Keeping the beaches open and fun for all

  • A flag made of seashells adorns Main Beach. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    A flag made of seashells adorns Main Beach. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

It’s summer! It’s hot! The sea is warm! It’s time to hit the beach! But this summer has been very different for me and for everyone else in so many ways. For me, it means that I have not ventured out to the beach as much as I usually do most summers. I’ve seen the lines waiting to get into various beach parking lots. I’ve seen the photos on social media about the crowds at the beach. I’ve watched with horror as the COVID-19 cases in our community rise rapidly. As a senior citizen, I am very nervous about crowds. The beach frightens me. But thanks to the Facebook group Amelia Shells, I finally went to Main Beach last Saturday.

I’ve been following this group online for a couple of years now, ever since I met the founder, Betty Duckworth, and “found” my first shell. Most every day now, I see the posts. Betty always starts each day with a view of the early morning beach. And most often there is a post with a smiling child holding an Amelia Shell they found somewhere or another, either around town, or from far away. The Amelia Shell volunteers (anyone can join) collect shells, creatively paint or decorate them, put an identifying sticker on them that requests people to “post their find” and hide them in obvious locations. We want people to find them! This spreads a lot of joy for everyone.

This past Saturday, Amelia Shells had a “Shellabration” at Main Beach. Members collected to create a large American flag out of shells at Main Beach near the (sadly closed for now) Sandbar & Kitchen. Betty Duckworth and Mayor Johnny Miller made speeches and Hupp led the group in singing the National Anthem. But best of all, we members of Amelia Shells got to meet one another in person after all these Facebook online interactions.

So, once at the beach, I surveyed the scene of other beachgoers and decided to “go for it.” Just in case, I wore my bathing suit under my clothes. Soon, I jumped into the ocean, my first time this year, and it was perfect. The water temperature was 82 degrees, just the temperature I enjoy in the pool for water aerobics. The sea was calm with small waves suitable for jumping through, but not enough turbulence to knock this senior over. I floated in peace – distant enough from other swimmers – and relaxed. But I was all alone. I needed to call Jean Taylor, my longtime swimming buddy.

The next day Jean and I met at Main Beach, just like old times. We sat six-feet away from one another and far away from other groups. Again, it was perfect, even more so since we had each other for company.

We parked our things near the lifeguard stand where we knew there would be a pair of eyes on us and we gingerly entered the water. Soon, all caution was discarded and we were bobbing in the water, diving under incoming small waves, and even swimming a bit for exercise. And I’m sure we will do it again soon. It’s summer, after all, and it turns out that the beach can be safely used even for old-timers like us who are at risk of severe consequences if we catch the virus.

As far as I could tell, people were practicing social distancing at the beach this weekend, but it was overcast due to the Sahara dust storm particles in the air. And now that the bars in town are closed, maybe there were a few less people than on usual summer weekends. I don’t know what the Fourth of July holiday will do to this dynamic, but unless things change dramatically I will be back with Jean again, bobbing in the surf.

I’m hoping people will continue to practice social distancing at the beach, and that the beach will be open for those of us that use it responsibly. After all, it’s the main reason many of us moved here in the first place and it’s too valuable an amenity to misuse.

Please, everyone, help to ensure that the beach stays safe for us all. And hey, let us senior citizens continue to have our days in the sun!

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.