Constant care may be bad for beach ecosystems

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ANNA MARIA ISLAND, Fla. - The Suncoast is known for beautiful beaches, many of which are groomed with large tractors to help them look their best. The raking practice is something Glenn Wiseman would like to see stopped.

“It is not a good thing,” said Wiseman, adding, “the reason why is the beach rack is very important.”

Wiseman, who patrols Bradenton Beach daily as part of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, says beach rack is simply plant material that washes ashore like seaweed. He says the seaweed often cleared from the beach for aesthetic reasons is important to the beach ecosystem.

“We have a lot of birds that migrate through here every year on their way up to the Arctic circle to breed and this is one of the major feeds.”

He doesn't believe the constant grooming and raking of the sand is good for the ecosystem either and believes that what nature puts on the beach has a reason and should stay on the beach.

A recent a study of a Mediterranean beach on the coast of Spain conducted over a 30 year time frame backs up Wiseman's opinion. Researches conducting the study noticed a correlation between the number of tourists on a beach and the decline of sea shells. According to the study, a 300 percent increase in tourism led to a 60 percent decrease in the abundance of seashells on a beach frequented by tourists.

“I never really thought twice about walking along the beach and just looking for pretty sea shells," said Eric Gee. He says collecting shells has always been part of the beach experience. “You take for granted, you think it is some renewable resource that is there.”

Florida had over 91 million visitors in the state last year. “The engineer in me jumps right to the law of big numbers. If everybody is taking home a seashell or two that is a lot of seashells,” said Gee.

“I can see the concern,” said Dave Hayes. He points out that in our national parks you are not allow to remove even a rock. “The parks are for everyone. It would be a shame if we lost a portion of our heritage here.”

Wiseman agrees and hopes everyone will think twice before they remove anything from the beach.

“Nature put things in place for a reason. Usually they are here because they are supposed to be here and they contribute to the diversity of the beach.”