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Coastal keeper finds important job nourishing

Published March 4, 2007


The Pinellas coastline consists of 35 miles of sugary white sand that draws more than 12-million visitors a year.

Madeira Beach resident Nicole Elko, 31, is the keeper of this pristine shore.

As the Pinellas County coastal coordinator for the Department of Environmental Management, Elko oversees beach renourishment, construction and shore protection projects, including recent efforts at Upham Beach in St. Pete Beach and Sunset Beach in Treasure Island.

Elko, a recent graduate of the Ph.D. coastal geology program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, was recently named Resident of the Year by the city of Madeira Beach for her efforts to preserve the county's beaches.


What exactly does a coastal coordinator do?

Basically I work on coordinating beach nourishment projects. I also do other coastal management or beach management activities. It is from start to finish: getting the money from federal, state and local sources, getting all the environmental permits in place, coordinating the contracts and the awards, the construction oversight. It is everything from envisioning a project to actually putting sand on the beach.


How did you get involved with environmental protection?

I came to Florida 10 years ago to get a master's degree in coastal geology and last year I finished my Ph.D. in coastal geology. That means the way that the coastline evolves and the sand transportation patterns. Beach renourishment has a lot to do with that, especially in Pinellas County. You can't pretend it is a natural system here when it is so heavily influenced by construction projects. So my science is very applied here.

What are some of the more serious concerns facing Pinellas' coastline, especially as construction along Gulf Boulevard continues to grow?

Pinellas County has one of the longest-standing and most successful coastal management projects in the state. We had the very first federal coastal renourishment program here in Treasure Island in 1969. It is well managed, so the future looks good. We are always concerned with environmental issues and consider that and discuss those issues during construction.


How did you end up in Madeira Beach and what does it mean to you now that you're the citizen of the year?

I bought a house there 21/2 years ago. I am originally from Pennsylvania. I was definitely surprised and honored about the award. And I think they were honoring me more as resident really than as a county employee, so that was nice.

[Last modified March 3, 2007, 19:53:49]

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