By Lucas Seiler
Unusual weather during the month of January 2016 wreaked havoc on the Naples Coastline, and now experts are discovering just how bad the damage is.
After surveying the coast, Collier County is now urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge Clam Pass in North Naples. The inlet has been shrinking slowly, and last month's meteotsunami nearly blocked the mouth of the pass. Now, it's on the brink of closing.
One more strong storm and the pass could close, according to environmental experts with the county. It would cut off necessary water flow, endanger a number of threatened species in Clam Bay, as well as put the health of federally-protected mangroves at risk.
"The whole shoreline seems to have changed," said Catherine Stevens, a frequent visitor to Naples.
Parts of the boardwalk and wheelchair ramp at Clam Pass are still unusable. High winds last month caused it to break apart and scatter wood planks across the beach. But it's the shifting shoreline from the meteotsunami that formed damaging sandbars that is the biggest problem.
"The beach just keeps getting narrower and narrower," said Stevens.
In fact, that's something she notices every time she visits.
"Obviously, the storms are really playing havoc with it here. I'm just appalled that it takes so long to get someone in here to do something that seems so dire."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now preparing a biological opinion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This, after Collier County finished surveying the area on foot and by air, confirming the troubling development.
Water flow isn't where it should be. An infrared map shows a large shadowed area revealing where several acres of threatened mangroves are, which play a crucial role in protecting threatened and endangered species. If the pass closes, a lot of the mangroves could die.
"The manatees - you don't see them in there anymore, and it used to be full of manatees," said Fred Windgate, who has been coming to Clam Pass since he was a child. "All the babies - you'd see 50-pounders, 100-pounders - it was their main tributary. Now, the way they have it, there's like one foot of water. A turtle could barely get up in there."
The permit needs to be issued by March 31 in order for the Army Corps to dredge before turtle nesting season, which begins in May and lasts until the end of August. A delay in dredging lasting that long will only threaten the overall health of the waterway even more.