertilizer application buffer from water from 3 to 25 feet; Council earlier discussed expanding the buffer from 3 to 15 feet.
MRTF heard an interesting argument from John Vuknic, the course superintendent for the Stoneybrook Gulf Club. He said the Town’s June 1 to September 30 fertilizer ban is all wrong, and that the actual period should be from December through February. At first, this seemed completely wrong to the MRTF members, but the more he spoke, the more it seemed to make sense and required further examination.
“When you fertilize from December to February, that is the time of year in Southwest Florida that grass does not grow, so the fertilizer just sits there, doing nothing, and eventually leaches into the ground,” said John. “It is in the Summer, when the lawns are really growing, that it will get into the grass for the Fall and Winter months.” When Shannon said that the rainy Summer season will just wash all the fertilizer off into the bay, John said, “that is always the assumption, and a one-inch rain can pop up and happen, but those type of rain events have less than a 10% chance of happening, and rarely with instances of multiple inches. The grass will absorb the fertilizer quick, and very few storms are strong enough to wash it away.”
Finally, MRTF ended its beachscape program until the conclusion of turtle season on October 31, named its Mulholland Award semifinalists, and will present its monthly MURPHIE Good Citizen Award to Brian and Lisa Foskey, along with their dog, Hemmingway, because they play fetch on Fort Myers Beach while keeping Hemmingway on a leash “because it is the right thing to do!”