The city's Beach Advisory Committee first promoted the idea. Volunteers number 23 and more are welcome, said Nancy Richie, the city's liaison with the stewards, coordinated by Debbie Roddy.
After training, volunteers are on the beach two hours at a time on the weekends, They first appeared on Memorial Day weekend, but with Fourth of July ahead, they will begin their duties on Saturday, running through July 8.
In a friendly, conversational manner, the stewards make beach visitors aware of the ordinance and etiquette expected on Marco Island's Beach. They are armed with a packet of information on just about any question that might arise.
They remind visitors that non-service dogs, bicycles, and glass are not allowed on the beach. Our beach dunes and vegetation are important for storm protection so beachgoers need to stay out of these areas. Beach visitors are expected to respect the marked off areas for bird nesting and disposing of their trash in the proper receptacles. An item that most might not consider is holes in the sand. On the Fourth of July there will be a lot of families building sand castles, motes and trenches, and other types of creative art. Everyone is asked to level off the sand and fill in the holes, motes and trenches before they leave them, making them dangerous beach walking.
Particularly at this time of year when no lights (including flash lights, cell phones, hats with lights, lanterns) are allowed on the beach after 9 p.m. because of sea turtle nesting and hatching season.
These same holes that go unfilled can be a death trap for female sea turtles coming to lay eggs," Roddy said. "They also are troublesome for the tiny sea turtle hatchlings trying to get into the Gulf of Mexico as they always traverse the beach in the dark. Last year, several endangered sea turtle hatchlings came out of a nest, fell into a hole someone left on the beach and died trying to get to the Gulf."
How about red tide?
Volunteer steward Ken Quinn said. "Often people have no idea what red tide is. They see fish washed up and almost always think it has to be caused by red tide or some type of biohazard. They also ask about stuff that comes ashore."
Each volunteer has an information sheet called the Wrack Community. The Wrack is stuff cast ashore by the sea. Much of it once grew in the sea, like seaweeds and seagrass. These marine castaways foster protective dunes and allow assembly of a unique natural community that brings life to the beach. Various types of grasses, shells, salt corals and "snacks" for birds are shown with photos.
Often the stewards help identify shells found on the beach. They carry a two-page, colorful portfolio of tropical Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico shells. Another information sheet is called Shells 101 for the four types of shells found on the beach. Stewards will inform visitors that Collier County prohibits the taking of live shells and there is a hefty fine if anyone is caught with a live shell.
Some shells may look as if they are dead when found in the water, but they in fact have creatures living on or in them. Sand Dollars are live and popular to collect. It is recommended that all shells, including Sand Dollars, be collected above the high tide mark, not below it or in the water.
"Live shells need to be left alone so they can reproduce and be around for your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Roddy said.
The volunteers receive a packet of information at training that includes Loggerhead Sea Turtle nesting and hatching information, why beach dunes are important, how to preserve the beach and wildlife for future generations and why the beach changes.
Volunteer stewards are not law enforcement. Their job is to educate people and assist with inquires. However, they will contact law enforcement if the need arises.
They also have contact numbers for Florida Wildlife Commission, Mary Nelson, sea turtle monitor and Conservancy of Southwest Florida Rehab Unit.
Steward C.J. O'Connor, "When I heard about it, I immediately want to do it. I started coming here in 1972 and moved here six years ago. I love the beach so much, I want to protect it."
"People already know the orange shirts," Marty Roddy said. "People learned quickly about no dos on the beach and no glass and they are getting better. The holiday coming up will add a lot more pressure from families and people on the beach for the fireworks.
To become a volunteer, call Nancy Richie at 389-5003 or email her at email@example.com.