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Visitors and residents of Fort Myers Beach are repurposing Ian's wreckage and creating art

  Handmade signs are scattered across the Fort Myers Beach to replace the street signs lost to Hurricane Ian.
Handmade signs are scattered across the Fort Myers Beach to replace the street signs lost to Hurricane Ian.

The beach town is known for its quaint, colorful shops and homes. Many people are embracing the reputation and creating art from the hurricane debris that still litters the island.

Fort Myers Beach is known for its quaint, colorful shops, homes and artwork. Visitors and residents are embracing the reputation and creating art from debris from Hurricane Ian that still litters the island.

Marissa Parker of Massachusetts came to Fort Myers Beach to celebrate her 22nd birthday.

“When we got down there, the beaches just weren't the same from the last time we visited; everything was gone,” Parker said.

Ian made landfall in the area in late September 2022 with winds topping 150 mph. A 15-foot storm surge swept away many structures.

Parker spent her recent vacation cleaning up the beach. Wherever she went, she brought along trash bags.

“To go down there and realize, ‘Oh, my God, like, there's buildings in the water, whole buildings, like, there has to be so much trash,’” Parker said. “So every day I was down there, I was out on the beach picking up even just small shards of glass because I didn't want people to get hurt, especially the animals.”

Parker took some of the pieces of the broken glass and decided to clean it. That’s when she got the idea to paint a sea turtle and add the glass fragments as details.

“We shipped it and it came up,” Parker said, referring to Massachusetts. “And the idea just came to me, I'm like, I'm gonna draw a turtle and the glass is going to represent like, this is what it does to the animals. And we all need to be aware that we can make the changes ourselves if we just do it.”

Parker saw artwork on Facebook and around Fort Myers Beach. She saw professionals posting glass mosaics and was inspired.

 The remainder of a window reads "FMB Strong" with a heart on it on Fort Myers Beach.
Hayley Lemery / WGCU
The remainder of a window reads "FMB Strong" with a heart on it on Fort Myers Beach.

Parker wasn't the only person to get the idea to create art from hurricane debris. People who aren’t self-proclaimed artists have begun to bring life back to Fort Myers Beach through art.

Many street signs were lost in the storm, and residents took it upon themselves to hand-paint signs, making it easier to navigate the streets of the island. These signs can be found scattered around the island.

Art can be found displayed around the island, some of the most notable ones reading “FMB Strong.”

Artists Chester Rogers, Joni Hermansen and Rickie Carver are known for capturing and sharing moments of Fort Myers Beach through paintings.

Parker’s grandmother Michelle Jurczyk shared the artwork on Facebook. The post received 689 likes, 55 comments and 16 shares.

“What a great idea,” Mary King of Tennessee said under the post. “Your turtle is amazing. I pick up glass but never thought about doing something with them.”

Dozens of people commented to compliment Parker’s work.

“That is really cool,” Laurie Seeber of Indiana said. “If I lived down there, I would buy that from her.”

Parker advocates that all beachgoers should pitch into the cleanup efforts.

"Just anything you pick up, it helps so much, you don't even realize," Parker said. "... I couldn't get over how my back hurt from just being hunched over all day picking up all the pieces. It was very sad to see, but I'm glad that they're slowly kind of coming back and making a recovery."

This story was produced for the Senior Capstone course in the Florida Gulf Coast University Journalism program. Hayley Lemery can be reached at hklemery9681@eagle.fgcu.edu.

Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Hayley Lemery