Gulf of Mexico
Hurricane Ian's continued impact of waterways. (Marco Eagle)

FL - Continual change: Hurricane Ian’s ongoing impact on Marco’s waterways

The nautical chart for Marco Island includes a warning just outside Caxambas Pass at the southern tip of the island. “Note: This area is subject to continual change.” Boaters transiting local waters would do well to heed the advice and take caution.

If you recently returned from your northern home, and are putting your boat in the water, you should be aware that there have been significant changes to area waterways caused by Hurricane Ian, necessitating greater caution. While the waters around Marco Island were not impacted to the degree, they were following 2017’s Hurricane Irma, and have nothing that compares to the devastation and destruction found further north in Lee County, this latest “I”-named storm emphatically left its mark around Marco.

Much of the damage and many of the changes, though, are underwater, like a missing buoy or a shifted sandbar, and won’t easily be spotted until your boat runs into the obstacle. One of the most noticeable changes regards putting your boat in the water, specifically at the Collier County boat launching ramp adjacent to Caxambas Pass. Fuhgedaboutit, as New Yorkers say. The facility suffered significant damage, and is completely closed until further notice, which has not been determined.

“Caxambas Park/Marina on Marco Island still remains closed due to excessive damage from Hurricane Ian,” reported County Commissioner Rick LoCastro, who said he is working with county staff to reopen it as soon as possible. Damage included destruction of the fuel system, the docks, damage to the launching ramp, pavement and seawalls, and flood damage to the dockmaster building.

For those looking to launch a trailered boat, the Goodland Boating Park is fully open, except for the east side boat ramp dock, the Collier County Parks & Recreation Dept. reported in a Jan. 17 update. The Collier Blvd. Boating Park, and the Isles of Capri Paddlecraft Park are open. The ramp at Port of the Islands is also open, although Cliff Winings of the Marco Island Sail and Power Squadron reported that some of the aids to navigation, or ATONs, in the channel leading from there to the Gulf have been damaged.

“There are two or three pilings that are down – at high tide you can’t see them,” raising the possibility of serious boat damage, he said. The Power Squadron conducts surveys of local ATONs – 230 of them – and reports their findings but has not published any report since Ian struck on Sept. 28. A significant number of squadron members have only recently returned from the north, and they will be out on the waterways checking, said Winings. “Many of the ATONs have been damaged or are missing,” he said.

Collier County’s Coastal Zone Management Dept. is working to local waters back to safety, said county spokesperson Connie Deane in a Jan. 20 email.

“The county’s contractor is currently working around Marco Island replacing and repairing channel markers starting in Caxambas Pass. Once those are repaired, they will continue south as far as Everglades City to address any channel marker repair work related to Hurricane Ian,” she said. “Debris washing up on the beaches has slowed down but still occurs from time to time.  Boaters and beachgoers are still urged to exercise caution and be on the lookout for debris that may be covered by shifting sand and could potentially pose some harm. The Florida Department of Emergency Management (FDEM) is currently managing the waterway debris cleanup efforts throughout the county.”

Shifting sand can also occur underwater, especially in the passes around Marco Island, so nautical charts and even previous electronic GPS tracks might lead boaters into dangerous shoal waters. Some of those are around Capri Pass and Big Marco Pass north of Marco Island.

“Shoaling continues to grow in Marco Pass with many of the channel markers being represented with cans placed by the USCG,” said Sgt. Jim Vliet of the CCSO Marine Bureau in an email.

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