Naples Beach goes native: Dune plantings to protect shoreline, give flowery makeover
Naples Beach is a destination, but for those who like to stop and smell the flowers, a diverse community of native plantings will flank incoming visitors just north of the city pier.
At the west end of 10th Avenue South, city contractors partnered with the Naples Botanical Garden on Wednesday morning to beautify and fortify the dunes.
Staffers from the garden dug up the remaining invasive beach naupaka that surrounded the wood plank dune walkover while others dug holes to introduce a variety of native plants.
“The invasive plants take over the beach and form a monoculture,” said Chad Washburn, the garden’s vice president of conservation said. “It’s not good for the ecosystem.”
The goal of the dune planting is to create a diverse ecosystem that not only protects the shoreline from erosion during tropical storms, but also creates a visually appealing entrance to the beach.
Just before the dunes, benches look out to the Gulf. There, flowers will help create a visually appealing resting area. While the yellow flowers won't be too functional, they'll help drive what Washburn called the "economic engine" of the area: sandy beaches.
Naples Botanical Garden and the City of Naples have been working together since 2017’s Hurricane Irma to plant natural and native flora around the city.
Heather Shields, the city arborist, said the partnership started with several meetings to discuss what the challenges were when the storm destroyed some of Naples’ urban canopy.
“It has slowly grown into sharing different plant materials and it has now grown into this,” Shields said.
While she normally works to plant the city’s medians — where symmetry and a certain clean look are expected — Shields said the beach dunes are a bit more haphazard, but it better serves the purpose.
Dunes will provide protection
Dunes play an important role for coastal resiliency.
Part of a nature-based solution to sea-level and climate change, dunes work to protect buildings behind them, alleviate problems of erosion and can protect infrastructure from storm surge during hurricanes and large tropical systems.
Native plants within these dunes help keep them stabilized.
At the 10th Avenue South project, workers planted a variety of plants from seashore dropseed that can help colonize the dunes to beach elder that works to accumulate sand.
Washburn said the colonizers, or “nurse crops,” germinate quickly to help hold the sand in place when other plants are lost during a storm.
He worked for about two years studying the ecosystems at Rookery Bay and Delnor-Wiggins to identify what is growing there so the dune plantings on 10th could be similarly modeled. He emphasized the need for a diverse ecosystem full of native vegetation.
“It’s like a car or airplane,” he said. “They have all of these little parts with different functions, some small, some large, and we want to make sure we have all the functions here (for protection).”
Once the plants are dug in, Shields said it will take a few months, likely one rainy season, for them to start filling in the dune.
For now, workers sprinkled water crystals in the holes to keep the roots hydrated until the rains begin.
“Typically, we do our exotic removal in the fall and our plantings in the spring,” she said. “We use those times to avoid turtle nesting season.”
For Wednesday’s project, the city paid $700 to remove the exotics and estimated the planting costs at $2,510. The city has been working on dune plantings along the shore for the past three years and the removal and planting costs to date are about $30,000, Shields said in an email.
The funding comes through the city's Capital Improvement Project's beach fund.
"The revenue sources for the beach fund are from parking fees/meters, concession contracts, parking tickets, and (the Tourist Development Council)," city spokeswoman Monique Barnhart wrote in an email.
The city offers educational resources to homeowners with property on the beach. If work is needed on the dunes, a Coastal Construction Setback Line permit is required but a list of what can be removed and what can be planted can be found on the city’s website.
Katie Laakkonen, director of the city’s natural resources division, said the city will also do a site inspection during proposed dune work and help the homeowner understand exactly what can be done.
The city’s dune plant list does not contain some of the species seen at the project site Wednesday, but Laakkonen said she’d ultimately like to see the list expanded as well as the list found within the city’s municipal code.
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk