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For six weeks, Florida Matters shared stories about the state of our environment, housing, transportation, and more.

A Tarpon Springs resident watches and worries as an island from his childhood changes

 Man in blue shirt looking into the camera with water in the background
Jessica Meszaros
/
WUSF
Chris Powell grew up boating to the north end of Three Rooker Island, behind him, but it's been eroding before his eyes.

"I like to say this is my church ... you can see the water just emerald green, beautiful, birds everywhere, fish everywhere, stingrays. There's not a day I haven't been out here I haven't seen something different," Chris Powell said describing Three Rooker Island.

On the southern end of Tarpon Springs is St. Joseph Sound, a bay which is fed by the Gulf of Mexico. Chris Powell, 52, has been boating to Three Rooker Island in the bay since he was 3 years old.

Powell speaks to WUSF's Jessica Meszaros about how he's watched the island change over the years, and how he's seen more and more visitors docking their boats onto it. They talk on Powell's boat floating a few feet away from the island which houses many boisterous birds.

Why did you want to come to this area? In particular? What does this place mean to you?

Everything, you know, just childhood memories. My earliest memories are on the north bar over here. I was 3 years old. I can remember coming out and the white sands being so bright I couldn't see. You know, I was a little baby, and didn't have sunglasses and I just remember just loving it, but I couldn't open my eyes very much, it was so bright and beautiful.

Why do you think that stood out to you so much?

I think I'm an aficionado of the natural beauty of this area. You know, it's not the Keys. It's similar, but the Keys have their own beauty. Miami has its own beauty. And this is home. This is my home.

 Three Rooker Island used to have trees all throughout but the they are slowly going away with more people docking their boats onto the banks.
Jessica Meszaros
/
WUSF Public Media
Three Rooker Island used to have trees all throughout but the trees are slowly going away.

Can you describe for listeners who can't see what it is that we're looking at? What does your home look like?

I like to say this is my church. Dependent on the time of year, early spring, May is my favorite time, just getting out there before it gets too hot. Then you can see the water just emerald green, beautiful, birds everywhere, fish everywhere, stingrays. There's not a day I haven't been out here I haven't seen something different.

So, what changes physically have you noticed of this area?

Well, when I was kid, I don't remember there being very many trees. We didn't really go this far south. We were always up on this north point over here … And it didn't have anything but some bushes on it. And it grew up trees, they connected, and now it's being dismantled.

How so? Can you describe what we're looking at because the way I would describe it as it kind of looks like patchy, like there's patches of trees, and then there's a sandbar, and then there's water. So, it kind of looks broken up. But you're saying this was all connected for about a mile?

All connected. Back in 2015, I was sitting on the dock and looked and there was a big hole in the trees. And I was like, ‘Whoa.’ Out of nowhere, there was a significant gap. You know, day after day, month after month, year after year, it just slowly peeled apart to where you see it now — it's a mile apart. It's just a little disheartening to watch it.

What activity have you noticed change here? Not just the moving of the trees that they moved away, what else have you noticed in terms of more people coming through?

Oh, it's insane here on the weekends. Scallop season, last year at the mouth of the Anclote River is where they were finding them. There must have been 1,000 to 2,000 boats. Never saw anything like that, not even at Homosassa because it was more concentrated. But … we're a tourist state. So, that's what they're there for. You know, hopefully the science keeps it regulated in the right direction as we go further with the global warming, certainly not helping this bar and then all the boat traffic. What are you gonna do? People like to play in the sun.

Man in a blue long sleeve, cap and sunglasses points from his white boat to a patch of wavy blue water.
Jessica Meszaros
/
WUSF Public Media
Chris Powell points to where land from Three Rooker Island used to be. He now uses it as a prime fishing spot.

And the amount of people that you're seeing more so on the weekends and things. Has it shifted how you come to your home and your church?

Yeah, I try to avoid going around the island, or I'll get out there early in the morning and try to catch something. And once they start moving in on me about 10 o'clock, it's time to get off the island and go somewhere else because it's not really my cup of tea every day. I have done it, come out here and party with people. But … it's not why I really come here anymore.

What is it that you seek when you come here?

The beauty of it all … it’s eye candy for me, and it's the best. You don't have mountains here. I love mountains too, but we have this.

And do you talk to your daughters about what it used to be like and the changes that you've seen all the time?

All the time. All the time. They get sick of hearing it, I'm sure. ‘Stop living in the past, dad.’

When you're out here kind of in the silence, do you think about the future of this place for your children?

Oh, absolutely. I think about, ‘Well, if where I live in 30 years the water is gonna be 15 inches higher, can I live there?’ What's it going to be like when I have a little storm go through? Not just a hurricane, these little storms. I've had it quite a bit of flooding in the backyard at times. That's big cleanup, but it's never come in the house. Certainly, every year it gets a little higher and higher. And hopefully it's not a runaway train worse than what the scientists think it's going to be.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.