Less than a decade after a multimillion-dollar beach restoration project on Gasparilla island, the sand has dwindled down to a ribbon again in some spaces such as directly behind the Gasparilla Island Beach Club.
If you're a property owner along the Gasparilla Island coast, and you've been watching the waves creep landward year after year, you know this is a coastal erosion problem.
What to do next?
Erosion is evident on Gasparilla Island beaches post-Tropical Storm Debby.
There's no easy answer.
If every new rainfall convinced you that you need a new roof, you could ask your neighbors for suggestions about who to call. But with beach erosion, Gasparilla Island neighbors are in the same boat together watching sand disappear and not knowing what to do about it.
So it's time to start asking some questions. Here's a place to start:
QUESTION: "How much danger am I in?"
ANSWER: If your home is seriously threatened, act quickly. The best first step is to contact your local government immediately, since that's likely where any action needs to start. Even in serious situations, remedies may take months or longer to be enacted - time you do not have if a storm blows in during hurricane season.
QUESTION: "Is this problem temporary or permanent?"
ANSWER: Sand comes and goes. Maybe the problem diminishes as seasons change. If it is seasonal, document with photographs taken at the same stages of the tide cycle.
QUESTION: "How much shoreline does the erosion affect?"
ANSWER: If sand loss appears permanent, determine if it's a hot-spot issue (an isolated loss in an otherwise healthy coastal system) or the sign of something that impacts a number of coastal properties besides yours. If so, you then can go to your local government to get names and addresses of your fellow sufferers. You are going to need to work as a group.
QUESTION: "How can I get more information about what's going on along the Gasparilla Island coastline?"
ANSWER: There is a great deal of information on the Internet that can be helpful but you must be discerning and vet all information. If people want you to buy a system from them, remember they have a vested interest. Some sites have good information on coastal processes but are focused on other parts of the world. Wikipedia is an example of that.
QUESTION: What mechanism will address Gasparilla Island coastal issues?
ANSWER: The Florida Wildlife Commission responsible for public works, permits and environment. Find a person in charge of the beach restoration approval process. This will let you know what is and isn't allowed. There's no sense getting your heart set on a plan that will never be approved. Find a coastal advocate group such as the Coastal Wildlife Club for help in monitoring the situation.
QUESTION: What options are available?
ANSWER: The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association lists coastal professionals at asbpa.org. The coastal professional will help diagnose coastal problems, look into options and provide cost-effective ways of managing it.
QUESTION: Does the experience the person/firm had with coastal erosion problems match those on Gasparilla Island? Does the person/firm support only proprietary solutions? If so, that's the one they're going to recommend.
ANSWER: Do your homework before proceeding.
Obtaining answers and defining the problem should provide islanders with a good starting point to get your arms around an erosion problem - but your work is just beginning. Coastal erosion took a long time to get to the point of being a problem. Solving them will take a long time as well so be patient as well as persistent.
Ken or Kate Gooderham, American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, can be reached at (239) 489-2616.