Beach Sand Wars in Advice

  • May 21, 2014, 11:20 a.m.
  • |
  • Public

Coastal residents in Florida have always taken the health of their shoreline seriously. Florida’s pretty beaches are like a string of pearls around her neck.

Since the Gulf of Mexico formed, waves have been tossing up pulverized quartz that becomes the pure white sand for which Florida beaches are renowned. The sand is often compared to superfine sugar or talcum powder, but sugar sticks to the feet, while the sand on Florida’s beaches brushes off easily, and talcum powder creates clouds while Siesta’s sand softly caves to one side or another.

Beach weddings are a big business here: a lovely setting and no need to reserve a church. There are baptisms, too, from time to time, but mostly, it’s just beach people in all shapes and sizes and states of dress.

Tourists fill their pockets with shells and friendly Floridians are happy to share the secret of getting them home safely: use a tightly closing container, put a bit of sand on the bottom, nestle in some shells, cover with sand, repeat until full. Fill to the lip of the container with sand, close tightly, pack in a larger box with plenty of cushioning and you just might get that Leopard Crab shell home in one piece.

For those born and raised in coastal Florida, the beach serves as a childhood playground and the site of more than one Spring Break romance. For transplants, the beach is the Utopia they dreamed of, that mythical land where they can shed emotional baggage and find themselves again.

Visitors flock to the state every winter, and each year, a few decide to stay, feet planted firmly in the sugary sand. Some non-human visitors, such as the sea turtle—five of the world’s seven species, in fact—need the Florida beaches for reproductive survival.

The residents of Siesta Beach in Sarasota, along with the rest of the world, were understandably upset over the BP oil spill and waited apprehensively after so many miscalculations and unanswered questions.

Siesta Beach, consistently rated as one of the top ten best beaches in the United States by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (aka “Dr. Beach”), has weathered affronts before. The latest took place just a few years ago when county trucks finally arrived to fill in the large hole they dug by the concession stand to repair underground utilities.

Unfortunately, the truckload of sand they brought in was from out east of town, dug from former pasture and orange grove land. It was soon obvious that the sand didn’t match. It was brown and gritty and stuck out like a sore thumb against the 99% quartz beach sand. Residents were quite upset.

One protester jumped into the hole as it was being filled and the county had him arrested. A few concerned citizens were placated when the county covered up the brownish sand with quartz sand; others filed a lawsuit against the county and called for legislation specifying exactly what sand can be put on Sarasota’s beaches.

While that small sand storm was brushed away with amusement, a more serious assault arose when then-Governor Charlie Crist changed his stand on offshore drilling. Some cheered his decision.

First, some background for understanding and clarification: In those pre-Oil Spill days, a TV interviewee, claiming that tourism was not a sustainable industry (casually dismissing seventy years of visitors to Florida), angered the viewing audience by saying: “If you think the oil spill will ruin the view, move elsewhere.” He opined that Floridians should be tapping into its energy resources even more than they currently did (referring to offshore drilling).

His argument was, of course, ironic: the underutilized natural resource in Florida is not oil, but a sun so bright that it glares off the white sand beaches.

Currently, 37% of Florida’s power comes from coal, 22% from petroleum, 21% from natural gas, 18% from nuclear power and a mere 3% from solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass. Since the 1960s, the best that the majority of Floridians can seem to manage is heating swimming pools with solar panels.

These numbers are constantly changing. When then-Governor Crist reversed his position once again to support the (on again/off again) drilling moratorium, Florida took a step toward relying on alternative fuels. Investing in the field made financial sense to many, including large utilities such as Florida Power & Light.

The projects have been impressive. A large solar field has been installed at Babcock Ranch, near Fort Myers. Another is situated further inland, east of Arcadia, and a third project is planned for Florida’s east coast.

The solar cell facility at Babcock Ranch provides enough energy to power 3,000 homes. The state, in the largest land preservation purchase in Florida’s history, bought 73,000 environmentally sensitive acres for $350 million dollars and spent an additional $300 million to build and install a four hundred acre, seventy-five megawatt photovoltaic solar facility. One day, it will power homes built on the 18,000 privately owned acres next to it. Estimated to be four times more cost effective than proposed nuclear power plants, these solar fields produce no noise, pollution, or hazardous waste. They prevent emissions of over 575,000 tons of greenhouse gases (the equivalent of 4,500 cars) and require no water.

We’ve punctured Alaska, allowed foreign countries to mine gems out of our National parks, drained the Colorado aquifer, and dug holes into the Pennsylvania Mountains. When does it stop? Here we are, with the better option of harnessing the sun and our heads are still in the 1950s. Let’s move away from “the way we do it up north” and move toward the light; that big, gorgeous sun that reminds us almost daily that we’re lucky to live in paradise. It makes financial sense, it makes environmental sense. There is no downside to protecting natural beauty.

Back Story: The time has come for alternative fuel exploration. Yes, it will be expensive at first. Yes, it will be small scale at first. Yes, there will be dozens of choices and not all will be viable. None of those reasons is reason enough to refrain from exploring other energy options. Eventually, demand for oil will drop, but there will still be enough profit in other markets for the companies to survive. Especially if they stop the obscene pay scale for CEOs. A diminished demand for oil also keeps our enemies from profiting off our needs.

How much impact the use of alternative fuels will have on the environment remains to be seen. Certainly, EVERY energy choice, including alternative fuels, impacts our environment in some way and certainly, the energy used (and pollution caused by the use) by the United States is not the biggest or even the only offender, as other factors must be calculated in, from China’s growing pollution problem to the village farmer who burns down the Amazon rain forest to clear a field. Only continued use and time can offer up answers.

QueenSuzu October 27, 2016

I was at siesta beach many years ago when my sister lived in Sarasota and to me it was exactly what I envisioned Florida to be---hot, water, palm trees, gulls and sand----it was perfect!

ConnieK October 27, 2016

You were close to me!

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