Ban on Dogs Recommended for Clearwater Beach
By Anne McKay Garris
When I returned to Clearwater Beach, in 1972, my early morning forays along the waterfront were enlivened by clouds of tiny birds flying close to shore. These flying clouds went from silver to white and back to silver as the flocks skimmed through the air in perfect synchronization, like a school of tiny fish in the water. It was part of the magic of Clearwater Beach, along with the jaunty Skimmers, flying swiftly just above the surf, their beaks skimming the waves for bait. I watched the sandpipers chase the waves down the beach and then hasten to retreat, their tiny legs a whir of motion. I have often wondered why this is no longer a part of the Clearwater Beach experience.
A six-year study, lead by Dr. Beth Forys, Professor of Biology in the Eckerd College Department of Environmental Studies and Biology, seems to explain what happened. There is considerable evidence, it seems, that dogs, cats and fireworks on Clearwater Beach have a detrimental effect on nesting seabirds. According to the study there are five species of birds that have nested on Pinellas County municipal beaches and could be nesting on North Clearwater Beach. These are the Black Skimmer, Least Tern, American Oystercatcher, Wilson's Plover and the Snowy Plover. Four of these species are on the "Threatened" or "Species of Special Concern" list. Our beaches are also vital habitat for migrating and wintering birds. North Clearwater Beach, minus the dogs, cats and fireworks, is a valuable habitat for both nesting and wintering birds.
Researchers found that Clearwater is the only beach municipality in Pinellas County where dogs are allowed on the beach. And there were more than twice as many dogs on Clearwater beach in 2008 than there were in 2007. The report indicated that even dogs on leashes were seen by the birds as a threat, causing them to abandon their nests. If the nest is exposed to the hot sun even for a short time, the heat can destroy the eggs or chicks.
The season for nesting birds on the beach lasts from early March to late August.
After Dr. Forys presented her findings to the Clearwater Beach Association board of directors, last week, they voted to urge the Clearwater City Council to ban both dogs and fireworks along the beach front.
Members of the CBA Board questioned why Clearwater was the only municipality allowing dogs on the beach. City Councilmember John Doran reported that a ban had been attempted some years ago but there was little support for it and the proposal was dropped.
One board member protested the ban proposal, saying that people probably disturbed nesting birds as much as dogs. She said she would be in favor of a leash law to prevent dogs running free or leaving detriment on the sand, but a complete ban seemed unnecessary and unenforceable.
Someone else suggested a seasonal ban during the nesting season.
Another board member, who lives across from the beach, on Eldorado, pointed out that cars park near his house on a regular basis and people head for the beach with dogs, most of them with no leash and no plastic bag to pick up the feces.
"These people are not from our neighborhood," he said. "They cover the feces with a thin film of sand for us to step in. And there's no way they can collect up the dog's urine. It makes the beach unusable, not just for birds, but for people also. You can bet, when they get ready to go stretch out on a beach towel in the sun, they go to one of the protected beaches."
After extensive discussion on the subject, the CBA board members voted simply to ask the City Council to ban dogs and fireworks from Clearwater Beach.
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