Beach Wrack and Mechanical Beach Cleaning
What is beach wrack?
Natural material that washes onto the beach is referred to as wrack and includes algae, sea grasses, and some invertebrates such as sponges and soft corals. Wrack serves as the primary source of nutrients to beach communities and is the foundation for the food chain.
Nutrients from decomposing wrack cycle back into the surf zone and contribute to the value of this area as a nursery for economically important fish species.
Wrack is also an important source of cover for wildlife. Wrack that washes onto the beach during storm events or normal high tides at the end of sea turtle nesting season can contain post-hatchling sea turtles.
Wrack deposited higher up the beach plays a key role in dune development.
What happens when wrack is removed?
The removal of beach wrack by mechanical means is called mechanical beach cleaning or beach raking. This process of using tractors, trucks or other motorized equipment pulling rakes or other objects is intended to remove both human-generated debris and biotic material from the beach or otherwise groom the sand.
One impact of mechanical beach cleaning is a decrease in invertebrate populations found in natural beach wrack. This means less available food for shorebirds.
Mechanical cleaning equipment can also disrupt shorebird courtship and nest-site selection, destroy nest scrapes, crush well-camouflaged eggs or flightless young, and cause adults to flush from the nest – leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to heat stress and predation.
Although mechanical beach cleaning permits have provisions for sea turtle nests, hatchlings may be in danger, as they often take cover in beach wrack which is often raked away.
What action can be taken to protect beach wrack?
Action can be taken to minimize negative impacts to wildlife from mechanical beach cleaning. Some of these are required, such as surveys for sea turtle nests by Marine Turtle Permit Holders authorized by the FWC.
Voluntary actions that can be taken include limiting mechanical cleaning during shorebird nesting season (February through August), using a beach-nesting bird monitor to inspect the beach prior to mechanical cleaning, installing symbolic fencing around nesting areas, leaving as much wrack as possible, and removing human-generated debris by hand.
The FWC’s publication, "Share the Beach: beach cleaning practices to minimize impacts to protected shorebirds” provides additional information on these and other actions.
In addition, the FWC created a "Beach Wrack ID Guide" and a brochure called "Grow a Better Beach" to educate the public about the value of beach wrack and the impacts of mechanical beach cleaning. There is even a car magnet available for those who pledge to reduce beach raking.
The focus of the initial outreach campaign was in Southwest Florida, but it has expanded statewide, and the materials have become very popular with both adults and children. The FWC continues to work to reduce mechanical beach cleaning and preserve beach wrack.
For a more in-depth look at FWC's position on this topic, please read our position paper, "Maintaining wildlife value of beaches: the importance of wrack and compatible beach cleaning."