Parts of Gandy Beach blocked off to protect mangroves, environment

Big changes are happening at a popular waterside hangout in Pinellas County. Officials blocked off a large portion of Gandy Beach to protect the mangroves and their environment.

Locals love Gandy Beach for its easy access, where visitors can drive right up to the water's edge. Now, that's a thing of the past.

The sandy area that parallels Gandy Boulevard is technically a state-owned right-of-way, which is why the Florida Department of Transportation takes care of it. 

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Officials said the activity at Gandy Beach is getting out of hand and damaging the local landscape. 

Garbage constantly piles up at the numerous trash cans and litter is left in the sand or floating in the water. According to FDOT, nearly 8,000 pounds of trash have to be removed from the area daily. Holiday weakens are even worse. 

Additionally, the mangroves are being damaged by people and cars – and branches are snapped, burned and cut.

"We've been told about illegal drug use, overnight camping, which is illegal, burning of the mangroves, just a lot of damage out there to the environment," FDOT Spokesperson Kris Carson said. "So we're hoping this bollard project will cut down on that."

Signs have been posted at the beach to try to cut down on the illegal activity and excessive littering, but lately, things have gotten worse. 

Now, crews are installing wooden posts along the mangroves. When finished, there will be about 880 four-foot-tall bollards blocking the mile of mangroves, along with a gate at the main beach area. 

FDOT hopes the changes will significantly restrict where people can drive and park – and the damage they're able to do.

"We don't want to take the area away from the public because we know it is a beautiful area," said Carson. "People do like to fish out there. We want to protect the environment and protect the mangroves."

Local officials are glad the state is taking action to protect the critical ecological area, too. 

The Pinellas County Environmental Management department said, "We support FDOT’s efforts to protect the mangroves on the causeway. The mangroves attenuate waves and stabilize the shoreline and are vital habitat in Tampa Bay."

The area will still be open to pedestrian foot traffic, but the locations where vehicles can access will be more restricted to the area between the clear zone limits and bollards. 

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Some folks are sad the fun and freedom at Gandy Beach is ending. Others are glad the area is being conserved and cleaned up. 

"We want to protect it. We also want to enjoy it. And I think there is a happy medium," said Schneider.

FDOT told FOX 13 News the $70,753.20 project is expected to be complete before the Labor Day holiday weekend. New mangrove plants will also be added to try to restore the protected trees.