The Tampa Bay party spot has tried to fix its image; now it needs to stop its beaches from eroding.
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If you fire up Google Maps and start zooming in on the stretch of water in Tampa Bay located between MacDill Air Force Base and Apollo Beach, a small grey patch of land will eventually appear, labeled Pine Key. But the locals have a different name for this small, sandy island once used as a dredgers' dumping ground—Beer Can Island—and now the owners are hoping to raise half a million dollars to save these water-bound drinking grounds from erosion.

"Beer Can Island" appears to be a Florida nickname for several spots boaters like to unofficially congregate for drinking, but in recent years, the Tampa Bay version has been trying to shed its literally "trashy" past as a post-party garbage receptacle and go legit. According to the Tampa Bay Times, in 2017, the Pine Key was purchased by a group of friends, and over the past two years, they've added basic facilities like toilets and trash cans and—though the island is still open to the public—began charging for things like camping and private events.

Spring Break Hits Florida's Beaches
Beer cans on a Florida beach during spring break.
| Credit: Joe Raedle / Staff/Getty Images

Throughout it all, the new-and-improved Beer Can Island has had its battles with local officials who say that the island is operating in a legal gray zone, but the almost 9-acre island is facing an even greater long-term threat: Mother Nature.

The Pine Key has reportedly shrunk more than two acres since being purchased and was already significantly smaller than the over 23 acres that are encompassed in the property line. "If we let this go, in five years this won't be an island," co-owner John Gadd, who blamed the losses on erosion from a mix of natural waves and ship wakes, told the Times. "It will be a sandbar. We need to save it."

Saving the island, which has significant tree cover inland from its beaches, won't be easy or cheap. "We have made it our mission to make the island one of the most beautiful and unique islands in the world," the owners write on their GoFundMe page, called the Pine Key Project. "We are designing a plan with engineers to protect and expand the beaches of the island." They explain that they've already surveyed the land and generated data on the wave patterns, but they still need to install geotubes and breakwaters in an effort to prevent further erosion and restore the beaches.

However, despite launching their GoFundMe in October, as of this writing, the owners have raised a miniscule $890 of their $500,000 goal (which may explain why they took their story to the Tampa Bay Times last week).

So why aren't people rushing to keep Beer Can Island afloat? Certainly, "Beer Can Island" is a somewhat pejorative moniker, so maybe locals would be happy to see it washed away. But it's also tricky to try to raise money to save what is literally a private island—a point the owners seem to understand. "We are a humble grassroots business," they wrote on GoFundMe. "For us to bear the entire burden of this project will not only hurt us financially, but also elongate the timeline for the project, allowing more erosion to take place. With your generous donation, we can help us accelerate the timeline of this project, return the island to its former glory while protecting it for generations to come!"

"We haven't promoted [the GoFundMe] all that much and with the island being shut down since March 15th due to Covid, plus now it's winter time here, I think for those reasons it hasn't gained much traction," co-owner Russell Loomis told me via email. "However, I believe come March or April when the weather gets better and the island is open we will have a better opportunity to raise awareness and promote the GoFundMe campaign."

And as Loomis also told the Times back in 2018, "We're not trust fund babies." That said, maybe a rebrand to something like Champagne Bottle Island would help bring in some more big-ticket donors?