Pinellas County’s Fort De Soto Park North Beach is considered a Florida treasure. For some frequent visitors, the towering Australian pine trees were as much a part of the landscape as the palm trees and the soft, white sand beach. But now the Australian pines are gone, or soon will be. The Australian pine is considered an invasive and prolific species that interferes with nesting sea turtles and is being removed under the orders of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
According to the FWC, the trees, native primarily to the South Pacific region, are illegal to sell or plant in Florida without a permit. In addition to posing a hazard to sea turtle nests, the trees also are destructive to native plant life due to their height and their dense ground detritus. They provide scant shelter for native animals, while “outcompeting” native and sometimes endangered ground plant life that does provide needed shelter for also often endangered native animal life. They are also considered to even interfere with the nests of one of Florida’s fiercest and most endangered unique animals — American crocodiles. Florida is the only state in which crocodiles live in North America.
The FWC goes on to say that Australian pines were introduced to Florida in the 1890s as windbreaks for fields, roads and homes. But because they are resistant to saltwater spray, they quickly invaded thousands of acres of coastal areas on the Gulf and East coasts. Left unattended, they can very nearly consume a beach, leaving behind their conelike clusters and needles, creating a potentially painful experience for barefoot beach visitors.
At Fort De Soto, the beach will be closed during weekdays while the trees are removed but will be open on weekends and the Fourth of July holiday. According to the FWC, the tree removal is expected to be completed by July 10.