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Cayo Costa fared well during Hurricane Irma

By Staff | Oct 18, 2017

The large floating concrete dock suffered some beating from Hurricane Irma, causing it to be closed until it can be fixed. MEGHAN McCOY

With the exception of damage to a dock, Cayo Costa fared well during the recent hurricane that impacted many areas of Florida.

Cayo Costa State Park Maintenance Mechanic Nathan Bush said the rollers on the floating concrete dock were beat up during Hurricane Irma. What used to move with the wakes of the water now flexes when one boat goes by the dock.

“It’s not dangerous to be around, but it’s not stable to walk on,” Bush said, which is why the dock is taped off.

Although they have already bid out the dock, it’s a waiting game to when it will be completed due to the demand in the area for repair work.

Due to the needed repairs, the annual Celebrate Cayo Costa Day, slated for Nov. 4, is in the process of being rescheduled. Bush said they want to make sure the dock is safe before ferry boat transportation brings individuals to the park.

“It will be rescheduled to a later date when the dock is fixed,” he said.

Private boats are welcome to visit the park, due to that dock having no damage.

Bush said some of their strangler fig trees came down, one in particular smashed a ramp that has already been replaced. Sea grapes were another that was impacted by the hurricane.

Staff was able to return to Cayo Costa the Wednesday after the storm. They came equipped with chainsaws, so they could clean up the debris as quickly as possible to reopen the park.

“We hustled and knocked it out,” Bush said. “It gave us time to rebuild and clean up during our slow season.”

The park reopened on Sept. 29 and the campgrounds and cabins are open for the public to rent.

He said although all of the trails had debris blockage, all but one have reopened as of last week. Bush said the Quarantine Trail, which usually holds water during any kind of weather event, is pretty saturated and still has small vegetation debris blocking the trail.

Like everyone else in Southwest Florida, Bush said they started boarding up and getting the island ready for Hurricane Irma when it showed its path was directed towards them. He said they put all of their buggies on the top of the hill as a way to embrace the storm.

The generator held up during the storm and they never lost power.

As soon as a mandatory evacuation was issued by the Florida State Park service, all of the staff left the island.

Captain Brian Holaway was excited to learn that the island did well during Hurricane Irma, due the majority of his charters taking place on the island.

He began his chartering at Cayo Costa while working for South Seas Island Resort on the shelling boat. When it was sold to Captiva Cruises Holaway remained with them for 20 years. While at Captiva Cruises, he spent 240 days on the water, which included a minimum of two trips a day to Cayo Costa.

“I love it up here. I’m a kid in a candy store,” Holaway said. “It’s nice and rugged and wild.”

Due to that love, he became a member of the steering committee for the Friends of Cayo Costa.

“This is my life,” he said while driving his boat. “I’m very fortunate to come up here and explore on my days off.”

Two years ago, he began offering small boat charters, many of which are to Cayo Costa. As a certified Florida Master Naturalist, and love of expanding his knowledge from other naturalist, he specializes in whatever charter his clients would like to take, ranging from a trip to the Randell Research Center, to a shelling trip at Cayo Costa State Park.

Although the island fared well, the loggerhead nesting season did not have a great year.

Stephanie Crooks, a recent graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, was one of the interns that patrolled the beaches this summer.

This season, she said they had a total of 229 nests on the north end of the island, 134 of which were viable. The south side of the island had 135 total nests with only 46 of those being viable. Crooks said they counted 400 false crawls this year, compared to the 700 to 800 last year.

Depredation by coyotes, raccoons and ghost crabs was a huge issue.

“It was awesome doing it,” she said of the patrol. “But it was really sad doing it. It’s more of the wild out here.”

The patrol would begin by 8:30 a.m. in the morning, due to the interns having to catch a boat ride to the island.

“By that time everyone had their breakfast,” Crooks said. “There were days where all of our nests were gone from the night before.”

She said they did not have a permit to do any night surveying, which she believes would have helped with the depredation rates.

“Less than five nests were dug up after the screens,” Crooks said.

If a viable nest was found, they would put a screen over the egg chamber discouraging predators.

Crooks said they lost 35 nests from Hurricane Irma.

“There was accretion of sand, a few scarping too. I have watched it change over the last six months,” she said of the beach.

She said she knew a few of the nests hatched before the storm hit, but they were not able to do an inventory, to count how many turtles made it to the ocean, because they did not do any patrols from Sept. 7 through Sept. 25.

As of last Thursday, three loggerhead nests remained.

To book a charter with Holaway, visit www.captainbrianonthewater.com. For more information about Cayo Costa State Park, visit www.floridastateparks.org/park/Cayo-Costa.