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The Way Florida Was, Still Is.
Dr. Beach falls in love with Boca-area beaches
World's top beach expert gives area ace ratings By TERRY O'CONNOR toconnor@breezenewspapers.com
POSTED: May 11, 2011

Dr. Beach visited beaches on Palm Island, Little Gasparilla Island and the Don Pedro Island/Knight Island property this weekend and he didn't want to leave.

“What you have here is very special,” said Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach. “You're trying to preserve nature. I give you an A-plus for that. There's not many places like this. I really like your beaches a lot. These are the kind of places I want to come to vacation. I like the pace here.”

Leatherman visits about 100 beaches a year, which means he's been to roughly 20,000 sandy stretches in his 20 years of ratings. He shared his two decades of experiences with a Charlotte County Convention & Visitors Bureau contingent of about 26 Saturday afternoon at the Pine Island Country Club.

America's foremost beach expert said Southwest Florida, including Boca Grande, has a grouping of the best beaches in the world as computed by his 50-category ranking system, which has become the gold standard for comparing beachfront destinations.

He had a couple suggestions to preserve the beach ambiance.

“I hope you don't build more roads,” he said. “I like golf carts. And put as many of your power lines underground as you can.”

Leatherman, a professor and director of the laboratory for coastal research at Florida International University, uses 50 criteria with a sliding scale of 1 to 5 to assess how the 650 major public recreation beaches nationwide service travelers and residents alike.

He rated the barrier island beaches around Gasparilla Island in the 90th percentile, only downgrading for access.

“That's a very high ranking,” he said. “But you won't be in the top 10 because you don't have the big, public access.”

Other Dr. Beach observations:

n “Very nice color water. Greenish with a good EPA quality. You don't have any major problems with sewer water runoff.”

n Only vehicles allowed on the beaches are for turtle patrols.

n Rip currents are negligible, a factor that tends to hurt his rating of Hawaiian beaches where rip currents are ferocious and deadly.

n Water is warm, which tends to hurt California beach rankings because of cold waters.

n Sharks teeth are rare to find among beachfronts yet plentiful here.

n Little beachfront crime.

“You've got a very safe beach for families,” he said. “Copacabana Beach is beautiful but it won't rank highly because you can't take anything to the beach or it will be stolen. Even Hawaii has people breaking into the trunks of cars to steal.”

Leatherman also determines the quality of a beach by assessing physical factors such as whether the beach material is fine sand or rough cobble, how many sunny days come annually, size of breaking waves, color of sand and water and what he calls “bathing area bottom conditiions.”

Other considerations include the views and vistas of the local scenery, which greatly impressed Dr. Beach here.

“You have done it right,” he said. “You take care of your beachfronts better than most. I didn't realize you have such a vibrant fishery. You have such great fishing.”

He praised Charlotte County and Commissioner Robert Skidmore for dredging to keep Stump Pass open despite protests.

“You're just helping Mother Nature do what it would already do,” he said. “It really helps the water quality.”

Dr. Beach can make or break a tourist destination's popularity just by including it in his world-famous Top 10 Beach rankings — or not.

Every Memorial Day when his rankings come out, countless directors of chambers of commerce and tourism development eagerly scan his report hoping for a top 10 ranking or at least a favorable mention. Vacationers do it, too.

The CCCVB-arranged visit was a working one for Dr. Beach. His assessment of the area beaches will be posted at drbeach.org when the new ratings come out May 30.

Published Friday, May 20, 2011 9:32 AM by Linda Blaine

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