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Smathers Beach Renourishment Project (5-11-00)

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Annalise Mannix-Lachner
(305) 292-8105

The City of Key West will be performing beach-tilling operations Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13.  The beach tilling operation, which will be done annually, is a process of softening the top 36 inches of sand in order to create the best environment for turtles to nest according to Annalise Mannix-Lachner, Manager of Engineering Services.

Turtles lay eggs between 24 and 36 inches below ground.  "Prior to the Smathers Beach renourishment project, the average depth of sand was six inches," Mannix-Lachner said.  "The addition of a 36-inch cover of 'turtle-friendly' sand provides a quality nesting habitat."

The Smathers Beach Renourishment Project design was based on meeting the goal of building a 50-year beach while minimizing environmental impacts and enhancing the beach for turtle nesting.  The sand chosen for the beach is a larger grain size sand that is not expected to wash far over the construction toe of fill according to Mannix-Lachner.  This should minimize silt resting in seagrass beds and on coral reefs.  The sand was mined then sifted and washed five times to remove silt.  Mannix-Lachner noted that this time consuming process caused the price of installed sand to be  $43 per cubic yard.  Due to the high cost of sand the east end of the beach was reduced in size to stay within the project budget.  Early visual inspections indicate the sand stayed in place and turbidity was minimal.  "There is more turbidity on a windy day than when the sand was being placed," Mannix-Lachner said.

Most turtles that arrive on the beach have been designated "false crawl" indicating that they come and leave without depositing eggs, often after digging numerous holes.  Scientists believe mothers instinctively know not to leave the nest shallow so creatures of prey will not disturb it.  "The state has been anxiously awaiting our renourishment project so that the turtles arriving have a safe place to lay their eggs," Mannix-Lachner stated.  The project was designed so that all beach work would be completed prior to May 1, 2000, in time for state and federal turtle-nesting season.  

In order to get a fifty-year beach that enhances turtle nesting the sand was placed to an elevation of seven feet above sea level, which is three to four feet above the sidewalk level.  The city elevated the sea wall and placed walkovers for access.

The project construction cost was budgeted and funded at $2,407,000.  Bids came in at $3,014,000.  "To avoid a cost overrun we had to reduce some aspect of the project," Mannix-Lachner said.  "The volume of sand was reduced and two groins and landscaping were deleted."  The city is currently requesting additional grant funding from the state of Florida to complete the landscaping portion.

The temporary sand fence was installed to stop the sand from blowing onto the road until the dune plantings are completed.          


(based on state reports from the local Keys turtle permit holders)

Number of turtles nesting on Smathers Beach - 3,             Dates 7-21-93, 5-27-95, 7-25-98

Other turtles nesting in Key West - 2,    Patio Beach 7-10-94, Casa Marina 6-10-93 

False Crawls (turtles chose not to nest) on Smathers - 10

Earliest Nest (over the last ten years) - June 5

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2000 - 2001