Posted by: Michelle Atkinson, Environmental Horticulture Agent
Let’s start with the legal stuff:
The Florida Legislature recognized the importance of coastal plant species. Therefore Florida law states that no person, firm, corporation, or governmental agency shall damage or cause to be damaged sand dunes or the vegetation growing on the dune system (subparagraph 161.053(2)(a), Florida Statutes). Consequently, it is the policy of the Department of Environmental Protection to protect native salt-tolerant vegetation and endangered plant communities. Property owners or their agents proposing to alter the native vegetation seaward of the Department’s Coastal Construction Control Line must apply for a permit if the alteration can be expected to damage the plants.
What does this mean to landscape professionals and homeowners? If you are maintaining an area along the coast that could be considered a sand dune or part of a dune system, STOP! And then….
- Identify the plant. (We can help you with that, at no charge!)
- If it is a native species leave it alone. You will need a permit to “alter” the vegetation.
Now let’s talk about enforcement. Recently, a Manatee County homeowner experienced the complications that can arise from trimming Sea Grape on a sand dune. The story can be found at http://www.bradenton.com/2015/05/13/5795365_holmes-beach-police-sending-sea.html?rh=1
In 2011 a Vero Beach homeowner was fined $15,000 for cutting Sea Grape and other dune vegetation. Story at http://www.tcpalm.com/news/vero-beach-homeowner-issued-15k-fine-for-tree
Why does it matter? In a word, light. Sea Grapes can block artificial light. Artificial lighting trespassing onto sea turtle nesting beaches affects sea turtles in two ways. First, artificial lighting deters adult females from emerging from the surf to nest. Secondly, hatchling turtles find their way to the ocean by orienting toward the brightest horizon. On a natural beach, this is the horizon over the ocean. The dark dune silhouette behind them keeps them from heading in the wrong direction. Hatchling turtles are highly sensitive to even minute quantities of short-wavelength or white light and will orient toward the brightest direction.
More information about Sea Grape can be found at http://lee.ifas.ufl.edu/Hort/GardenPubsAZ/Seagrape.pdf
Sources: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/beaches/publications/pdf/trim-gdl.pdf; http://www.dep.state.fl.us/beaches/publications/pdf/turtle.pdf