A small barrier island that formed, once again, off of Anna Maria Island is attracting much more than birds.
Each weekend, nudists, families, the young and old end up jockeying for position on the banks of Passage Key -- illegally, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
It's federally protected land and has been since the Roosevelt administration -- Teddy Roosevelt, that is. In 1905, it was the second wildlife refuge established in the nation.
What was once 60 acres, unfortunately succumbed to Mother Nature during several tropical systems over the years, including Hurricane Wilma which wiped it out in 2005.
It has been submerged off and on since then, but in March, four to five acres of sandbar popped up, much to the surprise of federal wildlife officials.
"When Passage Key first started reemerging a few months ago, we were under the impression that it would vanish in weeks, like it had been in the previous seven years. To everyone's surprise, the sand has been continually accumulating, rising at several feet above the high-water mark, and birds are successfully nesting again on it," Stan Garner, USFWS spokesperson, said.
Authorities placed several "no trespassing" signs out a few months back, but they're not doing much good.
"Nobody gets bothered by anything other than the people running across the island causing trouble that shouldn't be on the island," Morris Raymer said.
He's the unofficial mayor of Passage Key since he's spent so much time out there since his first trip in 1990.
"It's gorgeous out there. It's an absolutely beautiful place," Raymer offered.
He also embraces everyone that enjoys the sandbar, even if the majority of them aren't covering their privates.
"Nudists have been going out there since the '40s," Raymer explained. "If anyone ever asks me, it's clothing-optional. There's families that go out there. There's young people, there's old people, and there's everybody in between."
Raymer is just as concerned as the federal conservationists when it comes to a safe place for bird nesting.
He says several signs planted throughout the island do not lay out the rules as well as they should. He thinks they could be more visible and closer to the water so visitors realize they shouldn't be on land.
Federal officials, like Raymer, did not expect Passage Key to emerge and continue gaining size the way it has since March.
They also didn't expect it to gain popularity, which is causing problems.
"We want visitors to understand the ecological importance of this island. There aren't many sandbars left for seabirds and shorebirds to nest and rest. As long as visitors remain in the water around the island, the seabirds and shorebirds will successfully continue to nest in Passage Key," said Ivan Vicente, visitor services specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In a statement, the USFWS sent the following rules and regulations:
No trespassing. Although the no-entry signs are posted on land, visitors are to remain in the water and under no circumstances are to set foot on sand above the high water mark.
No dogs or any pets are not allowed on Passage Key NWR. Boaters are expected to keep their dogs in the water and under all circumstances pets aren't allowed on the sand above the high water mark.
No beaching of vessels. Motorized and non-motorized vessels will not be allowed to be on shore under any circumstances.
No kites or UAVs allowed. Visitors will not be allowed to fly kites or UAVs near shores around Passage Key. Kites and UAVs disturb colonies of birds as they are frequently mistaken by seabirds as predatory birds, causing flushing of nesting areas resulting in the fatality of eggs and chicks.
Securing vessels to any structure is prohibited. All vessels (motorized and non-motorized) will be expected to be anchored away from shore and away from any existing structures such as the signs posted on Passage Key.
Parasailing and kite-surfing are also prohibited around the shores of Passage Key NWR. These activities also cause the birds to flush from their nests resulting in egg and chick mortality.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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