Raking the wrack wrecks coastal wildlife’s home

landscape of one that is groomed,” Douglass said. “We can strengthen the health of habitats that are already being pinched by leaving more wrack By Patricia Behnke so beaches can support migratory and Florida Fish and Wildlife wintering birds that use the wrack for Conservation Commission both food and cover.” MyFWC.com However, Douglass cautions that What is brown, teeming with stopping the raking of beaches alone life and raked off our beaches freis not a panacea for what is inevitable quently? You may be struggling with in Florida. Sea level rise is squeezan answer if the beach you frequent ing an already narrow, linear habitat in Florida receives a clean sweep of that is limited even under the most all debris – both human-made and natural of conditions. Unfortunately, natural – before you put one big toe shorebirds are being pinched between on the sand. rising water levels and a solid line of Beach wrack is the answer, and it roads and buildings in the most conis necessary to beach life, just as air gested areas. Combined with sea level is necessary to breathing. So why is rise, beach habitat becomes an even it destroyed before the beach lovers narrower corridor for wildlife. And hit the coast? It’s not sexy. Or at raking those narrow corridors least on the surface, it’s not. creates sterile beaches that are Beach wrack consists of seagrass and But that brown clump of seanot friendly to wildlife. weed teems with life and pro“In the short term, we can’t marine algae mixed with shells, sand vides food and shelter for many move the condos, and we can’t dollars, starfish, tiny shrimp, driftwood, animals that feed upon it. Beach stop sea level rise,” Douglass said. sponges, coral and other biotic treasures “But we can try to be more rewrack may not look like it, but that have drifted at sea before washing it’s a pivotal part of the beach sponsible in how we manage our ashore, especially after storms. ecosystem. Yet, many beach lovbeaches. Stopping the removal ers have never had the chance of beach wrack will serve as a to ponder what lies beneath the stopgap measure for shorebirds surface. Beach wrack also is critical to the that are in trouble now. Individuals “Local governments allot large health of the dunes by providing plant can contribute by making their voices amounts of money to beach raking nutrients and stabilizing windblown heard in the community.” every year,” said Nancy Douglass, a sand. The wrack carries seeds from Douglass suggests that folks voice biologist who monitors shorebirds for many dune plants, such as beach their opinions about how their beachthe Florida Fish and Wildlife Consermorning glory and sea rocket. As sand es are managed to community leaders vation Commission (FWC). “They do builds up and the seeds within the and beach businesses, as well to the that because they are under the asbeach wrack take root, new dunes tourist councils that may encourage sumption everyone wants it done.” grow. raking the beaches to attract visitors. But do we really want that? Do we On some beaches, the sand is Wildlife needs the wrack, but there want to take away a source of food for machine-raked; new dunes are are other benefits. Wrack provides a already stressed shorebirds pinched manicured away; and the wrack is line of protection for structures durby sea level rise on one side and removed. These efforts cost taxpayers, ing tropical storms by lessening the development on the other? Before anbut there is a price paid by the beach impact of storm surge. It also saves swering those questions, take a stroll system as well. A natural wrack line municipalities money and lessens our through Beach Wrack 101 with me to is a key component of a healthy beach carbon footprint by keeping those big learn more. ecosystem. machines off the beach. Beach wrack consists of seagrass “While a natural beach may not Maybe that makes beach wrack and marine algae mixed with shells, look as manicured as a raked beach, sexy after all. sand dollars, starfish, tiny shrimp, the diversity and richness of a natudriftwood, sponges, coral and other ral, functioning beach is infinitely Contact Patricia Behnke at biotic treasures that have drifted at more interesting than the sterile pat.behnke@MyFWC.com sea before washing ashore, especially after storms. After landing on dry land, beach wrack becomes host to a diverse cast of insects and other tiny invertebrate animals, such as jumping beach hoppers, which are harmless rice-sized crustaceans. The tiny animals, in turn, serve as food for many other creatures. Migrating shorebirds fly thousands of miles each year to munch on the nutritious meals found in that clump of seaweed. Wrack also provides a safe haven for many animals that escape predators by hiding under it or by blending in with it. A shorebird can “disappear” while napping among the similarly colored shades of seaweed browns and grays.

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