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Marine task force pushes for fertilizer ban

November 6, 2018
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fertilizers should be banned year-round, according to the Marine Resources Task Force.

The board is currently putting together a proposal to extend the current four-month ban during the wet season to the entire year.

MRTF Chair Bill Veach said the first reason for this proposal is the algae blooms: "Whatever is being done now is not enough, it's not working, and as an island that's on the receiving end of all this nasty water, we should be setting an example of how to minimize fertilizer use."

Fertilizer fuels the growth of algae, he said.

"Green lawns lead to green water. That's not good for anybody."

The current ordinance states that fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorus cannot be used from June 1 through Sept. 30. When it is allowed the rest of the year, it cannot be applied within three feet of any waterbody.

"Most of the water that falls on the lawns goes into these swales, and runs right down into pipes and right out to the bay," Veach said, noting that storm water systems can filter solids and oils, but not nutrients.

"Any chemical solution is just going to go right through."

In this context, he says, "Everybody on the island is essentially waterfront."

The Model Ordinance for Florida-Friendly Fertilizer Use on Urban Landscapes lists a minimum of requirements for counties and cities located in a watershed.

Municipalities can adopt stricter rules if they can provide scientific data that shows a need for them, such as high levels of pollution.

Shannon Mapes, MRTF member and life-long laboratory scientist, said there is plenty of data to support this ban.

Mapes tests water samples from a number of sites on a regular basis with the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.

She believes the ban needs to be enforced on lawn maintenance companies who service the majority of the island.

"We need to sit down and call every company and fax them something they can sign that says, I acknowledge we are not going to use fertilizer on Fort Myers Beach."

The MRTF hopes a year-round fertilizer ban could have a domino effect like the island's straw ban in November of last year, which led Marco Island to follow suit this March, and Sanibel in September.

So what can local residents do for their gardens instead?

"Florida is such a rich environment for things, you don't really have to use non-native plants that require fertilizers. You can put native plants in that attract butterflies and birds," said Veach, noting that his wife, instead of fighting the caterpillars that were eating her garden, began planting vegetation they liked to eat.

"Now we have butterflies flying all over our yard," he says.

"We don't farm here, we don't use crops, so there's really no reason to fertilize. If you have a lawn, there's a native grass that does grow here," said Mapes.

"There's this social aspect that's like, I want my lawn to look better than that guy's lawn, which is great if you're in Indiana or Michigan, but we're not. We're on an island, and you have to think about our ecosystem."



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