"This was the worst storm I've worked on," said Marco Island Police Department officer Emilio Rodriguez, who's been a firefighter/police officer in Florida for 30 years. Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Lisa Conley/Naples Daily News
Every year tourists from around the world flock to Marco Island to enjoy its white sand beaches and warm turquoise waters. In fact, it won TripAdvisor's 2014 Traveler's Choice Award for best island in the U.S., so it's no surprise that after Hurricane Irma made landfall, one of the first questions residents asked was: How are our beaches?
Answer: They're great.
"Marco Island’s beaches are still as beautiful as ever," Chadd Chustz, Marco Island's environmental specialist, said. "Resident’s Beach has already up righted most of the chickee umbrellas that were knocked over; Paul’s concession has chairs and umbrellas ready for sunbathers in front of the Charter Club; and Tigertail Beach paddleboards and kayaks are in the water for folks to tour the lagoon post Hurricane Irma."
Although that lagoon looks a little bit different now.
"Irma did reshape Marco Island’s beaches, including Tigertail Beach," Chustz said. "The wave action and storm surge washed sand and shells approximately 20 yards into the dune vegetation in some areas on Tigertail, but it was good to see the dunes doing their job to protect the beachside condos and resorts on central beach."
Chustz warned residents that walking across the lagoon, a popular thing to do during low tide, may no longer be safe.
"Several breaches have formed north of Tigertail on Sand Dollar Spit (and) the currents are very strong when the tide is moving in and out," he said. "Beachgoers should be cautious when walking to the north end; walking out at low tide could leave them surrounded by water when the tide rolls back in."
He also said that some of Tigertail Beach's wildlife sadly did not survive the storm.
"Unfortunately the 15 unhatched sea turtle nests that were present when Irma hit are likely inundated and washed out," he said. "But the birds are definitely enjoying the wrack line, and it’s inspiring to see nature’s resiliency after such a powerful storm."
Other beaches throughout the county didn't fare as well as those on Marco; according to Gary McAlpin, Collier’s coastal zone manager, Irma caused “extensive damage” to some county beaches.
McAlpin toured the county’s beaches with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection shortly after Irma.
It was just a preliminary inspection; Collier County Coastal Management Division will be conducting a detailed survey of beach erosion and accretion sometime this week, and numbers are expected by early to mid-October.
“The beaches are usable. There’s room on the beaches,” McAlpin said in a previous interview. “There was extensive damage. We’ll be determining how much that is and working with the state and federal agencies as we move forward.”
Jack Wert, Collier’s tourism director, said repairing the damaged beaches will be a “top priority.” The county’s beaches are an important part of the visitor experience, and tourists expect them to be in good condition, he said. The county has reserves set aside to pay for beach repairs.
“Will it be enough? I don’t know,” Wert said. “I think the good news is this is happening at a time of year that is a little slower. September is our slowest month. October is a little better, but not much.”
Naples Daily News reporter Ryan Mills contributed to this article.
Days after the Hurricane Irma hit Southwest Florida, a busy street in the city of Bonita Springs, Fla. remained under water.
Drone video shows how a flooded field and a four wheeler becomes an opportunity for wakeboarding in the Lehigh Acres area of Southwest Florida.
Drone footage shows the destruction left by Hurricane Irma in the Leawood Lakes and Cape Sable Lakes neighborhoods of Naples. (Video by Rodney White and Michael Zamora)
Drone video shows hurricane Irma's damage to Goodland, a small community along the water in Southwest Florida. USA TODAY NETWORK
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Flooded street in Bonita Springs
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Wakeboarding in Lehigh Acres
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Irma wrecks Southwest Florida neighborhoods
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Boats, businesses battered in Goodland