The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)/ Division of Recreation and Parks (DRP) is mismanaging Cayo Costa State Park’s most vulnerable and fragile south beach known as “the narrows”.
Since 2016 the DEP/DRP has allowed their concessionaire to land thousands of people at the “south dock” each month. Large 50’ commercial ferries traverse shallow seagrass flats at all tides and there is no limit to the number of people they can bring each day. This increased large boat and foot traffic at the most vulnerable point of the island, has impacted sensitive seagrass flats, sea oat/sand dune systems as well as shorebird and turtle nesting activities. Private boaters are no longer welcome at the bayside access where signs are posted to stay away from 6:30 am - 7:30 pm.
How have they gotten away with this? Read on!
Our group worked for almost five years to convince the DEP "the narrows" was not the place for intense commercial activities.
In 2020, after taking our case through the Public Hearing process, presenting our concerns to the DEP/DRP in Tallahassee, and a multitude of communications, the DEP/DRP reached consensus and drafted the following language for the 2021 CCSP Unit Management Plan eliminating the commercial use at the south dock. THE DEP/DRP'S words say it all....
"South Dock / Southern Gulf Beach Access - In 2016, the existing bayside dock located near the south end of Cayo Costa was designated for concession boats. Visitor use impacts to the natural communities and shorebird/sea turtle nesting habitat have occurred on the beach side of the trail extending from the south dock, indicating the need for closure of this site for facilitated direct public access. The dock and trail will be maintained for park support purposes only. As permitted in other remote areas of the park, this southern portion of the park will remain accessible for visitors by hiking or other authorized means from the Gulf, such as self-guided boating or paddling. Reduced visitation at this site is expected to result in gradual recovery of the observed impacts. Due to resource impact concerns (i.e., seagrass beds and mangrove swamp) and poor navigability of the shallow waters along this segment of the island, alternative locations for a southern concession dock and beach access trail were determined infeasible. As additional parcels are acquired, depth conditions change, and new navigational information becomes available, alternative access points may be evaluated. Concession ferry access will continue to be facilitated through the docks at Pelican Bay."
JANUARY 2020 – DEP/DRP reversed their decision after pushback from the private concessionaire and the language was changed to:
"South Dock - continue for ferry access"
WHAT CHANGED? THE IMPACTS CONTINUE TO GET WORSE & THERE ARE NO CAPS ON COMMERCIAL USAGE!
Cayo Costa is a refuge for a large variety of listed species including the Snowy Plover. Prior to the commercial activities at the narrows, these birds would regularly nest undisturbed at "the narrows". The eggs shown to the right were laid along this beach in 2014. None were seen during the last monitoring cycle in 2020.
Cayo Costa State Park has a very robust and successful sea turtle nesting protection and "Adopt A Nest" program. Volunteers mark and cover nests during nesting season beginning in May each year.
In 2017 complaints about park ATV's riding high in the sensitive dune areas were reported as being irresponsible. This was just after the state began the commercial activities at the "south dock". As stated in the graphic shown here, they used these excuses to stop patrolling the turtles on the south end for 4 years. They just resumed in May 2021.
In 2020 a rare leatherback turtle nested on the south beach last season. Because it had a tracker monitored by a local conservation agency, the Park was notified and asked to cover the nest. The leatherback is a rare turtle.