Posted on May 17, 2023
The Tigertail Lagoon/Sand Dollar Island Ecosystem Restoration Project is scheduled for completion by the end of May, according to a press release from the city. At that time, all construction equipment will be removed.
Work began in 2022 to restore the lagoon and the barrier island to pre-Hurricane Irma condition. “Following Hurricane Irma in 2017 Sand Dollar Island’s northern tip grew 15 acres in five years and began encroaching on the Marco River navigation channel, threatening to close off the lagoon entrance,” wrote city officials.
When the project is completed, sea turtles and other wildlife will have a larger beach habitat on which to nest, mangroves will be restored, and water quality in the lagoon will be improved for recreational activities, project leaders assert.
“We’ve lost 15 to 20 acres of wetlands since Irma,” Mohamed Dabees, vice president of Humiston & Moore Engineers, and project engineer for the Hideaway effort, told us six months ago. “We are moving roughly over 400,000 cubic yards of sand to restore Sand Dollar Island and recreate the sand spit and barrier system.”
“Total wetland area will be increased by relocating the sand spit seaward of its present location to where it was located in approximately 2017,” Dabees said in a paper on the Hideaway project published in “Frontiers in Built Environment.” “The reconstructed beach berm will provide enhanced resiliency to high frequency weather events. Sediment will be sourced from the existing sand spit and an innovative sand trap that will maintain the lagoon entrance open while providing beneficial re-use for excess sediment that continues to accumulate at the end of the spit.”
The Tigertail Lagoon and Sand Dollar Island form the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area. As a result, the project was approved and permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
The permits include environmental monitoring and protection of seagrasses, turtles, birds, and mangroves. As construction draws to a close during sea turtle nesting season, the contractor remains in compliance with all permit conditions. To ensure that compliance continues, the city, its consultants, and the contractor meet regularly with the permitting and regulatory agencies.
Shorebird nesting is currently being monitored daily by Turrell Hall and Associates. Sea turtle nesting is being monitored by Collier County and the sea turtle monitoring team attends the project meetings.
For example, Collier County reported eleven false crawls between May 2 and May 8 Island-wide. While it is common to have false crawls during nesting season, the city is working with Collier County to monitor the nesting activity and make project modifications as needed.
The city recognizes the importance of sea turtle protection and will ensure that all relevant city ordinances are followed and that this project adheres to all permit standards.
For example, the ongoing construction includes grading the sand beach berms. There is currently a four-foot-high sand berm on Hideaway beach that will be reshaped and sloped through that process.
This project will not cost Marco Island taxpayers a dime, said Erik Brechnitz – except those who own property at Hideaway Beach Club. Through the Hideaway Beach Special Tax District, owners at the exclusive gated community will foot the cost. They are applying to the county for Tourist Development Council funding, since allowing the system to become silted in and choking off the lagoon at Tigertail Beach would be disastrous for the county beach park there.
Linda Colombo, president of the Friends of Tigertail Beach, a citizens’ support group, said her organization has been involved in the dredging project from the start. The new berm on Sand Dollar Island will be “shorebird friendly,” she said. “We hope it will stop water from over washing into the lagoon and prevent serious problems from happening.”
The local Audubon Society did oppose the project, due to the required destruction of some nesting habitat on Sand Dollar Island, but as Colombo pointed out, “the area we are taking away wasn’t even there just a few years ago. The whole project is environmentally friendly – for the fish, the birds, and the sea turtles nesting on the beach.” Bird species include nesting on Sand Dollar Island include black skimmers, Wilson’s plovers and least terns.