Fort Myers Beach Disaster Relief
Fort Myers Coastal Cleanups – Sponsored by Florida Gulf Coast University and Zenwtr.
By Fabiola Benavidez
If you search for Fort Myers Beach Pier on Google, your heart may sink when you see that the pier is “permanently closed.” It is heartbreaking for the Ocean Blue Team to see this happen because, for several years, enthusiastic groups have gathered at Fort Myers Beach Fishing Pier to clean up the beach. We’ve found that Ocean Blue volunteers have a higher turnout and are more enthusiastic when cleaning up in Fort Myers Beach than at any other location around the United States.
Ocean Blue was founded in Oregon, yet the majority of our funding comes from the Northeast United States. Los Angeles and Southern Florida are the regions with the highest number of volunteers for beach cleanups. The beauty of these beaches, combined with warm temperatures year-round makes them a major draw for tourists from around the world.
Floridians love the ocean
Floridians have a love of the ocean, and they are willing to go to great lengths in order to protect it. Not every city welcomes cleanup volunteers with open arms. So it’s clear that the City of Fort Myers Beach goes out of its way to welcome and accommodate beach and ocean stewards. Every time we reach out for assistance, city staff provides guidance and support so that our efforts result in a great experience for everyone.
Our love for the area and its people is why we made the decision to leave our home state of Oregon when Hurricane Ian devastated the community. “We knew we had to give back. So, showing up to clear even a fraction of the ocean-bound debris left behind by Ian was the least we could do to give back to the community that ceaselessly gives back to the ocean,” stated Karisa Arterbury, Director of Operations at Ocean Blue.
Ocean Blue Project is proud to help communities recover from natural disasters. Thanks to partnerships with companies like ZenWTR, EcoConscious, and Herbal Skin Solutions along with Florida Gulf Coast University students, we were well-established to mobilize volunteers for hurricane relief efforts across Fort Myers Beach and surrounding communities.
Michael Muller, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University, led greek life, Pi Kappa Alpha, Phi Mu, and Zeta TAu Alpha in a beach cleanup at Fort Myers Beach last April. The Ocean Blue Cleanup Crew Leader declared, “Overall, it was definitely a success. Thank you for all the assistance through the process. I will make sure students at the school know about your organization as they are always looking for service hours and this is a great and fun way to get them! Also, everyone loved that they got to keep the reusable bags!” Thank you for that generous bag donation to support cleanup volunteers, EcoConscious.
Hurricane Ian was first spotted on September 27th, 2022. The tropical cyclone made its way westward and, one day later, reached southwest Florida where it caused an estimated 127 deaths and left behind approximately $67 billion in damage. Hurricane Ian, recorded as a category 5 hurricane, left a path of destruction in Fort Myers. It is now considered the worst storm the United States has seen since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Climate change and increased global temperatures have made tropical storms a common event in addition to them becoming more intense—and frequent—as a result.
According to an article by the American Geophysical Union published by ScienceDaily, “Over the past four decades, the time between tropical storms making landfall in the Gulf Coast has been getting shorter. By the end of the century, Louisiana and Florida could be twice as likely to experience two tropical storms that make landfall within nine days of each other, according to new model estimates.”
Protecting Endangered Wildlife
The impact of tropical storms is great. Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, or SCCF, has made it its mission to protect and care for Southwest Florida’s coastal ecosystems – especially after tropical catastrophes like Ian. SCCF is currently working on a multi-year project studying the hatching cycles of endangered sea turtles. Having already experienced the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, scientists became concerned when Ian made an unexpected arrival just a mere 5 years later.
Florida Gulf Coast University – our coastal cleanup partner – invited SCCF researchers to bring key elements of their study to the campus in Fort Myers, Florida. Endangered turtles, vital monitoring equipment, and sampling collection tools were transferred to FGCU’s campus and stayed protected after Hurricane Ian’s wrath.
While many were able to escape the hurricane’s destruction, there is some damage that we can’t escape. The storm destroyed homes, businesses, and lives in its path. Communities were displaced, and, with this destruction, toxic spills from damaged chemical plants and local gas stations have contaminated the ocean.
The long-term effects are becoming clear as red tide algal blooms continue to spread along the Fort Myers coastline and pose a threat to the fragile ecosystem of this popular tourist destination. These collections of algae continue to kill wildlife, poison shellfish, and make the surrounding air harmful to breathe in.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported eight manatees died in the wake of Hurricane Ian. This is devastating to a population already struggling for survival in warming waters full of toxic runoff and dangerous boats. Not only did record-breaking rainfall cause algae blooms; it also resulted in the death of nutritional seagrass, which manatees are dependent upon for survival.
Rebuilding Fort Myers Beach
Local wildlife and people in the community continue to heal and rebuild. Unfortunately, many Lee County locals, who rely on the approximately 5 million tourists spending $3 billion each year, are being forced to face a downturn in profits as the city slowly recovers. It can take weeks or months for a community to recover from a disaster fully. The longer the community’s restoration takes, the greater the economic and ecological losses that it’s people will suffer.
Recovering Five Million Pounds of Waste
Richard Arterbury, founder and director of Ocean Blue, has worked alongside cleanup volunteers and believes that the organization will collect more than one million pounds by year’s end.
Thanks to Ocean Blue volunteers and supporters, this goal is projected to be met several years earlier than expected. The power and persistence of this organization are due in large part to the work of these individuals— their dedication is nothing short of inspiring.
Calling all Wavemakers + Waste Warriors
Our cleanup efforts have been going on for weeks, and we will continue them into the new year! Join our efforts and make an impact today
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