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Guest commentary: Protecting the natural beauty of Cayo Costa

By Staff | Jun 3, 2021

Bob Rando

Cayo Costa State Park is considered to be one of the best shelling beaches in the world. With nine miles of beach, acres of pine forests and more than six miles of trails, visitors can enjoy shelling, fishing, birdwatching and snorkeling on this beautiful barrier island.

For many, Cayo Costa is a rare experience. Accessible only by boat, the island is both a piece of history and slice of paradise, a place where visitors come to appreciate the majesty of native wildlife and miles of undeveloped shoreline.

Captiva Cruises has a long history in partnering with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection since 1994 to share this unique barrier island with visitors and our community. In 2013, Captiva Cruises became the DEP Official State Concessionaire.

Captiva Cruises offers shelling excursions to the south end of Cayo Costa, averaging 34 visitors per day over the last five years through two daily trips offered Monday through Saturday. After Hurricane Charley damaged the original south dock in 2004, we were proud to help rebuild and reopen the state-owned dock in 2016, a resource that is now available for public use.

Since inception in 1986, Captiva Cruises has been dedicated to upholding a culture of good stewardship for the islands and environment. We have a long-standing partnership with the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, partnering through No Child Left On Shore to bring underprivileged children to the southern end of Cayo Costa, where they learn about the ecology of the barrier island and wildlife. Some of these children have never seen a beach or stepped foot in the sand before.

Captiva Cruises also supports the Friends of Cayo Costa State Park, partners with Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife to transport injured wildlife to their clinic on Sanibel from the island, and volunteers with our vessels, crew and families in coastal cleanup days on Cayo Costa.

Yet recent news coverage has targeted Captiva Cruises, stating concerns that our excursions potentially harm the environment, and a group of citizens is petitioning the DEP to prevent Captiva Cruises from accessing the island’s south dock.

One of the group’s key objectives is to end commercial use of the south dock and make this single-boat dock available for private use only, ultimately limiting public access. Captiva Cruises utilizes the south dock to provide access to people who might otherwise not have the means to get there.

Unfortunately, misinformation has been published and we have realized that we need to better educate stakeholders, including Cayo Costa homeowners, about our proactive efforts to protect Cayo Costa.

If you visit Cayo Costa aboard Captiva Cruises, you’ll experience firsthand how we celebrate the island’s natural environment as we educate on the native wildlife, unique ecosystem and importance of preserving its natural beauty.

Our staff receives training to provide informative talks that review best practices for respecting the areas we visit. Our guides monitor the beaches throughout our shelling excursions. While the south end of the island does not offer amenities, we offer an on-board bathroom and trash receptacles for use throughout our half-day visit. We also employ boats that are specially designed to run in shallow water to limit impact on the local waterways, seagrass and habitat surrounding Cayo Costa.

In addition to our environmental efforts, Captiva Cruises pays a percentage of ferry revenue to the state to help subsidize park management as well as $100,000 for park capital improvements since 2013.

Moving to the north dock would eliminate half-day trips and therefore drastically decrease the number of visitors able to experience this state park. Additionally, this would require the state to expand docking, staffing and tram services at the north end.

For 25 years, our excursions have shared this natural resource with people who otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to this unique destination. Preservation of Cayo Costa is critical, as is protecting public access. The two can co-exist.

— Bob Rando is a co-owner of Captiva Cruises.