Wednesday Update
October 14, 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. 28.

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 connect you with nature.

Thanks to Frances Tutt for this photo of a juvenile green heron (Butorides virescens) taken while canoeing the east end canals on Sanibel.


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Corps Releases Lake O Water to Caloosahatchee Estuary
By Chad Gillis

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started releasing water to the Caloosahatchee River today, sending freshwater flows that will further disrupt salinity balances in the river’s estuary. 

Flows to the Caloosahatchee River will be at the maximum allowed level, with 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) coming from Lake Okeechobee. The St. Lucie area will see 1,800 cfs, according to the Army Corps. 
"We are very concerned about the Corps' decision,” said James Evans, SCCF Environmental Policy Director. “With current watershed flows, we can expect to see discharges approaching 6,000 cubic feet per second, more than two times the ecological harm threshold established for the estuary." 

Army Corps Col. Andrew Kelly said the agency has tried in recent weeks to hold off on releases but that the time to dump water from the lake has come. 

“We need to release water out of Lake Okeechobee and stabilize that rate of rise,” said Kelly, commander of the Army Corps Jacksonville office. The surface of the lake was 16.2 feet above sea level Tuesday, according to Army Corps records.  

SCCF and other groups asked the Army Corps to hold off on releases since the rainy season should end within days, and meteorologists from various forecasting outlets are calling for drier, La Nina conditions in the short term. Flows at the lock dropped below 900 cfs earlier this week.

“Additional flows to the estuary would continue to bring the plume of fresher water to the causeway islands and possibly to Lighthouse Beach Park,” said Eric Milbrandt, SCCF Marine Lab Director. “Flows from Lake Okeechobee could also bring more turbidity and nutrients to the lower estuary as well as lower salinities.”

Milbrandt said the higher flows will be detrimental to various aquatic organisms and grasses. 

“Today salinities are around 25 in the lower estuary, 35 in the Gulf of Mexico and 15 near Shell Point,” he said. “Salinity levels below 25 are harmful to turtle grass and manatee grass. Lower salinities also cause mortality in oyster larvae which can prevent re-seeding of existing oyster reefs.” 

Kelly said the Army Corps expects to release water for several weeks. 

Click here to sign up for our weekly Caloosahatchee & Estuary Condition Reports.

Jordan Marsh Proves its Value after Tropical Storm Sally
As part of the City’s water management system, the Jordan Marsh Water Quality Treatment Park treated more water over a short period of time in September than it has since opening in March 2019.

“Even though the Sanibel Slough must periodically be allowed to discharge to prevent flooding, the Jordan Marsh is reducing the amount of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, allowed to escape,” said SCCF Research Associate Mark Thompson.

On Sept. 14, the Jordan Marsh reached its highest level ever about 24 hours after most of the rain from Tropical Storm Sally had stopped.

“At that point, the marsh was discharging at a rate of about 2,000 gallons each minute, which is about twice the normal target flow,” said Thompson, who specializes in freshwater systems at SCCF's Marine Lab.

Although the flowrate was double, as pictured above, the water levels were still well within the design criteria of the constructed wetland, and there was no risk of overflowing its capacity, he added.
Thompson sampled the nutrient removal efficiency of the marsh one day after the peak discharge rates and found that the marsh was still reducing the phosphorus load through the marsh by over 75% and the nitrogen load by nearly 30%.

“The treatment marsh empties into a swale beside the bike path on the western boundary of the facility and the treated water flows back into the Sanibel Slough,” Thompson said. “Vegetation in the marsh is key to nutrient removal. You will notice there is very dense and healthy vegetation cover in the upstream two-thirds of the marsh."
The water in Sanibel’s interior wetlands system and the Sanibel Slough (River) is very high in nutrients, and normally the City of Sanibel avoids releasing water into Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay to prevent polluting the estuary.

However, the City has a policy to release water from the slough whenever the water stage reaches a pre-determined critical level or if the water level reaches the weir’s control elevation.
SCCF & City Leaders to Discuss Water Management
The outer bands of Tropical Storm Sally brought a 100-year rain event to Sanibel on Sunday, Sept. 13. More than a foot of rain drenched the island within 24 hours, maxing out the capacity of Sanibel’s stormwater management system.

Please join us on Nov. 12 at 7pm for an engaging panel discussion about Sanibel’s approach to water management and the partnership between the City of Sanibel and SCCF in developing the current policy. The unique nature of the island’s interior wetland system and the Sanibel Slough requires an intricate balance to maintain flood control, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

The virtual panel will include James Evans, MS, SCCF Environmental Policy Director who joined the City in 2000 and served as Director of Natural Resources for the last seven years before taking on his current role with SCCF on Sept. 8. He’ll be joined by former colleagues from the City, including Keith Williams, MBA, PE, Director of Community Services and City Engineer, and Holly Milbrandt, MS, Director of Natural Resources. The panel will be moderated by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera

The panel will explore the rich history and science used to develop the current water management policy, the status of the water quality within the Sanibel Slough, state water quality requirements, and opportunities for reducing stormwater runoff and improving water quality. There will be a Q and A following the Zoom presentation.

We will send an invite with a registration link soon!
Honoring SCCF's Longest Serving Staff Member: Dee Serage-Century
Dee Serage-Century passed away on Sept. 30, leaving an amazing legacy for passionately devoting nearly four decades of her life to creatively teaching our community how to co-exist with nature.

The Harvest moon was rising at the time of her passing, as her long-time partner/husband Luc Century and her daughter, Shannon, were by her side.

Following a recent cancer diagnosis, she was under home hospice care and was at peace about passing on at the age of 72, having lived a full and gratifying life.

Dee was the longest-serving staff member in SCCF history. For 37 years, she shared her love and deep reverence for nature as she created the organization’s Landscaping for Wildlife program and a myriad of educational campaigns on how to live with wildlife.

“Early on it was all about Landscaping for Wildlife, which was/is very effective, enhancing the islands with a rich diversity of wildlife,” said former SCCF CEO Erick Lindblad. “Then, Dee started focusing on how humans could live with wildlife through practical programs giving the community an animals’ view of the islands and how to creatively coexist.”

In lieu of flowers, Dee and her husband Lucas Century requested that donations be made to SCCF to further the mission she embodied.

Advocating for BRDs on Blue Crab Traps to Save Terrapins

Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are a brackish water species of turtle that often get caught up in blue crab traps, where they suffocate and die.

The seven subspecies occur on the coast from Massachusetts to Texas, and there are three subspecies that are unique to Florida.
Terrapin populations are threatened by habitat loss, red-tide outbreaks and the pet trade. The most notable cause of death is accidental drownings from being trapped in crab pots.
“Terrapins are attracted to crab traps because of the bait used to catch blue crabs,” said Chris Lechowicz, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director. “When they find their way into the submerged trap, they often are not able to find their way out before they drown because crab traps are only checked every six to 36 hours.”

Abandoned or lost traps are called ghost traps, and they often end up catching and killing terrapins until they eventually break apart. A conservation push has been made to require bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) be installed on all crab traps in Florida.
“BRDs are simply rectangular doorways, of various sizes, that are fastened to each of the four funnels on a crab trap. They prevent larger terrapins from entering the traps,” Lechowicz said. “Science has shown that the addition of BRDs on crab traps does not reduce the number of crabs being caught, but they do prevent up to 73% of terrapins from entering the trap.”

These devices save the egg-laying females and large males. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) held two online seminars on the subject recently that concerned the possible requirement of BRDs, as pictured here.

“There was strong representation from both the crabbing industry in opposition and turtle biologists in support of this action,” Lechowicz said. “The crabbing industry claims that this requirement would crash their industry in Florida as they believe it would exclude the largest male crabs, sometimes called Jimmies, from entering the traps which is a large part of their business."

A peer-reviewed and published scientific paper on this notion shows that not to be true. Many crabbers said they have never seen a terrapin or rarely encounter them. Scientists explain that many areas have been trapped for so long that no terrapins remain in them.
The fact is that both blue crabs and diamondback terrapins are very important to our ecosystem and one is not more important than the other. If terrapins, an imperiled species, are continuing to drown in crab traps then some changes need to be made to crab traps to minimize or eliminate that threat.

If you would like to make comments on this issue, please email FWC at or call 800-487-0554.
Join Our First Online Book Discussion

Please join us for the first online meeting of The Green Readers on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 7pm to discuss The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohllenben.

We'll be meeting through Zoom; please email Jenny at if you would like to get the link. Next month's book selection will be announced shortly; stay tuned!

Click here to join The Green Readers' private Facebook group for ongoing discussion.
Sea Turtle Team Celebrates Volunteers & End of Season
This evening, SCCF Coastal Wildlife staff will be giving an end-of-season presentation to all SCCF sea turtle program volunteers. The presentation is a summary of the 2020 sea turtle and shorebird nesting seasons, focusing on the highlights the season and offering some insight into the analysis of nesting data and statuses of various research projects.

This year, the presentation will be virtual, with volunteers able to join in and view a PowerPoint narrated by staff, who will be available to answer questions and interact with volunteers live. It is always a fun way to wrap up the season and interact with volunteers in a casual setting, with sea turtle volunteer duties winding down as the final few nests are inventoried.

Currently, there are only three nests left on the beaches. To date, 33,741 hatchlings have emerged from 585 hatched nests. This includes a recently hatched nest on the east end of Sanibel where 20 hatchlings emerged, and although not a large hatch, this was still an exciting find this late in the season.
October Shorebird Survey Finds More Than 6,600 Individuals on Beaches
Starting last Wednesday at the Sanibel Lighthouse, SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht counted 6,622 individuals of 38 species. For her October monitoring survey, she walked the entire length of Sanibel and Captiva's Gulf beaches, ending Friday on Captiva.

The most commonly observed species were laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla), sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis), sanderlings (Calidris alba), royal terns (Thalasseus maximus), and brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis).

She re-sighted 24 banded individuals including 14 royal terns, three sandwich terns, three sanderlings, two black skimmers (Rynchops niger), a snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus), and a red knot (Calidris canutus). Albrecht found the most exciting of these re-sights to be one sandwich tern, now 20 years old, that was banded in July 2000 in North Carolina. It is pictured above.

“With all the threats facing our shorebirds and seabirds across their range, and populations declining worldwide, I find it encouraging to see that some individuals are able to survive through it all,” she said.
The red knot AX3 she re-sighted, pictured here, was banded here on Sanibel at Bowman's Beach in January 2007 in the same spot.

“It winters here in Florida, and is often seen on Marco Island, where it was last recorded in August 2019. I was relieved to see it is still alive and well and survived another migration,” she said.

Albrecht offers a reminder on why it’s so important not to disturb migrating shorebirds.

“I was grateful that I was able to carefully photograph the band from all sides and read the full number before people flushed the flock of birds,” she said.

During this fall migration she has seen a lot of people flushing flocks of birds by riding bikes through, letting dogs or kids run through, or flushing the flocks themselves so they can take a selfie.

“I try to educate as best I can but not everyone is willing to listen. These birds have just flown thousands of miles they are exhausted and starving. Forcing them to fly unnecessarily causes them to expend energy that they can't afford,” she said, urging others to spread the word and discourage flushing.

Please email Audrey at with any questions about shorebirds or to report sightings of banded birds.
Bailey's Continues Tradition as Wine Partner for Wines in the Wild 2020
SCCF is thinking out of the box for this year’s Wines in the Wild fundraiser, coming on Nov. 13. Instead of hosting a live event at the Bailey Homestead, this year’s Wines will be a homeINstead evening.

“Wine and food have always brought people together to share good times,” said Wines in the Wild co-creator Tom Uhler, pictured above with Calli Johnson at Bailey's. “When we realized that we could not gather in person for this our 13th year, we wanted to find a way to still allow people to enjoy the food, wine and fun that have become the hallmarks of our event. So we’ve created a party box filled with everything needed to celebrate Wines in the Wild at your own home instead of the Bailey Homestead.”  

The boxes are available now by pre-order for touchless drive-by pickup at the Homestead on Nov. 13. Priced at $210 per couple and $130 per single, each box will include a bottle of white and a bottle of red wine chosen by Bailey’s General Store, food from the kitchens of Cielo, Catering by Leslie Adams, Spoondrift and Sweet Melissa’s Cafe, and other celebratory elements
Diamond Sponsors Paul and Lucy Roth, pictured here, expressed appreciation for the participation of Bailey’s. “Under Calli Johnson’s leadership, Bailey’s has truly become a ‘go-to’ wine destination. It is incredibly generous of them to once again contribute to this year’s event as the Wine Sponsor.”

A new feature of this year’s fundraiser is a very special “50/50 + 10 Drawing”. In addition to the traditional 50/50 cash drawing, there is the chance to win one of ten lots of five bottles of wine, each lot valued at no less than $160. As an added bonus, each $100 purchase will get one chance for a drawing for a magnum of 2008 Dom Perignon worth $550. Tickets are $25 or five for $100.
SCCF Plantings Help Keep Beach Ecology Intact
Each summer, the Native Landscapes & Garden Center staff are able to take part in beach restoration and enhancement projects on several local beaches.

Pictured here is Garden Center Assistant Emily Harrington planting a green buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) as part of the Sanibel-Captiva Road/Shoreline Project, which consisted of planting a mix of native trees and dune stabilizer plants such as sea oats (Uniola paniculata) and sea oxeye daisy (Borrichia frutescens).

“These projects span throughout the island at public and private beaches to help add to and diversify the beach dune system,” said Becca Grotrian, Native Landscapes & Garden Center Manager. “This summer we planted at eight different beaches from the Lighthouse down towards the Blind Pass area with a couple being on the bay side such as Bailey Road and Seagrape Lane.”

These plantings take place in the summer to take advantage of the natural rainfall so the plants typically don’t need supplemental watering.

“Having a healthy beach dune system is very important, not only do the plants help out with erosion but they also protect inland areas from storms by creating a barrier to absorb some of the strong wave and wind energy,” Grotrian said.
“Having a healthy beach dune system is very important, not only do the plants help out with erosion but they also protect inland areas from storms by creating a barrier to absorb some of the strong wave and wind energy,” Grotrian said.
Pictured here is a planted section at Bowman’s Beach, which included sea oats, railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae), seacoast marsh elder (Iva imbricate), dune sunflowers (Helianthus debilis), and sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum).

The dune system is also important to much of our wildlife by providing shelter, foraging and nesting. For example, gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) make their burrows in back dune areas where they also can forage on plants like prickly pear (Opuntia), gopher apple (Geobalanus oblongifolius), and golden creeper (Erondea littoralis).

Funding for the annual beach planting program comes through grants given to the City of Sanibel’s Natural Resources Department. Many of the species not only can grow on the beach but can grow in an upland landscape if you have a dry, full-sun area in your yard.

The Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead Preserve is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10am to 3pm. We also 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 is 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
Save the Dates!
Virtual Evenings at the Homestead Scheduled

We are pleased to announce this year's Evenings at the Homestead speaker series. Though we won't be able to see you in person, we're looking forward to meeting with you virtually. Stay tuned for more details and registration through Zoom.

  • Tuesday, Nov. 17, 7pm: Florida’s Living Dinosaurs: Monitoring Florida’s Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles, Kelly Martin and Chris Johnson, Florida Leatherbacks, Inc. (photo by Florida Leatherbacks, Inc.) Click here for more information.

  • Thursday, Dec. 17, 7pm: Understanding the Critically Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish, Gregg Poulakis, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

  • Wednesday, Jan. 20, 7pm: Sand Dunes: A Global & Local Perspective, Patrick Hesp, Flinders University, Australia

  • March, date and time TBD: Florida's Fire Ecology, Reed Noss, Florida Institute for Conservation Science
Sami Chang Does Illustration Internship with SCCF
Earlier this year, SCCF was excited to bring Samantha Chang onboard for an “artist-in-residence” internship. The goal of the internship was to work alongside Justin Proctor, SCCF Special Projects Manager, in creating original and engaging artwork to be incorporated into new trail interpretive signage for the Sanibel Slough Trails within the Erick Lindblad Preserve.

“Sami” is a student within the Science Illustration Program at California State University at Monterey Bay, and has a strong interest in and talent for drawing flora, fauna, and landscapes. However, just as Sami was going to board a plane for southwest Florida, COVID-19 hit the States in full force.

Although the “in-residence” half of the internship would not ultimately transpire, Sami was able to overcome the challenges of working remotely, and produced more than a dozen beautiful and detailed illustrations of some of Sanibel’s most amazing wildlife and scenery.

Sami’s artwork will ultimately be featured on SCCF’s new trail signage. In the meantime, we will be sharing some of her favorite illustrations our social media channels over the next several weeks.

For now, we will introduce you through a photograph of Sami in her home studio in San Ramon, California. Here she is diligently working on an illustration that depicts the morphological differences between Sanibel’s native rice rat (Oryzomys palustris sanibeli) and the introduced black/palm rat (Rattus rattus).

Please check out all of Sami’s other great work, featured both on her website and her instagram page: @schang.studios.
Help Us Restore Critical Habitat by Collecting Red Mangrove Propagules
Coastal Watch and SCCF’s Marine Lab are teaming up for a mangrove planting project on Hemp Key in Pine Island Sound. Volunteers are needed to collect red mangrove propagules for a restoration event on Nov. 6.

Beginning this Friday, Oct. 16, volunteers can pick up 5-gallon buckets for mangrove propagules at Sanibel Sea School or the SCCF Marine Lab. The best location for collecting propagules is along Dixie Beach Blvd, but you can also collect them from the beach if they are not dried out and brown. The best propagules will be green with no brown spots or wrinkles. The filled buckets can be dropped off at the SCCF Marine Lab or Sanibel Sea School no later than Nov. 4.

For those interested in planting, on Nov. 6, we will load the buckets onto the R/V Norma Campbell from the SCCF Marine Lab and take a 1-hour boat ride to Hemp Key to plant mangroves. Planting mangroves is labor intensive and can take up to 4-5 hours in the hot subtropical climate. Space is limited to 10 volunteers. If you are interested in planting on Nov. 6, please email Kealy McNeal at 
Podcast Focuses on Lake O Releases: When They Damage & When They Help

SCCF Marine Lab Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt and SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans joined Host Barbara Linstrom last Thursday to explain why scientists are recommending that water managers hold off on any releases for a couple of weeks until the watershed runoff from recent rains slows down.

They also talk about the research SCCF’s Marine Lab does that informs weekly reports and recommendations provided to water managers and how our water quality has benefitted from those reports. From a policy perspective, Evans also talks about how positive it was that the Corps held off on any releases during this year's rainy season. They also explain how releases in the upcoming dry season will benefit the estuary.

Click here to sign up for SCCF’s weekly Caloosahatchee & Estuary Conditions Report.
Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot: SCCF Update Video
SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera was featured on a Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot Panel Discussion led by the legendary Dr. Sylvia Earle on Saturday, Oct. 10. As part of his presentation, Ryan showed the above video that was produced by Sanibel Native Shane Antalick. It spotlights SCCF team leaders on the work we are doing to preserve and protect our waters. Click to watch.
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