Residents and Sea Turtle Permit Holders Help Protect Florida’s Beaches

Issue 2, 2017

Residents and Sea Turtle Permit Holders Help Protect Florida’s Beaches

By Gary Appelson

During STC’s many years of witnessing the activities that occur on the beach after significant storm events such as nor’easters or hurricanes, one thing is abundantly clear and consistent; impacted coastal property owners engage in a wide range of activities to try to quickly restore their property and their dunes. It is understandable that property owners feel vulnerable after storm events. Most seek permits and engage in lawful actions to rebuild and protect their property from future storms. However, problems arise when property owners fail to apply for the required state permits and engage in illegal construction activities.

These activities can harm sea turtles and can actually inhibit natural beach recovery. After Hurricane
Matthew many property owners, especially in the most impacted areas in northeast Florida, ignored state permitting guidelines. Illegal and unpermitted activities included such things as new dune crossovers extending way out on the active beach, decks constructed seaward of the dunes and over turtle nesting habitat, continuous sand fencing constructed parallel to the beach effectively blocking sea turtles from accessing the upper beach,dunes replanted with sod instead of native vegetation, and non-beach quality sand being dumped on the beach.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulates and permits activities that take place on the beach. However, agency staff can’t be everywhere after storm events as property owners and local governments rush to rebuild structures and infrastructure. Also, these activities often take place in people’s backyards out of sight of the public. STC works with concerned local residents and especially sea turtle Permit Holders to help identify illegal activities on the beach and report them to state and local authorities. Sea turtle monitors often play a critical role after storms since they are on the beach daily and also often have an understanding of coastal regulations and laws.

Following Hurricane Matthew local residents and sea turtle Permit Holders in northeast Florida were instrumental in assisting DEP in reporting illegal activities that could harm the beach. DEP could then act to bring these new structures into compliance with state laws or insist on their removal. Enforcement of state and local laws designed to protect sea turtles and the beach is good for Florida, since a healthy and resilient beach and dune system benefits everyone, helps local economies recover, and helps protect all beach-dependent animals.