Guardians of the beach: Husband-and-wife team work to protect the beach

Lance Shearer

Martin and Debbie Roddy got into volunteering to help the turtles. Among their many other civic and charitable endeavors, both have been working with the Collier County Sea Turtle Protection Program for a dozen years.

Martin and Debbie Roddy at their home in the Estates area. The couple support many different causes, but are most devoted to preserving Marco Island's natural environment.

Like the turtles, they don’t make a lot of noise about what they do, tending to be the “shy and retired” types, so they were surprised to be asked to tell a little about themselves.

“We just go around and do our stuff,” Debbie said. “We don’t like the spotlight. Most of the groups we work with are small.”

“We’re happy to stay in the background,” Marty added.

Background or no, the two have ended up taking leadership roles in a host of island causes, many of them focused on protecting the local environment and its natural habitat. That’s even led to doing a lot of talking, chairing committees, speaking to boards and giving lectures.

Marco's environmental specialist Nancy Richie, left, and Friends of Tigertail president Debbie Roddy talk during the cleanup. The FOT did its bit during the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup Saturday, retrieving trash from the beach, and tabulating the data for a worldwide snapshot of human impact on the oceans.

Debbie is one of the Marco Island representatives to the Collier County Coastal Advisory Committee, currently serving as vice chair. She served as member, co-chair and chair of the City of Marco Island Beach & Coastal Resources Advisory Committee, and spent six years as president of Friends of Tigertail.

While they live in the Estates area, in a home with gopher tortoise nests in the backyard, much of the Roddys’ environmental efforts have been focused on Tigertail Beach in the opposite corner of the island. Marty, along with Debbie in many cases, has lectured on the beach to a variety of groups, including the Marco Island Historical Society, the Marco Island Yacht Club, the Newcomers Club and the Marco Island Men’s Club.

Debbi and Martin Roddy at the first Jerry Adams Chili Cook-Off.

“Usually, I would do the flora and fauna, and Debbie would take the geography and the turtles,” Martin said.

He’s served on the city’s Code Compliance Board, Planning Board and has been a part of the Burrowing Owl Monitoring Program. He is chairman of the Monte Lazarus Scholarship Fund, and past chair of the annual chili cook-off for the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Board, where he has been a board member since 2012.

He serves as a guide and volunteer for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, showing visitors through their Nature Center in Naples. For six years, he also guided Conservancy groups on treks along Tigertail.

The Roddys are founding members of the House & Business Decorating Committee, which encourages and judges Christmas decorations on the island. Longtime chairman Dave Rice said the Roddys “have been major contributors to life on Marco Island. We have benefited in many ways from their help.”

Sea Turtle Protection Program leader Mary Nelson (a.k.a ‘The Turtle Lady’) echoed Rice’s comments.

“They’ve been good volunteers of mine for a long time,” she said. “I can really count on them; when they say they’ll be there, they will be there.”

Monitoring sea turtles and judging Christmas lights both involve nighttime meandering, which seems to be a theme for the Roddys, although the sea turtle patrol can go until 2 a.m. and involves being out in the wild. However, the two met through their day jobs.

Both Debbie and Marty worked at consumer products giant Procter & Gamble; she for 25-plus years in market research, and he as a toxicologist utilizing his Ph.D. in cell biology before going into management. With no children, he was widowed and she divorced.

Martin Roddy displays a spider crab. The Friends of Tigertail invited its friends to "Discover Tigertail" Saturday morning, with naturalists and volunteers sharing information on many different facets of the beach.

“I was not getting married again,” Debbie said.

But she did, and when they went looking for a retirement spot, they checked out Gatlinburg, Tenn. and the American Southwest.

“I had been here before, and I said, ‘Let me show you something’,” Debbie said. “He said, ‘You know, wearing flipflops and shorts in February…I could get used to this’.”

An avid fly fisherman who ties his own flies, it’s fair to say Martin is getting used to living here, and the Roddys are hard at work spreading the gospel of Marco Island to others.

“We grew up in cities. You’d maybe see a squirrel,” he said. “We’re not used to all these animals around.”

“Some people don’t realize that wildlife brings in a lot of money,” Debbie added.

She said she’s too busy for hobbies, unless, of course, volunteering counts. Debbie is currently the education committee chair of the Marco Island Woman's Club and she also previously served as the club's president. She also serves on the board of the Marco Island Center for the Arts.