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Barrier Island Camping Disasters

News > 2012

3/05/2012 Liz Lombardi, Naples

Southwest Florida is blessed with the 10,000 Islands, most of which are barrier islands with nothing more than mangrove trees, lots of shells, and beautiful sugary white sand. All around Florida there are similar barrier islands. Besides going to the islands to fish from your boat or on the island beaches, many anglers and boaters venture out to these islands for the solitude and setup camp for a night or two. During the summer months you will find locals camping. In the winter months vacationers and snow birds enjoying the cold brisk weather.

Many who are not familiar with our weather patterns have no idea how powerful storms are when they approach these unprotected islands. The Gulf can go from flat to 10 foot waves in a few short minutes. When you are on an unprotected barrier island this is very dangerous.

Keewaydin Island

Keeweydin IslandKeewaydin Island is a 8 mile long island along the intercoastal waterway that goes from Naples to Marco Island. It is only accessible by boat. There are house built on this island but most of the island is deserted. A popular place for boaters is the tip of the island near Marco Island. This end of the island is boarder by what is called "Hurricane Pass". It get's it's name from the fact that it can be treacherous trying to get from the tip of Keewaydin Island to Marco Island, the sandy bottom is constantly moving around making grounding a daily occurrence. This end of the island is also exposed to the elements; there are no mangrove trees, only a barren grassy area in the middle. The current on the intercoastal side of the island is very swift and the west side is open Gulf. During a storm there is nowhere to hide and that is what some campers found out this past weekend.

Campers on Keewaydin IslandSaturday night on Keewaydin Island near Marco Island 16 campers woke to a surprise-a powerful cold front moved in with 40+ mile per hour winds and rough seas. The campers knew about the cold front and thought they could spend the night and depart early in the morning before the storm came. Well, to their surprise the storm came sooner than expected and they ended up waiting 4 hours for someone to rescue them. The powerful wind gusts blew their tents away and sent their belonging seaward. Their boat fared better, it was pulled from it's anchor and completely beached with little damage. The pictures on Naples News makes me think the boat was picked up and gently placed in the sand. They were lucky! Here's a link to the pictures on Naples News.

I have been boating in this area for almost 10 years now and have seen a lot of people do some rather irresponsible things. This group of 16 people traveled to this barrier island all on one 30' boat! And they had camping gear, coolers, and personal belongings too. I saw them Sunday camping right at the edge of the water. I thought to myself as I passed them on my boat "Are they nuts, a cold front is coming tonight. And look at where they placed their tents, on the waters edge!"

Cape Romano

Cape RomanoCape Romano is a fantastic barrier island south of Marco Island. The island is at an end of an island chain with the open Gulf at one side and a big bay on the other. The current is so swift at the end you cannot swim for fear of being swept away. This is a very popular area to shark fish as their breeding grounds are just south of the island on sandy barrier islands that are mostly submerged. Many people have tried to build a house here only to have mother nature take it away. Currently the Dome House is the only remaining structure. There are pilings located far into the water around the island where house once stood. Visit Where Not to Build an Island Home for more information on these houses.

This is another popular camping site that can be very dangerous in the smallest of storms. Locals know better than to camp here if the weather forecast for the coming days is anything but clear. Well, I have heard horror stories of campers getting pummeled like the Keewaydin campers, boats thrown onto the shore, nowhere to hide, and just wait for help to arrive, if they know you need help. Lets just say this is not a place for tourists. Even anchoring here is dangerous as the island is surrounded by oyster beds about 6 feet below the surface. Most boats need to anchor out and people must swim to shore in a very strong current. I have done this myself and it was not something I would do again-just too dangerous.

Boats on KeewaydinCurrents Around Barrier Islands

I have to mention the currents because on day my dog was swept away by a current, luckily someone noticed and jumped on a boat and rescued him a quarter mile out to sea. It happened so fast, the dog was in 2 feet of water. This was on the inside ICW side of Keewaydin Island on an outgoing current. The dog loves to chase the dolphins and jumping to to get one. He just got in the water and the swift current took him on the ride of his life. By the time the boat rescued him he was going under. I thank my friends over and over for saving my dog. Riding Keewaydin's current with drinks in hand is a popular sport year round. But what most don't know is during a strong moon tide your may not get to shore and be dragged to sea!

Beached Boats

boats beached on cape romano after the tide goes out; camping tents in backgroundMany campers and day trip visitors to barrier islands strand their boats and must either wait hours for the tide to come in or call for an expensive rescue. We say on this website "let the tide be your guide" for a reason, you can get stuck or run aground.

Many campers especially will anchor their boat, leaving the motor in the water. Some not so away captains think they will be there overnight so they just anchor the boat and forget about it. Well when the tide is not at the right height when you want to leave, your in trouble. I see boats "high and dry" so often, it's comical. Maybe if more captains read the many tips I give out in this website they can avoid such an embarrassing event.



Mosquitoes and Other Bugs

MosquitoNow lets talk about bugs! Mosquitoes on the barrier islands in the summer months can be so thick you cannot breath without taking one in. Then there are the No See Ums, the tiny biting critters that constantly snip away at your skin. Bug spay is a required item on any boat going out to the islands, even near shore islands. See our page Hazards to Avoid for more info on these annoying critters.

I have heard stories of campers going out into the 10,000 islands with no bug spray in the winter, only to find out mosquitoes exist year round, especially during a mild winter like we are having this year. Heed the advise of locals and always carry bug spray, you never know when you will need it. Personally I hate using it but sometime you have to give in and just do it.

Oh, another spray that you need year round - sunscreen, especially if you haven't been in the sun for a while, the sun in Florida is very strong and you can get severe burns year round.

Be Prepared

Boats beached KeewaydinI can't stress enough the importance of having a First Aid Kit with your gear when going out to barrier islands. Not one of those measly store bought kits, make your own. I have one dry box packed with small size bottles of alcohol and peroxide, full tube of antibacterial ointment, bandages in every size including big 3x3 pads, tape, and cotton cloths. Don't forget scissors too.

One time we were out on a barrier island where someone built a tree fort. The fort was in bad shape but that didn't stop a girl from climbing up a plank and falling. She suffered a head gash that made me almost faint. Luckily I had my full sized first aid kit and was able to bandage her up and bring her home. She went to the emergency room and got 10 or more stitches! Butterfly bandages are also a must.

Another thing that happens quite frequently are foot cuts on shells or big stickers getting embedded in feet. Wearing shoes when venturing away from the sandy beach is always a good idea.

For more on things to watch out for visit Hazards to Avoid.

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