Naples and Fort Myers beaches have reopened several months after the disastrous Hurricane Ian struck. After hitting Southern Florida on the evening of Sep. 23 and extending to the following week, the storm brought extreme damages to buildings, houses and local families. 

“My home wasn’t really in the flood zone, but there were terrible winds. Everywhere you looked outside was covered in broken trees and detached leaves,” junior Gail Fortunato said. “Going to the beach was a weekly thing for me, but afterward it kind of just went downhill.”

After a couple of months, nearly all Southwest Florida residents who were affected by the hurricane had a soon-to-be-fixed home or somewhere to stay. By December, the majority of businesses and shops were open. However, one of the main attractions in Southwest Florida were still closed: the iconic Naples and Fort Myers beaches. 

“My house got flooded, considering I live right near the beach,” senior Reina Ortiz-Santiago said. “A lot of the small local businesses near me were also affected a ton and had to clean up a lot by themselves. Even after that, there was just constant cleaning. There were a good bit of people I would see at the beach cleaning every day like clockwork.” 

Bewildering news struck the community of Naples on Dec. 23, reporting that two extremely popular beaches (Vanderbilt and Clam Pass) were finally prepared for people to visit. Not much later, Fort Myers beaches were also claimed to be open at a limited capacity. It wasn’t long before tourists, snowbirds and travelers decided to fly back down, swarming the beaches as much as possible. 

“As soon as I heard the news, I planned a beach trip the following weekend with some of my friends to just go hang out there,” Fortunato said. “I was looking forward to it so much that the week was going by super slowly, but once we did finally go, I was extremely disappointed and shocked. Nothing was the same. I thought I prepared myself for the worst, but this was a whole different level.” 

Money wasn’t the only problem when inspecting the damages. Debris covering the beaches stood as major health and safety concerns for visiting residents. The hurricane didn’t just create stress on the environment, as it created significant stress for families across the state of Florida. Pollutants and waste spread throughout the ocean, making it considerably toxic and unhealthy to humans, and the red tide that shortly followed had worsened beach conditions. 

“A couple of days after we went, we decided to try a beach that was open a little bit longer than the previous location. It was better, to say the least. The water still smelled stinkier than usual, and there were still some small fish lying around. Besides that, a lot of the stuff everywhere was gone,” Fortunato said. “It was clear to see that it changed, especially the water. As much as it was tempting to dunk my head in it, I knew it would really mess with my body.” 

After the long haul of constant cleaning, testing and civilizing the familiar paradise, the hard work paid off and continues to do so. Beaches along the coast are looking close to what they were before. The hurricane couldn’t stop Florida from enjoying the grand ocean, no matter how long it took. 

“It really has changed for the better. It [inspires] people as a community to take further care and pride in the place they live,” biomedical teacher Gail D’arco said. “If we continue cleaning and caring for our beaches regardless of the past situations, the beach could be the best it ever has been.”