Bear's early-morning visit to Bonita Beach excites cautious onlookers

Andrea Stetson
Naples Daily News correspondent
Mike Watson, a volunteer with Turtle Time, was monitoring the beach Monday morning looking for turtle tracks when he came within 15 feet of a black bear. Watson took photos and then watched the bear as it walked along the beach. The bear went all the way from Bonita Beach Park to the tip of Little Hickory Island by the pass.

Black bear on Bonita Beach. That’s what people from Bonita Beach Park all the way to the pass on the northern end of Little Hickory Island saw on Monday morning as the black bear lumbered along the sand surprising people who snapped photos and took videos.

Mike Watson, a volunteer with Turtle Time, was looking for turtle tracks at 6:45 a.m. when he became one of the first to spot the black bear.

“It was pretty cool,” Watson said. “I said ‘I’ve got to get pictures of this. Nobody is going to believe it.’”

Watson said he’s never seen a bear on the beach, and neither did a lot of others.

“They came running and kept saying “Did you see the beach; there’s a bear on the beach.’ People were seeing him and trying to take pictures and stuff.”

Shelly Isom was working at Doc’s Beach House when she spotted the bear.

“It was just running through the parking lot and then it ran on the beach and then it disappeared,” she described. “It was caught on our security cameras too.”

Isom has worked at Docs since 1987 and said this is the second time she has seen a bear on the beach.

“I saw one about 25 years ago,” she said.

Jamie Garcia was also working at Docs when he grabbed his cell phone to take video of the bear.

“He was walking in the parking area and all over,” Garcia began. “He went on the bench. I have a video. I wasn’t scared. It was just a little boy. It‘s my first time. I have never seen one. I was surprised.”

Watson said the bear came quite close.

“When I first saw him, he was only about 15 feet away,” he said. “He was a young bear. He made it all the way to the pass and that was the last I heard of him.”

Bears are often seen in backyards, especially in Golden Gate and other more rural areas. But seeing one on the beach is not very common.

“It’s rare to see a bear on our beaches,” stated Kathy Worley, Director of Environmental Science at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “This is just the time when particularity juvenile males look for their own territory and sometimes go into areas where it is unusual to see them. “

Billy Gunnels, an associate professor of biological sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), says that bears do move very large distances, especially male bears. A male black bear can have a range of up to 250 square miles. He said young males in many mammal species do disperse and move from one location to another. Gunnels said a beach could make an easy corridor for a bear to travel because it is easier than busy roads, or houses that block the way or places with thick vegetation.

“It might just be an easy pathway,” Gunnels said.

Yet the professor is still surprised that one was lumbering along the sand right in the middle a beach in Bonita Springs.

“It’s not very common,” he said. “I am surprised by this one. Bonita Beach is right in the middle of the city. That bear has to move a long distance.”

Gunnels praised the people on Bonita Beach for simply taking photos and videos and not trying to get close to the bear.

“That’s a good way to interact with the bear,” Gunnels said. “Just take videos and photos without close interaction.”