Wednesday Update
Dec. 9, 2020
Welcome to our bi-weekly edition of the Wednesday Update!

We'll email it to you every two weeks, with the next edition on Dec. 23.

By highlighting SCCF's mission to protect and care for Southwest Florida's coastal ecosystems, our updates connect you to nature.

Thanks to Frances Tutt for this photo of a juvenile green heron (Butorides virescens), taken from her kayak in Sanibel's east end canals.

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Please send your photos to info@sccf.org to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Marine Lab Monitoring Recent Red Tide Bloom
Scientists at SCCF’s Marine Lab have been tracking a red tide bloom that came to their attention on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26.

Satellite imagery provided by SCCF's colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicated the development and transport of a red tide (Karenia brevis) algae bloom toward Sanibel on Thanksgiving.

The sequence of satellite images showed a large patch that had the optical characteristics of a dinoflagellate bloom. Since the beginning of last week, volunteers and staff have collected water samples from Bowman’s Beach, Tarpon Bay Road Beach, and Lighthouse Beach. At that time, the number of Karenia brevis, the single-cell dinoflagellate that causes red tide, were low, less than 100,000 cells per liter.

On Sunday, Dec. 6, counts were high, or 20 million cells per liter at Gulfside City Park beach and at Tarpon Bay Road Beach. Yesterday’s counts showed one million cells per liter, or medium concentration at the Donax Road beach access. Today's counts of Karenia brevis on Sanibel beaches were low, coming in at less than 100,000 cells per liter.

A research cruise on Dec. 3 collected samples along six offshore transects from Captiva to the Sanibel lighthouse. Water samples were collected for microscopic cell counts, nutrient concentrations, and dissolved-oxygen concentrations. Several patches of discolored water were encountered on the cruise and it was later confirmed that there were more than 10 samples with medium concentrations (100,000-1,000,000 Karenia cells per liter) and a few with high concentrations, or greater than one million.

The patches were between five to 10 miles south and west of Sanibel with the highest concentrations near the Sanibel Lighthouse. SCCF will continue to follow the satellite imagery, which currently shows a possible dense patch south of Sanibel, along the southern Lee County coast.
Corps Steps Down Harmful Lake O Releases
By James Evans
SCCF Environmental Policy Director

In a much-anticipated decision on Dec. 3, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would begin cutting back freshwater releases to the Caloosahatchee from Lake Okeechobee.

This was not only welcome news for the Caloosahatchee estuary, which has received ecologically damaging flows for the past three months, it is also good news for the coastal communities impacted by the releases.

The Corps’ plan will cut back flows from the lake over a two-week period. Beginning Dec. 5, average flows were reduced from 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) measured at the Moore Haven Lock (S-77) to 3,000 cfs. Beginning Dec. 12, discharges will be further reduced to 2,000 cfs measured at the Franklin Lock (S-79). Once flows drop below 2,100 cfs, they are considered to be in “optimal range” according to ecological targets established for the estuary.

During the past three months, conditions throughout the mid and lower Caloosahatchee estuary have been poor for oysters and seagrasses, putting stress on the organisms that form the basis of the estuarine food web.

These organisms are resilient and can recover if provided suitable conditions for a period long enough to support recovery. However, if high flows continue, or if flows are cut back too much during the dry season, these organisms can lose their resiliency and ability to recover.
The reduction in flows comes at a critical time as we are beginning to see red tide (Karenia brevis) showing up in the Gulf along the southwest coast. Recent sampling by the SCCF Marine Lab (see map above) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission red tide status maps indicate low levels (>10,000-100,000 cells/L) of Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for Florida red tides, along Sarasota County and parts of Lee, and medium (100,000-1,000,000 cells/L) to high levels (>1,000,000 cells/L) along Sanibel and Captiva.

Karenia brevis is known to use many sources of nutrients, and scientists are concerned that excess nutrients from lake releases and runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed could feed red tide as it moves near shore along the coast.  

Like our estuarine organisms, our coastal communities have been severely impacted by the poor quality of our coastal waters. At times, the dark-colored freshwater plume has extended five to seven miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico, impacting local businesses and the tourism industry that rely on our beaches and coastal waters.

These current impacts come just as we are beginning to recover from the devastating red tide bloom of 2018. The 2018 bloom resulted in more than 850,000 pounds of dead marine life being removed from Sanibel’s beaches and more than $47 million in economic impacts to local businesses.

Analogous to the estuary, our communities are also resilient and can recover if provided suitable conditions. Our communities desperately need a recovery period, and we hope that water managers will equitably balance all of the needs of the natural systems and communities that rely on Lake Okeechobee.

To sign up for our weekly Caloosahatchee Condition Report and/or Action Alert mailing list, click here.
SCCF Team Transports Green Sea Turtle
with Suspected Red Tide Symptoms to CROW
On Nov. 25, SCCF received a hotline call about a sub-adult green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) in distress. The endangered turtle was unable to properly swim and had washed up slightly north of Blind Pass Bridge.

Upon close inspection, it was clear that the turtle had a healed injury from a potential shark bite and was displaying an erratic breathing pattern.

Coastal Wildlife staff secured the animal using SCCF’s sea turtle rescue sling and immediately took it to CROW for veterinary care, where it unfortunately passed away despite life-saving efforts. A gross necropsy showed no significant findings, according to the staff at CROW, “ruling out most everything else besides toxicosis” from red tide brevetoxins. It is the only sea turtle admitted to CROW in the last few months with clinical signs of red tide toxicosis.
New Trustees Elected at SCCF Annual Membership Meeting

SCCF members voted overwhelmingly to appoint three new individuals to the Board of Trustees, including Jill McCormack, Anne Nobles, and John Raho at the Annual Membership Meeting yesterday evening.

Conducted through Zoom from a studio on the third floor of the SCCF Marine Lab, SCCF Board of Trustees President Linda Uhler, Treasurer Susan Beittel, Nominating Committee Chair Doug Ryckman, and SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera spoke at the virtual, 30-minute meeting.

Outgoing members of the Board of Trustees were recognized for their service, including Shelley Greggs, Robin Krivanek, and Linda Uhler. New officers were also announced as follows: President Don Rice, Vice President Deborah LaGorce, Treasurer Susan Beittel, and Secretary Ran Niehoff.

The meeting was recorded and is available for viewing on the SCCF YouTube Channel at the link below.
Change in Migratory Bird Treaty Act up for Public Review

One of the most popular activities on Sanibel and Captiva is bird watching. The Southwest Florida region is an important place for a variety of migratory birds. Sanibel plays a key role because the protection of land, water, and wildlife is prioritized by residents, city leaders, and conservation organizations.

One of the most important laws protecting these birds is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), established in 1918. This law prohibits the “taking of” (hunting, killing, capturing, selling, or injuring) migratory birds without a permit.

The current federal administration is making a second attempt to exclude accidental or incidental deaths from this rule (though a first attempt was struck down as illegal in federal court). The rule change is open for a 30-day public review period, ending Dec. 28. It appears the administration is rushing to get this change finalized before the end of the current term. Click here to learn more.

Millions of birds are killed annually by human activities. If this proposed rule change goes through, utility companies including electric, oil, and gas will benefit as a large number of birds are killed incidentally as a result of their operations.
Other significant causes of death of migratory birds are collisions with cars and glass buildings or windows, and predation by outdoor cats. The importance of MBTA is highlighted by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. This event resulted in the death of nearly one million birds.

Without the MBTA, BP would not have been held responsible for these deaths, as they were not an intentional result of the course of their operations. Because of the MBTA, BP paid $100 million to fund wetland restoration as part of the settlement.

“It can seem daunting that there are so many threats out there affecting birds, but there are actions we can all take in our daily lives that can help protect them,” SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht said. “Together we can try to minimize our negative impacts on our feathered friends.”

Here are some simple tips for being a good neighbor:

  • Keep cats indoors
  • Do not use harmful pesticides
  • Plant native species
  • Minimize use of single-use/disposable plastics
  • Be a respectful bird observer: Never approach birds too closely, chase, or harass birds. 
Battling a Lesser-Known Invasive: Cogon Grass
Sanibel Island is home to an extensive variety of invasive exotic flora and fauna. While most invasive species, such as Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) and the cane toad (Rhinella marina), are well-known to the general public. However, a lesser known but extremely prolific invasive exotic, cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica), has invaded portions Sanibel’s natural ecosystems.

For seven years, SCCF’s Wildlife & Habitat Management has been treating 25 cogon grass infestation sites throughout Sanibel ranging in size from a few square meters to several thousand square feet, said SCCF Land Steward Victor Young.

A biannual treatment, utilizing a combination of herbicides, recommended by the Florida Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences simultaneously target the foliage and the root system to maximize control. “These treatments have shown significant success on Sanibel by either eradicating cogon grass from specific sites or reducing the area affected by nearly 90 percent,” Young said.
Cogon grass, a native to Southeast Asia, was initially introduced to Alabama in 1912 as packing material in fruit crates. It was subsequently introduced to other Gulf coast states for cattle feed, although ranchers would soon discover that it was not a palatable source of forage. Cogon grass would also be utilized for erosion control in various places throughout Florida in the early 1900’s.

Cogon grass is extremely adaptive to a variety of climates and habitats (excluding wetlands) and thrives in disturbed soils, often spreading through wind-driven seed or agricultural equipment. Additionally, cogon grass is a pyrogenic plant, meaning it is well-adapted to fire. Due to these adaptations, it eventually outcompetes nearly all native vegetation. Over one million acres of pasture, timberland, and environmentally sensitive habitats throughout the Southeastern U.S. have been negatively impacted.

“Although cogon grass can be difficult to manage or eradicate, it is thankfully easily identified,” Young said. The grass blades can reach nearly 6’ tall and typically range from dark green to light green in color. The most prominent indicators are the white, off-center midrib, serrated margins, and a white, puffy spike-like panicle inflorescence. Mature stands of cogon grass often develop dense mats of cream-colored rhizomes.
M-CORES Task Forces Submit Final Reports without Recommendations

After a year of public Zoom meetings, the three M-CORES task forces charged with evaluating the need for the state’s massive new 330-mile toll road project have completed their task.

The three-segment Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) task forces met for the last time the week of Oct. 19 before their input was synthesized and compiled into a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) report delivered to the governor and the legislature on Nov. 13.

The task forces did not reach a recommended consensus on the need for these new roads, which many would argue was its primary task. Instead, they focused on high-level recommendations and guiding principles related to the new toll roads. The summaries of each task force report open with the line: “Due to the early stage of planning for this corridor and the limited data and analysis on potential needs and impacts available at this time, the Task Force was not able to fully address its charge of evaluating the needs for and impacts of the ... corridor.”

“There was a strong appeal by several task force members to include the “no build” option, but that recommendation was not included in the final FDOT report,” said SCCF Environmental Policy Assistant Holly Schwartz. “FDOT said it would look at that option as corridor alignments are reviewed more closely.”

SCCF is a member of the No Roads to Ruin Coalition, which believes that the final report falls short of laying out the environmental protection mandates promised in the original legislation.

“These new toll roads will destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands and will encourage sprawl that would be responsible for impacting thousands of additional acres of wetlands,” Schwartz said.

Find the full task force reports at floridamcores.com.
Spotlight on Smalltooth Sawfish at Next Week's 2nd Evening at Homestead

Join us via Zoom for the next in our virtual series of Evenings at the Homestead on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 7pm for a fascinating presentation on smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata).

Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?: The Plight of the Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish and What is Being Done to Promote Recovery in the U.S., will be presented by Gregg Poulakis, Ph.D., of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Poulakis, pictured here with a smalltooth sawfish, will discuss why it became endangered, summarize his team’s research on juveniles in our local waters, and address what the future holds for the species. The talk will include how use of state-of-the-art technology is helping to promote recovery of this unique species.

Poulakis has been a fish biologist with the State of Florida since 1997. For his entire career, he has been based out of the Charlotte Harbor Field Laboratory in Port Charlotte and has been dedicated to learning about the fishes of the Charlotte Harbor estuarine system.

If you can't join us, we are archiving all of our virtual presentations on our SCCF YouTube Channel so you can watch and learn anytime!

Save the date for these upcoming Evenings at the Homestead:

Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 7pm
Sand Dunes: A Global & Local Perspective, presented by Patrick Hesp, Flinders University, Australia
Tuesday, Mar. 9 at 7pm
Florida Needs Fire!, presented by Reed Noss, Florida Institute for Conservation Science
SCCF & San-Cap Art League Seeking Garden Art for 2021 Exhibit
SCCF and the Sanibel-Captiva Art League are once again partnering on an exhibit featuring nature-inspired art by local artists.

The "Natives in the Garden" exhibit will feature original, weather-resistant works of art and is open to all members of the Sanibel Captiva Art League and SCCF.

Pieces submitted must be 3-D art that can stand on its own, is weatherproof, and is suitable for outdoor display at the Bailey Homestead Preserve.

Creativity, recycled materials, and originality are encouraged in representing SCCF’s mission and the theme of “Natives in the Garden.”

“Natives in the Garden” Dates & Details:

Artists hand-deliver entries: Tuesday, Jan. 12 from 9 to 11am
Exhibit opening: Monday, Jan. 18, 9am to noon
Exhibit dates: Jan. 18 to March 12, 2021
Supports: All of the works will be available for purchase, with 20% of the proceeds of works sold donated to SCCF.

There is no fee to enter with proof of current membership to the art league or to SCCF. If you are not a member, join SCCF by accessing the membership form at sccf.org (go to “Support Us”) or join the art league at sancapart.org.

Artists are limited to one submission, depending on space limitations. Works must not exceed 60 inches in height (including pedestal or exceed 48 inches in width (including pedestal) or weigh over 30 pounds. Artists will submit a one-page biography and explanation of the materials used in the work.

For a complete list of rules and guidelines, download the artist’s prospectus: Garden Art Show Prospectus.
Join the Green Readers for December Book Discussion

Join a virtual meeting led by our Marine Lab staff on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 7pm to discuss The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery.

As a topic close to the heart of SCCF's Marine Lab, this book takes an in-depth look at one of the most fascinating creatures of the ocean, the octopus. A finalist for the National Book Award, The Soul of an Octopus “reveals a watery world of animal intelligence painted with such sparkle that I was bereft to leave it for dry land at the book’s end,” according to the Times Literary Supplement. The book explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus—a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature—and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.

There has been a lot of interest in this book since SCCF announced this selection in late November. At least 10 readers have become members of the Green Readers Facebook group. And you can, too.

To join the Green Readers Facebook group, just click here or go to SCCF's Facebook page and click on "Groups." 

To register for the book discussion on Dec. 15, please email SCCF Native Landscapes & Adult Education Director Jenny Evans, jevans@sccf.org for a Zoom invitation.  Happy Reading!
Fragrant Swamp Lily Blooms Twice a Year

Common to many Florida swamps and marshes, the swamp lily or string lily (Crinum americanum) is a great addition to the edge of any pond, lake, or water garden.

This herbaceous wildflower grows showy white, fragrant flowers in the spring and fall. A member of the amaryllis family, swamp lily bulbs can be divided and transplanted easily as they grow and spread in the garden.

Swamp lily is a host plant for the Spanish moth (Xanthopastis timais) while the undesirable, destructive lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera) enjoys the leaves as well.

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 sramos@sccf.org with any questions or requests.

SCCF members will get their discount by entering this promo code: SCCFMBR10
Welcoming New Educators to Sanibel Sea School

Sanibel Sea School is excited to announce that two new marine science educators recently joined their team of ocean advocates. The educators will deliver marine science education and lead hands-on field trips to create lasting ocean memories for children and families.

Dana Donkle (pictured here) and Brianna Machuga bring their experience in environmental education and outreach and their love for kids to the team at Sanibel Sea School.

Donkle, originally from North Carolina, has long expressed her passion for ocean conservation through ocean-related art. She recently taught about Florida’s marine ecosystems at Pigeon Key Foundation in the Florida Keys, where she led snorkel outings for school groups learning about coral reef ecology. Prior to that, Donkle was an environmental educator, teaching children about the coastal ecosystems of South Carolina.
Machuga, pictured here, is originally from Northeast Ohio and is a returning staff member. She worked with Sanibel Sea School in 2019 as a summer camp counselor and is excited to be back.

Machuga brings experience in education and children’s programming from Disney, where she was a cast member and conservation educator.


Pick Preserve Walks Resume with STEM Middle Schoolers
Once again, teachers at The Sanibel School are able to take their students on walking field trips and take advantage of the island’s environment as an outdoor classroom. SCCF’s Pick Preserve, located directly across the street from The Sanibel School, is an ideal setting for incorporating environmental education into curriculum, which has been a 20-year collaboration with SCCF.

SCCF Environmental Educator Richard Finkel recently met Kelly Johnson’s Middle School STEM class to explore the ecology of Sanibel’s freshwater wetlands. Students observed and recorded the aquatic habitat’s small life forms. They were excited to get out of the classroom and discover small fish, tadpoles, damselfly and dragonfly nymphs, fishing spiders, water beetles, water striders, and freshwater snails within their water samples.

The aquatic fish and macroinvertebrates were released back into the Pick Preserve wetland after students’ observations. This field trip initiated classroom research into wetland ecology and water quality, so a pondwater sample was taken back to the school for further analysis.

Click here to learn more about SCCF's Environmental Education outreach programs in partnership with the Sanibel School.
Red Tide Counts Go Down on Sanibel Beaches
In case you missed us on WINK News...

Click here to watch SCCF Marine Lab Research Scientist Rick Bartleson, Ph.D., as he explains how his counts of Karenia brevis, the dinoflagellate that blooms into red tide, have gone down from high counts over the weekend to medium counts on Sanibel's beaches this week. As of today, counts are in the low range.

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