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.
Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, ranks the beaches surrounding Gasparilla Island in the 90th percentile out of the 650 beaches he rates nationally, only downgrading for
Fact BoxDr. Beach 2010 Top 10
1, Coopers Beach in Southampton, N.Y.
2, Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota
3, Coronado Beach in San Diego
4, Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks, N.C.
5, Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y.
6, Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
7, Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Mass.
8, Beachwalker Park in Kiawah Island, S.C.
9, Hamoa Beach in Maui, Hawaii
10, Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne