Dune Vegetation

What are the climate conditions like within the dunes?

With sand, high drainage, salt water flooding, salt spray, wind and don t forget FULL sun, life in the dunes is pretty tough. So tough in fact that some plants can only flourish in the back dunes, away from the water s edge and the higher winds of the fore dunes. Although conditions are only slightly milder on the back dunes, the range of vegetation that will grow on the back dunes is much higher than the range on the fore dunes.

Can I plant within the dunes without a permit?

No, people interested in organizing dune plantings must obtain permits through the Department of Environmental Protection; to do so contact Jennifer Cowart, Local Field Representative, (877) 314-1329.

Can I landscape my dunes?

No, for a dune to function properly, it should be left in as close to its native conditions as possible. Avoid landscaping the beach and dune system.

What is the "Basic Rule of Green Thumb" when planting dunes?

The Department of Environmental Protection specifies that only Florida native plants shall be used and recommends that plant species consist predominately of sea oats, dune panic grass, railroad vine and dune sunflowers.

The basic rule of thumb, provided by The Department of Environmental Protection, is Do nothing,or more precisely, do not disturb native vegetation. The only exception to the rule, safely destroy all invasive exotic plants. And if you decide to go against the rule, remember to plant only coastal native plants. Search Rules of Green Thumbon the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Web site for the entire article: www.dep.state.fl.us.

Where can I buy native dune vegetation?

The Native Plant Nursery at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, on San-Cap Road, is an excellent source for all types of native vegetation including both fore dune and back dune vegetations. Visit them at www.sccf.org for tips on planting and lists of native plants.

When is the best time to plant?

SCCF recommends planting in the rainy season, assuming its raining on a fairly regular basis. This alleviates the need to supplement the water needed for the establishment of the plant. The additional water during this time of year makes the plants grow faster and their establishment quicker.

We do recommend checking local regulations regarding nesting sea turtles and shorebirds before planting.

Who are the dunes "home" to?

They are home to hundreds of species of plants and animals who depend upon them. Migratory shorebirds not only rest in the dunes, they forage and nest. Five species of endangered and/or threatened sea turtles lay eggs on the beaches of Florida and more than 30 rare animal species call them home.

Why is it important to remove exotic plant species?

Many exotic plants spread quickly and have no natural enemies. They choke out understory vegetation while the roots do not trap sand, allowing beach erosion. Sea turtles are turned away from their prime nesting areas and few song birds will nest in or eat from exotics. For more information, go to Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's site at www.fleppc.org.

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Florida Red Tide

What is a Florida red tide?

A red tide is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plant-like organisms). In Florida, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis. This organism produces a toxin that can affect the central nervous system of fish. At high concentrations (called a bloom), the organisms may discolor the water. However, red tides are not always red. They can appear greenish, brownish, and even purple in color. The water can even remain its normal color during a bloom.

Is red tide a new phenomenon?

No, it is not a new phenomenon. Red tides have been documented along Florida's gulf coast since the 1840s and probably occurred much earlier. Fish kills around Tampa Bay were mentioned in the logs of Spanish explorers.

Can red tides be predicted?

Currently, red tides cant be predicted, but researchers are investigating the possibility. The effects of a red tide (e.g., dead fish and respiratory irritation in people) depend on the location and concentration of the red tide microorganism at a given time. The effects also depend on wind speed and direction. It is important to realize that many people still enjoy the beaches during red tides. Respiratory irritation and dead fish are not always present.

Do red tides occur anywhere else?

Yes, red tide organisms occur elsewhere. Although the organism that causes Florida's red tide is found almost exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico, blooms have been found off the east coast of Florida, and a bloom was detected off the coast of North Carolina in 1987. Scientists believe the Florida Current and Gulf Stream Current carried K. brevis out of the Gulf of Mexico, around South Florida, and up to the Carolina coast. Other types of microorganisms cause different kinds of red tides (now called harmful algal blooms) in other parts of the world as well.

How is red tide related to respiratory irritation?

People experience respiratory irritation (coughing, sneezing, and tearing) when the red tide organism (K. brevis) is present along a coast and winds blow its toxic aerosol onshore.

CAUTION: People with severe or chronic respiratory conditions (such as emphysema or asthma) are advised to avoid red tide areas. Generally, symptoms are temporary. Once exposure is discontinued, symptoms usually disappear within hours.

Is it safe to swim during a red tide?

Yes, swimming is safe for most people. However, red tide can cause some people to suffer from skin irritation and burning eyes. Use common sense. If you are particularly susceptible to irritation from plant products, avoid red tide water. If you experience irritation, get out of the water and thoroughly wash. Do not swim among dead fish because they can be associated with harmful bacteria.

Does cooking destroy the red tide toxin?

No, cooking does not destroy the red tide toxin.

Is it okay to eat shellfish during a red tide?

No, shellfish should not be eaten during a red tide. If a shellfish-harvesting ban is in effect, it is not safe to eat mollusks (e.g. clams and oysters). However, edible parts of other animals commonly called shellfish (e.g. crabs, shrimp, and lobsters) are not affected by the red tide organism and can be eaten.

Which shellfish are included in a shellfish harvesting ban?

Harvesting of bivalve mollusks such as clams, oysters, and coquinas is banned during red tides.

Is it okay to eat fish, crabs, or shrimp during a red tide?

Yes, fish, crabs, and shrimp can be eaten during a red tide because the toxin is not absorbed in the edible tissues of these animals. However, if a red tide is in the area, eating distressed or dead animals is discouraged because the reason for the animals strange behavior or death cannot be absolutely known. It could be something unrelated to red tide.

Is it okay to eat scallops during a red tide?

Yes, as long as you only eat the muscle of the scallop. Do not eat whole animals.

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Red Drift Algae

What is red drift algae?

There are many different types of red drift algae, which is primarily found on beaches. The one most recently washing up on Lee county beaches, Ceramium, is a feathery, seaweed-type red algae  or plant-like organism that breaks off rocks and other hard-bottom structures in the Gulf and washes ashore. In the surf, it begins to decompose, becomes surrounded by bacteria and turns the nearshore area a muddy brown.

What's that smell?

When red drift algae washes ashore and decays in the hot sun, it produces a bad odor.

How long will it be here?

Its impossible to predict how long red drift algae will be present in the environment. Under normal conditions, the tides will wash any onshore algae back to sea.

Who is in charge of cleaning it up?

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel cleans the beaches when needed. But area leaders are also dedicated to making the beaches as natural as possible, so they try to let nature run its course whenever possible. That sometimes means letting the tides wash the algae back out to sea rather than removing it immediately. Red drift algae is a relatively new phenomenon to our area, and area leaders are currently in the process of developing policies for algae removal that are harmonius with protection of the wildlife that inhabits our shores.

Can the algae make you sick?

Red drift algae will not make people sick. But, if large quantities of it are onshore and decay in the hot sun, it can produce a stronge odor that can irritate anyone with respiratory conditions like asthma or bronchitis.

Is it safe to be on the beach when red algae is present?

It is safe to be on the beach with red drift algae, but people should avoid contact with it, particularly if it has an odor that indicates its decaying. It best to leave any form of algae on the beach alone.

Is it safe to eat fish and shellfish from waters with red drift algae?

Only harvest shellfish from approved waters. If you are not sure if harvesting is allowed, contact the Florida Division of Aquaculture at www.floridaaquaculture.com/seas/seas/-mngmt.htm. Red drift algae does not affect fish or shellfish so it is safe to catch and eat them from waters with red drift algae. However, use caution when fishing and avoid any species that appears unhealthy. Fish and shellfish in area restaurants are only harvested from areas that are safe for consumption.

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What's That Smell?

What are the brown blobs washed up all over the beach that smell so bad?

Class Ascidiacea

The tunicates. This class includes commonly known creatures such as sea squirts and sea pork.  Who would believe that these large, fleshly blobs resembling a sponge for all practical apearances, are one of the most highly evolved of all marine invertebrates? In their adult form they are little more than a water pump, pumping water in through their vascular system, extracting nutrients and pumping the water out.

Occasionally, after a severe cold front or storm event, these may become dislodged from offshore hardbottom and wash up on the beach, causing an upleasant odor as they decompose.  They usually are washed back offshore within a few tides.


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