Wednesday Update
June 30, 2021

Welcome to the bi-weekly Wednesday Update. We'll email the next issue on July 14.

We appreciate your interest in SCCF's mission to protect and care for Southwest Florida's coastal ecosystems.

Thanks to Richard Mattern for this photo of a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) with a Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor priapus).


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Green Sea Turtles Return to Nest on Sanibel
In the last few weeks, SCCF’s sea turtle team has documented 12 green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nests on Sanibel. 

The team has been able to identify four different individual green nesters, two of which have been seen on Sanibel in years past and were part of a satellite tag tracking project in 2017, 2018, and 2019. 

“Most of the nesting on Sanibel and Captiva is primarily by loggerhead sea turtles so a different species is always extra exciting,” said Research Associate Andrew Glinsky. “Based on the number and timing of nests there could possibly be as many as two more green sea turtles that we have yet to positively ID.”

One of the green turtles, named “Gardenia,” was seen nesting during the day recently. Sea turtle volunteer Nancy Riley was fortunate to witness the event and captured this photo from a safe distance.
As of today, Sanibel has 440 loggerhead (Caretta caretta) nests and Captiva has 139 loggerhead nests as hatching season is ramping up on our islands.

Long-time volunteer Irene Nolan is pictured here doing an inventory of the first loggerhead nest that was laid this season.
Her egg count showed that 132 hatchlings emerged from the nest on the East End of Sanibel. To date, nine nests on both islands have hatched, with nearly 1,000 hatchlings. 
Photo by Shane Antalick

To report any issues with nests, nesting turtles, or hatchlings, please call our Sea Turtle Hotline: 978-728-3663. Visit for tips on how to safely share the shore with sea turtles.
Gretchen C. Valade Preserve Honors Longstanding Donor
SCCF is pleased to announce the acquisition of 2.2 acres of environmentally sensitive land off Pine Avenue on Sanibel that was generously donated by the Valade family.

The Gretchen C. Valade Preserve honors one of SCCF’s most innovative and longstanding donors. A seasonal island resident since 1980, she was the primary underwriter for the first five years of the Marine Lab’s operating plan and also took a leadership role in inspiring others to give through challenge grants that matched public-sector funding.

“Preserving this wildlife habitat is the perfect way for our family to honor our mother’s longstanding support of SCCF’s conservation efforts on and around Sanibel and Captiva,” said Gretchen’s son, Mark Valade.
The Pine Avenue property contains uplands that are covered in shrubs and hardwoods, including the exotic Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia). There are a few active gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrows, but most have been choked out by the shade due to overgrowth of canopy trees. A lot of the ground is covered in Australian pine needles that have eliminated native groundcover plants.

SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera said the donation has “made it possible for us to acquire key parcels we had identified that are in need of re-wilding to restore native habitat for wildlife,” said. “We are thrilled to have Gretchen’s name on one of our preserves to honor her legacy of giving.”

The thin section of the parcel along Sanibel-Captiva Road is a mixture of native and non-native hammock trees. The exotic Phoenix palm (Phoenix reclinata) and more Australian pines will be removed or treated so native vegetation can become the dominant species on this strip of land. 

Restoration through exotics removal and strategic replanting of native flora of the larger section will allow sunlight to penetrate to the ground to allow tortoise forage plants such as grasses to thrive in the uplands. Tortoises that left this parcel to live in neighboring open canopy residential yards will find the land much more suitable for burrowing after the restoration.

SCCF is the largest private landholder on Sanibel, with more than 1,815 acres in preservation on the island and an additional 200-plus acres of environmentally sensitive land on other Southwest Florida islands including North Captiva and Buck Key, as well as mangrove and tidal habitat in Cape Coral and in south Fort Myers.

To donate to the SCCF Land Acquisition and Improvement Fund, please contact SCCF Development Director Cheryl Giattini at or (239) 822-6121.
Shorebird Nesting:
Highs and Lows

The shorebird nesting season is full of highs and lows that reflect the challenges wildlife constantly encounters.

Last week, one of the island’s snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) broods lost all its chicks within a few days. The parents had left their chicks unattended to attack other broods, so their chicks weren't getting the attention they needed to survive. The adults can be territorial due to limited habitat availability and busy beaches filled with people, dogs, and natural predators such as ghost crabs, crows, and herons.

The good news: This pair has re-nested so we are expecting more chicks to hatch in about a month! In addition, there are a total of four snowy plover chicks roaming the beach. The oldest is just under four weeks (pictured above) old and the youngest is a pair of two-week-old chicks. A two-and-a-half-week-old chick is pictured below. Snowy plover chicks take four to six weeks to fledge.
“That's a long time for such a fragile bird, which is why we stress the importance of giving them space to forage and grow,” says SCCF Shorebird Intern Aaron White.

There also is a Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia) brood on the West End that still has all three chicks. They are four weeks old, and should soon be able to fly.

If you are observing territorial behavior among remaining broods, please maintain a safe distance of at least 100 feet. Giving them proper space is important so that they can return to their established territories and properly tend to their chicks. If you're observing shorebirds in the presence of a predator, allow them plenty of space (especially laterally) so that they can retreat from the threat. 

If you're out on the beach and happen to find a new snowy plover nest, please leave it undisturbed and contact SCCF at (813) 756-8773. Please email with any questions or concerns regarding our shorebirds. 

Photos by Shorebird Intern Aaron White
2021 Coastal Wildlife Team

Back row (L to R): Sea Turtle Technician Megan Reed, Sea Turtle Intern Emily Skinner, Shorebird Intern Aaron White, Sea Turtle Intern Malina Barker, Sea Turtle Intern Taylor Lawrence, Research Associate Andrew Glinksy, and Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht
Middle row: Sea Turtle Intern Hollis Hatfield, Sea Turtle Technician Courtney King, and Sea Turtle Intern Sabrina Sorace
Front row: Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan and Biologist Jack Brzoza
SCCF and Refuge Staff Partner to Monitor Tidal Flushing

The SCCF Marine Lab has worked closely with the staff at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge since 2003 to monitor water quality and seagrass health, and a new project is already providing information that aids in tidal flow and water quality improvement efforts.

Most recently, the team decided to install a water quality sonde to an area with stagnant water, occasional fish kills, and abundant macroalgae. The water quality sonde measures salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, turbidity, and dissolved organic matter hourly in the impoundment.

If you frequent the Refuge, you may notice the new sensor on the west side of Wildlife Drive. The impounded body of water, seen on the left while driving down Wildlife Drive, was once naturally connected to the tidally charged mangrove channels feeding into Pine Island Sound on the right. 
Currently, Wildlife Drive bisects them, with culverts beneath the road to link the tidal flows from one side to the other. Regular tidal flow is important on both sides of Wildlife Drive. It promotes better health for mangrove and seagrass ecosystems, both crucial for birds, manatees, and other wildlife that use the habitats within the Refuge.

The location of the new sonde was based on the stagnant water’s depth, elevation, GPS location, salinity, and oxygen levels. The data from this sensor is being compared to the water conditions monitored by an adjacent sensor located in Wulfert Flats with unrestricted tidal flushing. 

Over the past two weeks, the sensor from the impoundment has shown, on average, lower oxygen levels in the water than the sensor at Wulfert Flats. Ultimately, this information will be used to apply for grants to improve tidal flushing along Wildlife Drive. 
Summer Showers Rouse Frog and Toad Breeding…and FrogWatch Monitoring

Does it seem to be getting louder in the backyard as you wind down for the night? Do you hear a chorus of frogs and toads (anurans) calling tirelessly in the darkness?

The beginning of the summer rainy season heralds the breeding season for most of Sanibel’s anuran species. During the dry season, they keep moist in some permanent water bodies, such as lakes and rivers, or seek out damp places to avoid desiccation (drying out)—burrows, fallen trees, bark piles, or by simply burying themselves. The onslaught of regular June and July rains in Southwest Florida invites frogs and toads to emerge and breed in both temporary and permanent water bodies.

To understand the local anuran species, and the health of their populations, SCCF participates in the national FrogWatch program through the Southwest Florida Amphibian Monitoring Network.

SCCF biologists visit 20 sites across the island every third Wednesday of the month June through September after dark to record the species heard, call intensity, temperature, humidity, wind speed, sky condition, traffic noise, and other environmental variables. 
“Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) are an excellent indicator species for water quality and environmental problems,” explains SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz, pictured here on a frog call survey. “Because their skin is exceptionally absorbent, they take in water constantly, as well as toxins. A reduction or total loss of a frog species in a wetland can mean some type of environmental contamination, loss of water quality, or habitat change has occurred.”

While “some frog and toad species are more tolerant than others of contaminants, the loss of a highly sensitive frog species can mean the beginning of an issue in a wetland,” Lechowicz says.

How does SCCF conduct frog call surveys?

Male anurans attract breeding females by producing a species-specific call in areas suitable for egg deposition (wetlands). On a good night, you can hear hundreds of male frogs calling all at once. The nine species of frogs and toads on Sanibel have distinct mating calls, and SCCF volunteer frog monitors have been trained to identify the nuances in each species’ distinctive calls.

This information is added to the extensive Southwest Florida Amphibian Monitoring Network database, which is shared at the national level through FrogWatch and the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program to get a big-picture understanding of how amphibian populations are faring around the country.

If you have questions about frog or toad calls, please email
It’s Not Easy Being Green: Evaluating Algal Dynamics within the Okeechobee-Caloosahatchee System

By Paul Julian, Ph.D.
As summertime temperatures begin to warm and seasonal rains sweep across Southwest Florida, you may notice a change in conditions on the waterways. During this time of the year, the occurrence of algae within Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River becomes more noticeable. 

Visually, algae blooms can appear as streaks of green, discolored water, or floating mats of green, blue, and white, depending on the species. Under the right conditions, some algae species when in bloom can be classified as harmful algal blooms (HABs) which produce toxins such as Microcystis (in freshwater) or Karenia brevis (in saltwater) that kill fish and other sea life. Other algae are nontoxic but also can lead to fish kills and impact benthic communities by consuming dissolved oxygen and changing the color of the water.

Over the past two decades, algal biomass (measured as suspended chlorophyll-a in the water) has significantly increased at Franklin Lock (S-79). This increase in algal biomass is important as the S-79 structure is fed by both Lake Okeechobee and the upstream C-43 canal as they discharge freshwater to the Caloosahatchee River estuary. 

Increased nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) loading has been identified as a major factor contributing to an increase in algal blooms in the lake and estuaries. However, within the Okeechobee-Caloosahatchee system, no one thing can be singled out as the ultimate driver of algae; rather, it’s a combination of several factors. Algal growth and bloom proliferation can be driven by several factors: light availability (how much light travels through the water column); water temperature; nutrient concentration; and hydrology (water level and discharge).
Currently underway, the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) planning effort intends to change how water is managed for Lake Okeechobee. A specific topic of interest is understanding how the different water management schemes will affect the risk of algal bloom formation and transport within the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie estuaries. This metric is important to reduce the potential risk of HABs within our local waters which can lead to primary effects—fish kills and human health impacts—and secondary issues, such as environmental degradation and negative impacts on the local economy. 

To evaluate algal bloom risk to the estuaries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will compare discharges from Lake Okeechobee during the time of the year where algal bloom potential is highest (June – August). This evaluation is based on the concept of moving water with algae from Lake Okeechobee along the C-43 canal to the Caloosahatchee estuary. Based on the available data, an algal biomass transport hypothesis from the lake to the estuary does not paint the entire picture. Other processes contribute to algae bloom formation and transport within the Okeechobee-Caloosahatchee system. 

As part of the LOSOM planning effort, SCCF provided these recommendations: developing a more robust monitoring network to assess changes in algae; evaluating algal bloom potential relative to the amount of time water moves from the lake to the estuary; and including other factors, such as temperature and light availability. Ultimately, our goal is to develop an operations plan that reduces the risk of algal blooms in the estuaries and balances the needs of the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie estuaries, Lake Okeechobee, and the Southern Everglades to improve the ecology and sustainability of our system. 

By evaluating the existing science, assessing the LOSOM alternatives, and studying nutrient loading from Lake Okeechobee and the upstream basin and the resulting loads to the estuary, we are gaining a better understanding of algal dynamics within the Okeechobee-Caloosahatchee system. As water management changes for Lake Okeechobee, we continue to develop our understanding of algal and nutrient dynamics to inform management and policy decisions. 

Hydrologic Modeler Paul Julian's position is funded jointly by SCCF and The Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
M-CORES Toll Road Victory

On June 28, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 100, which is a partial repeal of the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) toll road bill that passed in 2019. 

SCCF and the No Roads To Ruin Coalition have been working diligently to oppose these unnecessary and cost-prohibitive toll roads that would have spanned the length of Florida and impacted thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive uplands and wetlands. 

While this bill will retrofit existing roadways and potentially still threatens environmentally valuable lands and rural communities along U.S. 19 in North Central Florida, the Southwest-Central Florida Corridor has been eliminated. This is a victory for South Florida’s wetlands, water quality, and for the Florida panther, which was uniquely threatened by M-CORES.

SCCF thanks all of our members who voiced their opposition to this project. Your involvement was critical in this positive outcome!

For more legislative updates, check our SCCF Legislative Tracker.
Meet the Interns
Luke Miller
Environmental Policy Intern
October 2020 - July 2021

Luke Miller has been an SCCF environmental policy intern since October 2020. Originally from New Jersey, he graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature and business. He came to SCCF following three years working in the global foreign exchange markets.

“I decided to switch career paths to focus more on conservation and policy, and my internship with the policy team at SCCF has been a perfect way to work with experienced professionals in the policy field and learn the fundamentals of the industry,” Miller said. “Throughout my internship, I have written articles about Florida policy issues that intend to make complicated policy matters accessible to our whole community. I have also worked to plan and execute Action Alerts to urge our elected officials to support environmentally friendly policies and oppose harmful ones.”

Miller said he has learned about significant issues on the environmental front during the past seven months and how environmental policies are designed and implemented. “During Florida's two-month legislative session, it was great to be able to work with the SCCF policy team to learn how bills progress through the legislative system,” he said. “I've also been able to learn about issues such as climate change, renewable energy, and sea level rise through my work on various related projects on these topics.”

Miller departs in mid-July and will be studying environmental policy at Indiana University's O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in the fall. “My time with SCCF will be extremely helpful as I continue to pursue my interests in the field of policy. The real-world experience I've gained by covering Florida policy issues over the course of my internship will be invaluable as I learn more about policy design, implementation, and issues,” he said.
Glorimar Rivera Zamorano
Native Landscapes & Garden Center Intern
May - August 2021

SCCF Native Landscapes and Garden Center Intern Glorimar Rivera Zamorano is a senior at the University of Central Florida, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s in environmental studies. She began the internship on May 31 and will wrap it up on Aug. 8.

“So far, I’ve come to learn a lot more things than I originally expected since starting this internship,” she says. 

Zamorano already understood the importance of incorporating native species into urban landscapes, and she is learning more about the roles they play in the environment. She is learning how to better identify native flora and is learning about different species’ roles within their habitats as food sources for birds and wildlife, as pollinators and nectar sources for insects and butterflies, and their climate tolerances and culture. “There’s something new to learn every day and I can’t wait to see what’s next,” she says.
Aaron White
Shorebird Intern
March - August 2021

Aaron White was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and recently graduated from Texas State University with a bachelor of science degree in Wildlife Biology. He has been a shorebird intern at SCCF since March.

“I've learned a lot during my time at SCCF. I've most enjoyed learning about snowy plovers (Charadrius nivosus) and their specific behaviors related to nesting and protecting their broods,” White said. “It's been really interesting observing the interactions between the broods, such as seeing what territories they establish for themselves to avoid predators and plover infighting.”

White is considering what he would like to focus on in wildlife biology. “Being exposed to new species and learning about them in a fast-paced environment has made me confident in my abilities to work with new species in the future,” White said. “On the other hand, if I want to keep pursuing work with plovers, I'm well equipped with base knowledge to advance down that career path.”

Look for more intern profiles in future issues!
Sanibel Sea School Hosts First Week of Camp at Bailey Homestead Preserve

Sanibel Sea School officially launched summer camp at the Bailey Homestead on June 21. During “Look! It’s a Sea School of Snook” week, counselors set up their home base under the pavilion on the grounds in the Bailey Homestead Preserve.  

“Campers are really enjoying the experience at the Homestead,” said Marine Science Educator Brianna Machuga. “The Homestead has a true remote camp feel to it where we are completely immersed in the nature of Sanibel.”

The inaugural week of camp at the Homestead was all about the iconic Southwest Florida fish, the snook. To learn about snook and other fish, campers did lots of seining and cast netting to get an up-close look at different fish adaptations. 
A few camp activities highlighted the prominent, black, lateral line that snook exhibit and focused on its function to detect movement and vibrations in the water. Finally, each group took a quick bus ride over to Bunche Beach where they donned snorkels to search for snook hiding in the tangled mangrove roots. 

Just like any regular Sanibel Sea School camp, campers at the Homestead visit the beach daily for games, activities related to the theme, and surf paddle practice. Located about a mile from the Flagship campus, the Bailey Homestead offers a perfect remote camp location with a shaded pavilion, access to nature trails, and is just a short drive to the beach. 

“Our camp at the Homestead is just another great example of how joining forces with SCCF was a natural fit,” said Sanibel Sea School Director Nicole Finnicum. “Our partnership with SCCF has not only made our administrative operations more efficient, but also has enhanced our summer camp offerings.”

Sanibel Sea School hosts about 30 campers at the Homestead and they are split up into smaller, separate day groups for COVID safety. Each group is led by a lifeguard-certified counselor that is assisted by several counselors in training. Weekly camps at the Homestead and at the Sea School Flagship campus will continue throughout the summer. 
Meet the Natives:

If you’re looking for an attractive, medium-sized tree, soapberry (Sapindus saponaria) is a great option for a low-maintenance, wildlife-friendly landscape. The name soapberry refers to its historical use as soap for washing. The fruits contain a material called saponin that produces a soapy lather when crushed and mixed with water. The saponins in the fruit were also used as an aid to catch fish, and its marble-like black seeds are used to make necklaces, rosaries, and other types of jewelry.

Soapberry has an open, airy habit and typically reaches between 20 to 40 feet tall. The compound, glossy-green leaves have a unique winged midrib in southern Florida. Creamy white flowers that gather in panicles in late spring produce clumps of showy orange fruit at the terminal ends of branches. Flower panicles can reach up to 12 inches long and add ornamental value to the landscape. Soapberry prefers full sun and tolerates a variety of growing conditions. It is highly salt tolerant and drought tolerant once established.
SCCF's Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead is open Monday through Thursday, 10am to 3pm. We will also continue to offer contactless deliveries and curbside pickup. Simply place your order online by midnight on Tuesday for pickup or delivery that Wednesday.

Please email our Garden Center Assistant Sue Ramos at with any questions or requests.

SCCF members will get their discount by entering this promo code: SCCFMBR10 
Children's Advocacy Center Enjoys a 'No Child Left on Shore' Trip to Cayo Costa

SCCF and Captiva Cruises recently hosted 17 children ages 6 through 12 from the Children's Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida, which aims to improve the lives of at-risk children and their families through prevention services.

The "No Child Left on Shore" Environmental Education Outreach Project is a collaborative endeavor of SCCF and Captiva Cruises to provide the younger generation of Southwest Florida with an informative and fun way to gain experiential knowledge of the region’s marine ecology.

This enriching initiative enables local youth to form a deeper connection to their coastal surroundings and to spark their curiosity. Many of the recent participants had never been on a boat before this field trip.
Departing McCarthy's Marina aboard Captiva Cruises’ motor catamaran, The Playtime, the children were thrilled to observe dolphins close to the boat while cruising the waters of Pine Island Sound on the way to Cayo Costa State Park. 

The Children’s Advocacy Center Summer Program participants had the opportunity to get their feet wet, explore the shoreline, and discover the diversity of marine life with Captiva Cruises/SCCF Educator Richard Finkel. 

Due to a stormy afternoon, their time on the water and exploring the beach habitat was cut short, but they were excitedly talking about wanting to come back as they recounted the highlights of their field trip.

SCCF Board of Trustee member John Raho, who serves as CFO at the Children's Advocacy Center, was thrilled to see the two organizations merge missions through the trip.

"It's such a wonderful way to enrich how our summer program participants experience Southwest Florida. Getting out on the water and up to Cayo Costa helps them appreciate our natural world and the value of healthy ecosystems," said Raho. 

For additional information about SCCF's and Captiva Cruises' "No Child Left On Shore" Outreach Environmental Education Project or to sponsor a local youth group field trip, please contact Richard Finkel at or (239)472-5300.
In case you missed us on WINK News last evening...

SCCF Research Scientist Rick Bartleson explains how the algae in Matlacha Pass is sinking to the bottom and decomposing. That, combined with other bacteria in the water, is creating a white-colored patch on the surface. While the algae may not look as bad as it did two weeks ago, the environmental concern remains.

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