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Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019: Part 6, Following Up

The Breach Channel Has Closed!

Hurricane Michael’s surge breached St. Joseph Peninsula, Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, Florida, October 10, 2018, flattening a thousand yards of ancient tall dunes and leaving behind a tidal channel between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. I studied the breach along with other aspects of “Healing in the Natural Environment” as the Artist-in-Residence for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air this past spring, making 17 paintings to exhibit and giving a presentation on May 7, 2019, at Cal Allen’s Coastal Art Gallery in Carrabelle, Florida. I subtitled the residency “Hope”, because throughout my studies and visits, I found the natural environment healing on its own at a rapid pace, as well as from the boosts it was receiving from mitigation efforts such as the students of Marquette High School in St. Louis giving up their spring break to plant sea oats and build living shorelines here thanks to Franklin’s Promise.

I found the breach to be the most fascinating “healing”. The first time I visited in early March, 2019, the thousand yard breach was a field of flat sand, and I estimated the channel to be maybe 100 yards wide. A dune-covered tree was now fully exposed on the island across the channel, and the relative size of that tree turned out to be my gauge for assessing the closing of the breach. When I returned in mid-March, my photos showed the tree to be relatively larger, due to my being able to stand closer as the sand filled the channel to a 50-yard width. Two weeks later in April the tree appeared even larger, the channel being about 20 yards across. When I returned in May, the tree was gone, the sand eroded out from underneath it, and only the tangle of old roots remained. The channel was about 10 yards across. Surveyors were there, fact-finding for plans to restore access to the island now that the sand was unstable. They told me people had been wading across the week before, although a storm had deepened the channel since then.

And yesterday, a post on social media stated the breach was closed! I asked for a photo, and Haley Tipton graciously provided this panorama and gave me permission to post it. (Click on the image to view in actual size, and when it opens, click on it again.)

The Closed Channel, Breach in St. Joseph Peninsula, 5/30/19, photo by Hayley Tipton, used with permission. Click on image to view larger, and when it opens, click agin.

The channel of course may re-open. The sand does not have the web of roots that hold a dune together. The area of the thousand-yard breach would be a perfect place for sea oats to be planted, to both hold the existing sand in place and to begin the formation of new dunes, since sea oats both trap sand and are stimulated to grow more as they become covered. Below are a few pages from my residency sketchbooks when I was learning about sea oats. I had found these pieces of sea oats by the roadside in Mexico Beach in March.

This post, Part 6, is an unexpected follow-up to my five-part blog about my Spring 2019 adventures as Artist-in-Residence and Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, a nationally-known outdoor painting event along the coast of Northwest Florida where Hurricane Michael struck last fall. Click “Blog” in top menu and scroll down for the preceding 5 posts.

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