Wednesday Update
September 30, 2020
Welcome to our bi-weekly edition of the Wednesday Update!

We'll be emailing it to you every two weeks, with the next edition on Oct. 14.

By highlighting SCCF's work to conserve and restore coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed, our updates will connect you with nature in all its beautiful brilliance.

We encourage you to spend time outdoors while adhering to smart social distancing practices.

Click here to subscribe to the Wednesday Update and other SCCF mailing lists.

Thanks to Gene Blanc for this photo of a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) on the west end of Sanibel.

Please send your wildlife photos to
SCCF Asks Corps to Hold Off on Lake O Releases for Now
By Chad Gillis

Consistent with the recommendation in our weekly Caloosahatchee & Estuary Condition Report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week held off on releasing water from Lake Okeechobee, with the surface of the lake approaching 15.5 feet above sea level.

Under the current Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), the Army Corps tries to maintain the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet to maintain a healthy lake ecology, provide flood protection, and water supply to agriculture, urbanized areas, and natural systems like the Caloosahatchee and its estuary.

The surface of the lake is currently at 15.52 ft., according to the Army Corps.
Excess water is already flowing off the Caloosahatchee River watershed, the lands and creeks and streams that flow into the river and estuary.

Flows measured at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam have been above the harmful threshold for weeks now and for the past week flows averaged more than 3,080 cubic feet per second, according to Army Corps data.

Flows at this level fall within the ecological “harmful threshold” identified by scientists and water managers, the point at which damage starts to occur in the estuary.

The Franklin Lock is the eastern edge of the brackish estuary, which extends west to Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Water released from Lake Okeechobee would compound the impacts of stormwater runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed.

Not only would the extra freshwater flows further disrupt salinity conditions in the estuary, but releases could also deliver nutrients that can fuel harmful algal blooms within the estuary or along the Southwest Florida coast.

Barring any major storm or hurricane, the Lake Okeechobee level may soon stop rising as the rainy season typically ends in mid-October. Looking at water levels now and how much time is left in the rainy season, there may be just enough room left in Lake Okeechobee to make it through the next three weeks without releasing water to the estuaries.

That would certainly be a good thing for our river, estuary, and islands.

Click here to read full column. Click here to sign up for weekly Caloosahatchee & Estuary Condition Reports.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Adams Photography, Friday, Sept. 18.
16 Nests Left As Record-Breaking Season Winds Down
Sea turtle season is really starting to wind down on the islands. Currently, we are monitoring 16 nests, a substantial difference from the record number of 669 nests on Sanibel and 268 nests on Captiva earlier this season. Even though nesting has stopped and now we are monitoring hatchlings, the SCCF Sea Turtle Program’s research on adult turtles has not.

For the first time ever, three loggerheads were satellite tagged after successfully nesting on Sanibel this season.

Junonia, Periwinkle, and Pepper (pictured here) are part of a study to learn more about the post-nesting movements, migratory pathways, and foraging grounds of loggerheads that nest on the Gulf coast of Florida. A high-profile study by researchers from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and University of Central Florida (UCF) suggests that the quality of foraging grounds can have an impact on a turtle's reproductive success.

Pepper and Periwinkle were both outfitted with satellite transmitters in July.
Pepper was tagged after she laid her last nest. Then she went south. Once she hit the Florida Keys, Pepper then travelled east and made her way to the Bahamas! Shortly thereafter, Pepper once again headed south, ending up in the waters off the coast of Cuba. Pepper has traveled over 1,100 miles to date!

Periwinkle took a similar path to Pepper, heading south toward the Florida Keys after her last nest of the season. Periwinkle, however, did not swim east out of the Keys, but has remained in a small area just north of Cudjoe Key. It appears that she has strong site fidelity to her foraging grounds in this area.

“Tracking their movements after they leave the nesting beach will allow us to define and protect the marine habitats that are important for their survival,” said Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan.

Junonia was tagged in June, but her tag stopped transmitting about a month later. Unfortunately, at that time, she had not yet begun migrating. Her foraging grounds remain unknown.

A tag that stops transmitting does not imply a negative outcome for the turtle. Satellite transmitters can stop transmitting for a number of reasons, such as the tag detaching or the sensors/antenna becoming obstructed by algal or barnacle growth.

Follow Pepper and Perwinkle at The maps will continue to update as the turtles transmit more location data. 
Tropical Storm Sally Final Count: Only 17 Nests Lost
SCCF’s sea turtle team reports a total loss of 17 nests from Tropical Storm Sally.

Ten nests on Sanibel and seven on Captiva washed away. SCCF Biologist Jack Brzoza, pictured here, used a GPS device to locate the destroyed nests, which were no longer marked by the trademark yellow stakes to determine if the eggs were still incubating under the sand.

“With our record-breaking number of nests this year, these 17 nests lost only make up a small percentage of the total nests and will not significantly impact our overall productivity,” said Brzoza.
Tracking Florida Mud Turtle for First Time in South Florida

The Florida mud turtle (Kinosternon steindachneri) is the rarest freshwater turtle found on Sanibel, and is considered the holy grail species at SCCF due to its elusive nature and the limited number of encounters.

“During a recent finding, we deployed a radio transmitter on one so we can learn more about their movements and hopefully find others,” said Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz. “There have been no studies on this species in the south of Polk County, so SCCF is happy to add to the knowledge of this turtle, especially on a rare island population.”

The video below shows the release of the turtle after the tracking device was placed on it. This seldom seen turtle appears to be ephemeral in nature by only being found during periods of high-water levels from rainfall. They have been reported, in other parts of their range, to spend the dry times of the year in dormancy.
Sanibel is very special in that it has representation of every one of the nation’s seven terrestrial turtle families.

“This is highly unusual for a barrier island,” said Lechowicz. “Of our high diversity of island turtles, two of the terrestrial or freshwater turtles are considered very rare.”

These are the Florida chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia chrysea) and the Florida mud turtle (pictured here). Sanibel has two mud turtle species, the Florida mud and striped mud (Kinosternon baurii). The latter is considered common on Sanibel, with the Florida mud turtle being rare or uncommon.

Although this turtle has been documented in the 1960s and 1970s on Sanibel, no verifiable occurrences of this species transpired until 2012, when two hatchlings were found within a month of each other. Since then, one adult female was documented in 2014 and two more adults in 2020.
Florida mud turtles are an oval-shaped brown 4- to 5-inch turtle with a hinged plastron. They have a very thin bridge -- the part that connects the top of the shell, carapace, to the bottom of the shell plastron -- as compared to the common striped mud turtle.

The striped mud turtle (pictured here) is easily distinguished by its three broad stripes running down the top of its shell. However, some striped mud turtles have very faint or absent striping on the carapace, which often leads to incorrect identifications.

If you see a Florida mud turtle on Sanibel please contact the SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Office at (239) 472-3984 or email
Banded Birds Sighted as Fall Migration Kicks Off on Islands
SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht continues to do monthly shorebird surveys and is catching up on data entry and analysis following the completion of the shorebird nesting season.

Out on the beaches, volunteers and Albrecht have seen a few interesting banded birds recently.

Volunteer Cheri Hollis found this sandwich tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) at Bowman's Beach on Sept. 23. It was originally captured and banded as a breeding adult on Raccoon Island, Louisiana, in 2015. The only other time it has been re-sighted since banding was in October 2015 by a colleague from Audubon Florida on Marco Island.
Albrecht found this banded red knot (Calidris canutus) on Sept. 25 at Bowman's while on turtle patrol. This individual was banded (6C9) as an adult in October 2011 in South Carolina.

“Red knots are on their southern migration right now. They nest in arctic Canada, and fly south in the fall." said Albrecht. "Looking at its past re-sights, it appears this individual may stay in Florida for the winter. But, others will just stop here and then continue on to South America. They will start heading north again in April."

Red knots can migrate up to 18,000 miles a year traveling between wintering grounds in Argentina and the breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra.

Please email Audrey at with any questions about shorebirds or to report sightings of banded birds.
Save the Date! Wines in the Wild 2020 on Nov. 13
A special 2020 edition of Wines in the Wild will be on Friday, Nov. 13. Thanks to event Co-Chairs Linda and Tom Uhler for getting creative and taking a fun and exciting approach to making this favorite annual fundraiser work in a safe and socially-distanced way!

We'll be announcing details next week.
Nutrient Sensor Gathering Data Continuously at Shell Point
The SCCF Marine Laboratory is gathering data from a next-generation sensor that measures nutrients in the estuary autonomously.

Along with seven other sites from Texas to the Florida Keys, the existence and operation of RECON (River, Estuary, and Coastal Observation Network) and the ability to reliably produce hourly data throughout the region was an attractive platform on which to test and deploy a new sensor to measure inorganic nitrogen.

The combination pump, spectrometer, and IV bags are secured to a frame and bolted to the navigation pilings next to existing RECON sensors. The system has an independent source of power, controller and data logger, and communication.

The data are collected continuously every two hours and does not require a boat and person collecting a water sample and analyzing in the lab. Typical water quality sampling programs focus on monthly sample collection to establish long term status and trends within a water body.

Continuous, real-time data can better track storm events, tidal fluctuations, and day/night differences in nutrient concentrations, which provides new insights about the dynamics of nutrients and the role of inorganic nutrients in the ecosystem.
The WIZ (Water In Situ AnalyZer) was purchased by collaborators at the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observation System (GCOOS) in November 2019. The sensor excelled in reliability and accuracy in tests conducted by an independent review of sensor technologies called the Alliance for Coastal Technologies (ACT). A workshop at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette was held to train technicians on the operation, calibration and maintenance of the sensors.

The system was originally deployed in February, during the dry season. The instrument performs internal calibration checks so we were confident that the WIZ was working correctly. Since there was little rain then, the inorganic nutrients were very low.

After COVID-19 restrictions were eased, the instrument was again deployed in August. This deployment demonstrated changes in nutrient concentrations consistent with changes in tide stage. At low tide, concentrations were high and at high tide, nutrient concentrations were low.

This finding confirms that the sources of inorganic nutrients are from lower salinity waters, like runoff, and not from the Gulf of Mexico, which has higher salinities. A graph plotting salinity versus nitrate concentration shows the relationship at Shell Point during the deployment.

The RECON build-out plan for 2021 includes installing more nutrient sensors upstream at Beautiful Island to better track freshwater flows from the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam versus rain events in the tidal basin. 

Railroad Vine: A Gorgeous Way to Control Erosion
The railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae) is one of the most widely distributed beach plants. It grows all around the world limited only by temperature as it does not tolerate frost.

The railroad vine is part of the morning glory family and, as expected, the flowers only last a day. The flowers, even though short-lived, attract many pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and ants. The bright purple color and easy growing make it a nice addition to your home landscape.

The seeds of the railroad vine are very light and small, making the winds and water excellent dispersal methods. It can grow year-round as long as there is water to keep it growing.
And, keep growing it does. The branches of this vine may reach more than 30 feet long.

The roots of the railroad vine will generate wherever the leaf connection touches the ground, enabling the plant to form large mats. These large mats help make the railroad vine useful in stabilizing sand dunes and preventing coastal erosion. They also have substantial indirect economic benefits.

It grows just above the high tide line and can create large mats of lush green leaves and vibrant purple flowers as pictured here.

We continue to offer contactless deliveries and curbside pickup. On-island deliveries are made on Wednesdays and curbside pickup is also on Wednesdays, from 2 to 3pm. 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
Attention: Will You Be a Late-Returning Snowbird?
We will be mailing the FY19-20 Annual Report on Nov. 9. If you would normally have returned to your island home by then, but are staying away a while longer, please let us know where we can mail your copy of the annual report. It will be full of information about all the good work you support, so we don’t want your copy to be lost in the mail.

Please send your alternate mailing address for early November to Ashley Graham at
Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot Panel Discussion
CEO Ryan Orgera will be a panelist on a virtual panel discussion featuring legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 4pm.
They will be joined by leaders of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Florida Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, and the City of Dunedin to talk about work to restore and protect our waters.
The Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot stretches from Apalachicola Bay to the Ten Thousand Islands. SCCF is one of many partner organizations supporting Dr. Earle's global effort to establish areas of marine protection. There is no fee to participate. Q&A will follow the discussion.
Thanks to Participants in Annual International Coastal Cleanup
Thanks to all of you who participated on Sept. 19 in the Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup by collecting trash on our beaches. Members of Sanibel Girl Scout Troop 200 (pictured here) joined the effort at Lighthouse Beach, leaving it much cleaner than it was.

Participants dropped off 316 pounds of trash and multiple crab traps from Sanibel and Captiva at SCCF, filling up our pickup. Even more trash was collected and reported virtually through the Ocean Conservancy's app.

We are proud to have been a part of the worldwide effort to clean up our shorelines!
SCCF a Finalist for Nonprofit of the Year Award!
We are one of 17 finalists for an INCredible Award for Nonprofit of the Year.

This award celebrates a nonprofit organization in Lee, Collier or Charlotte County that is a leader in the nonprofit sector, and the mission of which improves quality of life in Southwest Florida.

The virtual event, on Oct. 6 at 10 to 11am, will celebrate award recipients in a total of six categories:Small Business of the Year; Innovation Award; SWFL Citizen of the Year; Distinguished Volunteer Award; and the INCredible Award.

SWFL Inc. is a regional chamber of commerce serving businesses in Lee, Collier, and Charlotte Counties.
SCCF's James Evans Explains Dark Water Plume
Click here to watch this WINK News story that aired on Sept. 23.

James Evans, environmental policy director at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, explains the freshwater plume created by recent heavy rains.

The organics in the water, and all of those things that run off the landscape from plants and soils make that water dark, running off the landscape, moving through the Caloosahatchee watershed, into the water, and out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Stay Connected!