Oct 5, 2022 - News

Cape Romano dome house near Marco Island wiped out by Hurricane Ian

Marco Island's Cape Romano dome house with birds sitting on top of the domes.

Cape Romano dome home. Photo courtesy of Florida Island Tours

A funky abandoned house that's become an iconic attraction offshore of Florida's Marco Island has survived several hurricanes — until now.

What's happening: Hurricane Ian wiped the remaining parts of the Cape Romano dome home into the Gulf of Mexico last week.

  • "They're completely under the water now," Marco Island boat captain Nate Lapierre, who runs ecotourism company Florida Island Tours, told Axios about the domes.

Background: In 1982, a retired independent oil producer, Bob Lee, had the Cape Romano dome house built in Ten Thousand Islands, near Marco Island, a Collier County tourism department spokesperson told Axios.

  • Lee sold the property and, according to Lapierre, it was abandoned in 1994. In 2005, a buyer named John Tosto paid $300,000 for the property with plans to restore it.
  • However, months after he bought it, Hurricane Wilma eroded the underlying beach. By 2010, the domes were completely in the water. The structures remained privately owned, but the now-submerged land was deemed part of the state-owned Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve.
  • In 2016, Tosto offered to sink the domes and turn them into an artificial reef, but there was an outcry from the public, which liked them visible.
  • In 2017, Hurricane Irma knocked two of the domes underwater, Lapierre said, and Ian finished them off.

Between the lines: It remains unclear if the domes could be transformed into an artificial reef. Marco Island isn't great for diving because sediment in the water keeps visibility low, Lapierre said.

  • "Most days the water looks somewhere between chocolate milk and green tea," he said.

What they're saying: Lapierre said his business is currently unable to function. He hasn't been able to check on damage to his boats because the marina where he stores them has been closed, and the storm destroyed the only boat ramp in Marco Island for people to access the water.

  • "Every local business owner I've talked to is like, 'Well, we're going to take October to figure out what's wrong, and we'll get open as soon as we can,'" Lapierre said.
  • Luckily, he said, September and October are slow months for tourism in Marco Island. The best way for South Floridians to help is to visit once business resumes.

The Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve didn't return Axios' requests for comment.

What to watch: People are sharing photos, video and memories of the now-sunken site on a Facebook page called RIP Dome Homes.


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