By Paul Roat
Even though it’s been 30 years since Midnight Pass closed, the conversation is still going on strong.
Midnight Pass, an inlet separating southern Siesta Key to Casey Key, was what coastal engineers called a migrating inlet. The pass’s waters threatened to erode two South Siesta Gulffront homes in its northern trek in the early 1980s and, in early December 1983, homeowners were granted governmental approval to relocated the pass away from their properties.
The relocation effort failed, and the pass closed. Today, “Midnight Impasse” is a wide stretch of sand dune-strewn beach visited by kayakers and a rare beachwalker.
The relocation/closure was one of the most controversial environmental actions Sarasota had seen back then. Today, we wondered if the issue was still an issue. We asked an inlet question to members of the Facebook posting “We grew up in SRQ in the ’70s and ’80s!” and got a phenomenal number of comments.
The question posed was: “The 30th anniversary of the closure of Midnight Pass will be in December. Anybody remember the inlet in the old days?” The answers included the following comments.
Mechanics of demise of pass
“It was actually the ‘closing’ of Midnight Pass, an inevitability to anyone that believes in physics. It was a great place to shrimp, snorkel, and explore the old shark tanks [from when Mote Marine Laboratory was located on south Siesta Key.] Now it is a wonderful bird sanctuary and estuary to a wide variety of species. For all those that think the water quality has degraded since the pass has closed, they are unfortunately swayed by myths and anecdotes rather than actual data. Granted the species are different but it still serves an important purpose in the ecosystem of Sarasota Bay.”
“Rumor was that it was opened originally by a hurricane and fishermen with explosives, or maybe the other way around.
“Hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but nature will never open this pass again. Flows in the bay are dictated by managed inlets 9 and 8 miles north and south (Big Pass and Venice Inlet) and the Intracoastal Waterway. The area around Midnight Pass is too shallow for an inlet to stay open for any prolonged time. The only way to re-open the pass is via a man-made, constantly managed inlet. And that has been denied repeatedly by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and federal courts. After over a $1 million of effort, Sarasota gave up. You should, too. Embrace what the pass has become; a wonderful estuary and bird habitat. So grab your kayak, head to Turtle Beach and respectfully explore this area rather than dwell about the past. ”
“A big storm will punch a pass right through there. As I recall, it reopened once after a storm since its closing. Of course, the littoral currents conspire to close all the passes along Florida’s west coast. But apparently, we’re actually running out of sand with all the millions of dollars spent on sacrificing sand to the sea gods. The next stage in beach renourishment will soon have to be a very long slurry pipe pumping all the sand out of Florida Bay back up to Dunedin.”
“Citizens showed up with shovels and hand-tools to open the Pass back up, but the County had bulldozers, and you can’t fight City Hall. Politics polluted your precious waterway.”
“We used to fish and night shrimp there. What a great pass it was!”
”I remember how strong the current could be; the shrimping and bait fishing was awesome, and the ICW was much ‘lighter’ than now, when we would ski or sail, visibility was much better than now … I miss it still.
“ Shrimping was great. Swam across one night and, yes, the current was incredible!”
“Swimming across was an adventure. Only later did I realize it was nature’s way of cleaning the south bay. Man chooses wrong, again.”
“I think most everyone in Sarasota went shrimping in the pass.”
“Just on the north side of that pass you could go clamming. In the late 1970s we used to go camping there all the time on the south shore, where all the Australian pines were.”
“I remember spending a lot of time down at that end of Siesta Key. Mote Marine was at the end of the island, and I remember going there when it was active, and Dr Eugenie Clark was working there. Even after Mote moved, the circular shark tanks were there until the water took them away. As Boy Scouts, we camped on the Casey Key side on a special weekend trip. A few years later, I remember swimming the pass with a friend from Riverview’s swim team. ”
“I almost swam across, but my gut told me the current would be too strong. You guys who did were mighty brave.”
“Never had the guts to swim it. I remember Mote being there and being a little creeped out about what was in the water! ”
“Swimming across was bordering on insane. Current was strong, and have no idea of the depth. Oh, and wasn’t Mote Marine a place where they studied sharks?”
“Snook fishing at the pass from the beach at sunset — nothing better.”
“Boat camping in the Australian pines. Spear fishing with the inbound tide as our motive. Enter at the Gulf end, dive down, and do about a hundred yards of fishing on one breath. And stone crabs! They lived in holes in sand shelves underwater near the mangroves.”
“Used to camp overnight on the Casey Key beach —no houses back then. Spear fishing was great but lots of sharks for some reason.”
… and then there’s always time for more fun
“[The anniversary] sounds like an excuse for a party. Keg of beer and a bonfire at the old pass?”