Where Not to Build an Island Home
Building a house on a barrier island is not always the best idea. Sure, you will have privacy, but no protection from mother nature. Cape Romano in Southwest Florida is a cape at the southern most tip of Kice Island, which is a barrier island. It took some brave soles to decided to build on this desolate island. Well mother nature prevailed; now Cape Romano has a few deserted houses that are quite a site to see.
The Dome House
The most popular and still standing is The Dome House, as us locals call it. This house is very strange, the design space age, resembles an "igloo". It was constructed in 1981 and purchased in 2005 by the John Tosto family who tried for years to renovate it for a family retreat.
This interesting structure is made out of concrete which has helped it survive our frequent hurricanes and storms that have caused beach erosion.
This house is at the very end of the island where there is a very strong current. Between the currents and storms, the land is slowly disappearing from under the house and is being sucked back out to sea. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 with 150 mph winds washed away the land from beneath the western most domes; now the domes are at risk of further erosion and possibly disappearing forever if another hurricane hits the area.
The Stilt Houses
The Stilt Houses are no longer with us, they were not strong enough to withstand the four hurricanes we endured in 2005. The worst was Hurricane Wilma which touched land on Cape Romano with 150 mph winds; the last remaining house shown in the picture to the left was washed away.
When first constructed the stilt houses were on a sandy beach, but the frequent storms sucked the fine sand back into the Gulf of Mexico, literally taking the land from beneath the house.
As you can see in the picture, there are pilings in the water that were the supports for another house, claimed by mother nature some year before. This was The Stilt House's last summer when this picture was taken in 2004.
The Changing Shoreline
As you can see, it isn't such a good idea to build a house on a barrier island in the 10,000 Islands.
Getting To Cape Romano
Cape Romano is located south of Marco Island and only accessible by boat or kayak. The closest boat ramp is at Caxambas Pass on Marco Island.
You get there by travelling due south from Marco Island on the Gulf side, past many mangrove islands, and you will know your there when you see the Dome House. You can also get there by travelling south past Goodland, past Coon Key and follow the channel markers until you see the last bit of land on your right, that is the end of Cape Romano. You can also venture there through the many channels that run south of Goodland and Marco island.
Any way you choose to go to get to Cape Romano, be sure to use a nautical chart and a GPS, it is very easy to get lost in the tangle of thousands of mangrove islands that all look alike. And make sure you have a VHF radio, cell phone service is not reliable in this area. Also check the tides, the water in this area can become very shallow and unnavigable during low tides.
The water on the Gulf side is pretty deep with an oyster bed close to shore, so don't pull too close to the beach if you have a big boat; anchor out about a 1/2 mile north of the Dome House about 50 feet from shore and swim in. If you have a small boat you can beach it, but pull to shore slowly to avoid getting stuck on an oyster bed. Don't beach your boat too close to the Dome House, there is a very strong current that can take your boat for a ride.
Another option for kayakers to to launch from Caxambas Pass boat launch and paddle to Cape Romano. You can go out the pass and south, hugging the barrier islands. When you can see the dome houses there is an inlet on the left that leads to a small lagoon or you can go around the west side of the island to come in via calmer waters. Caution should be taken when launching from Marco Island during moving tides, they are strong here in Caxambas Pass. Always check the weather before paddling in this remote area and be sure to have your emergency gear onboard.
There is a very strong current at the southern point of Cape Romano, this is where the land masses end and the flow of the Gulf opens up to the open seas. Be careful swimming, if you feel the current you are not in a safe place, go swimming north of the point.
When exploring the beach wear shoes, disrespectful visitors have smashed a lot of glass on the island, a cut foot can ruin your day. There are also sand burr's in the grass that can be very painful and leave pickers behind in your feet.
Things to Do
Fishing is good from the beach and shelling can be a lot of fun. Just remember to bring plenty of sunscreen, there is no cover nor trees. Venturing into the vegetated areas is not advised.
Exploring in and around the Dome House can be very interesting and dangerous, so watch your step, this is not a stable structure. Going inside the structure is not advised. But enjoy letting your mind wander thinking about what this house looked like when it was occupied by it's former owners. In 2013 the Dome House is mostly surrounded with water and we suspect there is a current going through it, so the best advice is to look but don't try to visit.
There are no facilities, this is a deserted island, literally. You are allowed to camp here which is very popular with locals. For some tips on camping here, visit Barrier Island Camping Disasters. Bugs can be a problem, especially in the summer months so be sure to know the hazards of remote destinations, visit our Hazards to Avoid page for tips.
Because Cape Romano is the last of the island land mass on Southwest Florida before the open Gulf of Mexico, a storm can turn Cape Romano into a very scary and dangerous place with little notice. Notice in the picture the dark sky in the background? That is an indication a powerful storm is nearby - study the wind direction and it will tell you whether the storm is coming your way, and if it is, find a safe harbor.
We have heard horror stories of people camping on the island and without warning a storm engulfed the area, sent their tents flying, their boats overturned onto the beach, with nowhere to run for cover except the Dome House which is pretty much in the water now. Always know the weather and tides to keep yourself safe.
If you like seeing a lot of hammerhead sharks and shark fishing, take a ride south of Cape Romano. These islands are part of the 10,000 Islands and consist of thousands of small sandy islands that pop in and out of the water depending on the tide. Most of these islands have no vegetation to contain them, so they are constantly changing mounds of fine white beach sand.
The sharks hang out here to breed. The day we went fishing in this area in mid-summer, we were exhausted after catching 1 to 2 foot hammerheads on every cast. And there were adult sharks swimming right on the side of our boat. It was definitely exhilarating seeing all those sharks and nobody got in the water!
- GPS Coordinates for Marco Island Reefs
- Marco Island
- Images of the houses on Naples News Slide Show #1 and Naples News Slide Show #2
- Read the interesting story and the mounting fines imposed on the Tosto family at Naples News.
- Coastal Breeze has a great article with pictures of the original dome house at http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2012/09/07/cape-romano-uncovered/
- The 33 Most Beautiful Abandoned Places in the World