Protective shell for barrier island
Visitors to Shell Key often leave behind trash and waste, prompting some to call for a ban on dogs and overnight stays.
By CRISTINA SILVA
Published April 6, 2007
Visitors to Shell Key, a pristine bird sanctuary with expansive white shores, might want to watch their step.
The island is being used as a public bathroom, according to conservationists who want county officials to ban overnight camping, alcohol and pets from the preserve.
"You have too many people for everyone to do whatever they want anymore," said Dave Kandz, chair of the conservation committee for the St. Petersburg Audubon Society. "If you have that many people, pretty soon you are going to have an island full of poop."
The debate is part of an ongoing effort to balance the needs of the birds who nest on Shell Key against the desires of daytrippers who enjoy visiting the island.
County officials said they want the island to remain open to visitors but are also considering strengthening restrictions in order to help resuscitate Shell Key's declining bird population.
In coming months, the county will seek comment from residents on Shell Key's future and draft a management plan that could include new regulations.
It is very likely that within the next six months overnight guests and their furry companions may no longer be welcome at Shell Key, said Bruce Rinker, director of the county division of environmental lands.
"We hope people don't see this as a boaters vs. birders issue because it is not," he said. The birds, "just will not be able to survive much longer unless we do something positive and responsible."
But some boaters say they would fight the possibility of restrictions.
"To take a natural place and forbid people from camping here, well, this is an opportunity for our kids to experience that," said Valerie Fournier, who recently spent the weekend camping on the island with her family and friends.
"I would be writing my congressman," if the restrictions were imposed, said her husband, Charlie Fournier.
There are no trash cans or bathrooms at Shell Key, in part to keep the island undeveloped.
Campers often relieve themselves along the shore, leaving strips of soiled toilet paper.
Other than the obvious ick-factor, environmentalists also have expressed concern that this is a potential health hazard for island visitors.
Dogs also present a danger to the birds who use the island as a nesting area, they said.
In the past two years, campers have been fined for public drinking and unruly behavior.
"These folks are going out there and literally using it as their personal little island paradise," said Shandell Gelmini, a volunteer at Shell Key who is considering starting a nonprofit group aimed at preserving the island.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846.
By the numbers
180 Acres that make up Shell Key, half of which is used as a bird sanctuary.
32,421 Individual birds counted on the island in fall 2001.
15,600 Individual birds counted on the island in fall 2005.
950 Visitors to Shell Key on Memorial Day 2001.
3,414 Visitors to Shell Key on Memorial Day 2006.
[Last modified April 5, 2007, 23:51:26]
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