Wednesday Update
October 28, 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 Nov. 11.

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 Jorgen Asteberg for this photo of an eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) taken on Sanibel.

ATTN PHOTOGRAPHERS: DO YOU HAVE WILDLIFE PHOTOS TO SHARE?

Please send your photos to info@sccf.org to be featured in an upcoming issue.
One Sea Turtle Nest Left As Season Comes to a Close
With sea turtle nesting season officially ending on Oct. 31, all of the nests on Captiva have already hatched and there’s only one nest left on Sanibel.

It was laid by a green turtle, which isn’t all that surprising since they tend to nest later in the summer than some other species.

“This nest was discovered on a morning survey in August and was one of the final few nests laid this season,” said Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan.

Nesting season for green turtles typically runs from about June through September, whereas loggerheads nest from April through August. Green turtle nesting in Florida seems to follow a biennial pattern, where females migrate from their foraging grounds to mate and lay eggs usually every other year. They’ve had solid nest counts on the islands in recent years.

“The 2019 season was a big one for green turtles, with 32 nests laid on our islands -- 30 on Sanibel and 2 on Captiva,” Sloan said. “Since 2019 was an elevated year for green nests and they typically nest every other year, a lower nesting year was expected in 2020. This season, only 5 green nests on Sanibel were documented.”

Four of these nests have already hatched, producing 201 green hatchlings! The green hatchling photo above was taken by SCCF Volunteer Karl Werner.

“We look forward to the outcome of the last green nest this season and are hopeful for another big nesting season next year,” Sloan said.

The line graph below shows the record-breaking number of loggerhead nests that were laid on Sanibel and Captiva this summer compared to previous years.
SCCF Takes Water Managers on Tour of Estuary;
Army Corps Continues Lake O Releases
On Oct. 22, SCCF Marine Lab Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt and Environmental Policy Director James Evans took members of the South Florida Water Management District out on the Caloosahatchee estuary to see first-hand the impacts of high volumes of freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

The members of the District included Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss, The Director of Ecosystem Restoration and Capital Projects Jennifer Reynolds, and Communications Director Sean Cooley. 

WINK News Environmental Reporter Stephanie Byrne was also aboard the RV Norma Campbell for the estuary tour. Click here to watch the story.

SCCF's scientists explained the impacts that the freshwater releases are having on the ecology of the estuary and how these high-level flows can lower salinity levels and impact the health of seagrasses and oysters. 

The group discussed the current limitations of the water management system and the need for additional storage, treatment, and conveyance south into the Everglades and Florida Bay to reduce damaging flows to the estuaries. The freshwater plume from the Caloosahatchee River currently stretches six miles offshore.

In addition to discussing the current ecological conditions, the group also talked about the value of SCCF's oyster and seagrass restoration efforts underway and explored opportunities for future restoration projects to enhance habitat and improve water quality. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to release water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers as Lake Okeechobee is still slowly rising. An average flow of 4,000 cubic feet per second is being released to the Caloosahatchee, and an average of 1,800 cubic feet per second will be sent to the St. Lucie.

The releases are being conducted to lower lake levels, which the Army Corps tries to maintain between 12 and 15 feet for flood protection, water supply to farms and urban areas as well as water for natural systems like the Caloosahatchee and Everglades.

Lake levels were at 16.37 feet above sea level Tuesday, which is higher than the Army Corps wants to see at this time of year. Water is still coming into the lake at a faster rate than it is being discharged, and it will likely be a couple of weeks before the lake finally tapers off and begins to fall.

The Army Corps held off on releases the majority of the wet season, sparing the estuaries from potential additional harm from lake discharges.

Prior to the lake releases that began on Oct. 14, the Caloosahatchee River was already experiencing harmful flows from the watershed. Additional lake flows will only cause more damage to the ecology of the estuary, lowering salinity levels, shading sea grass beds, and adding nutrients that can feed harmful algal blooms.

Weather patterns still have South Florida in the rainy season, and the tropics are still active.

The shift between the two seasons doesn’t come on a particular date but, rather is based on the dominant weather pattern at the time. A La Niña pattern is forecast to strengthen this winter and spring, which could result in dryer than average conditions in south Florida.

After analyzing lake levels over the next several days, the Army Corps will make another announcement about releases on Friday, Oct. 30.

Click here to sign up for our weekly Caloosahatchee & Estuary Condition Reports.
Wine in the Wilds is Sold Out; 50/50 Tickets Still Available
Wines in the Wild homeINstead party boxes are sold out. But you can still enter the “50/50+10” drawing!

The Wines in the Wild party boxes are sold out (sorry!) but tickets are still available for the very special “50/50+10” drawing. This year, we’re including wine, including a magnum of Dom Perignon, in the drawing.

Speaking of champagne, SCCF wants to toast this year’s Presenting Sponsor, Bank of the Islands. “We truly appreciate Bank of the Islands’ support of this event for more than a decade,” said founders Tom and Linda Uhler. “With the challenges presented this year by the pandemic, their support has been especially helpful.”

In the photo above, Bank of the Islands CEO and President Geoff and Robbie Roepstorff, SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera and Linda and Tom Uhler get a preview of one of this year’s wines.
Platinum Sponsors Joyce and Don Rice, pictured here, are looking forward to their spectacular meal at home on Nov. 13. And they are also excited about the 50/50 drawing.

“We’ve added a very special feature this year,” said Don. “There will still be the traditional 50/50 cash drawing but we’ve added “+ 10” – the chance to win one of ten lots of five bottles of wine, with each lot valued at no less than $160. And as an added bonus, for each $100 purchase, you will get one chance for a drawing for a magnum of 2008 Dom Perignon, a $550 value!” Tickets are $25 or five for $100. Please note that wine cannot be shipped to an out of state winner.

To purchase your “50/50+10” tickets, click here. The drawing will be held on Nov. 12 so that your “+10” will be available for drive by, touchless pickup at the Bailey Homestead, 1300 Periwinkle Way, on Nov. 13.

Funds raised support SCCF’s mission, which is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed. Community support through membership dues and tax-deductible contributions, in addition to grants and staff-generated revenue, makes this work possible.
Advocates Join State, Federal Agencies in Groundbreaking
On October 21, SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans joined state and federal agencies, members of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, and fellow Everglades advocates in celebrating the groundbreaking of the Central Everglades Planning Project—CEPP South.

As the heavy rains came down over the central everglades and water formed rivulets on the ground beneath the white tents set up along Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County, a crowd intently listened to remarks made by Governor DeSantis and leadership from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, and other federal and state agencies involved in Everglades restoration.

Pictured above, from left to right: SFWMD Governing Board Member Jay Steinle, Commander U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Col. Andrew Kelly, SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss, SFWMD Governing Board Vice Chairman Scott Wagner, SFWMD Governing Board Member Ron Bergeron, SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett, SFWMD Governing Board Member Charlette Roman, and SFWMD Governing Board Member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

“As one speaker after another talked about the unique characteristics of the river of grass, emphasizing the ecological and economic significance to our national and state economies, we were reminded of the importance of restoring this ecological treasure,” Evans said.
The CEPP South Project is a critical piece of the puzzle for moving water south from Lake Okeechobee, through the central Everglades, and into Everglades National Park. CEPP South is part of the larger CEPP Project, which includes a suite of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects aimed at moving more water south.
 
“It is important for the coastal estuaries because, when combined with the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, it will significantly reduce the frequency and duration of damaging high-volume discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie, while rehydrating Everglades National Park and Florida Bay,” Evans said. “The project is designed to double the capacity of water that can be moved into Everglades National Park. “
 
The various components of CEPP are scheduled for completion by 2028. It will require significant state and federal funding to get these projects to the finish line. Annual funding for Everglades projects for 2021 is estimated at $508 million, with $250 million from the federal partners and $258 million from the State of Florida.
 
Everglades restoration is an investment in our future and is projected to provide $4 to the State’s economy for every $1 invested. 

“Through these important capital investments in Everglades restoration we can see a day in the not-so-distant future where our coastal communities don’t have to rely on the impulses of mother nature to determine if we will have a good year or a bad year,” Evans said. “We just need the political will to keep these important Everglades projects funded and moving forward so that we can attend the next important groundbreaking.” 
Royal Tern 738 is Island Hopping More than Most
SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht recently sighted a young royal tern (Thalasseus maximus) that seems to be island hopping.

She first sighted Royal Tern 738 at Bowman's Beach on Aug. 5, then again at the SCCF Charlotte & Delbert Miller Preserve on North Captiva on Sept. 4. Just four days later, 738 was seen by Audubon Florida staff on Treasure Island close to 100 miles north of here. On Oct. 19, Albrecht re-sighted banded Royal Tern 738 back at Bowman's Beach as pictured here.

Banded as a chick on July 5, 2019, near Brunswick, Georgia, by researchers from Virginia Tech's Shorebird Program, Royal Tern 738 is just over a year old.
Some other banded terns seem to stick around Sanibel more consistently based on SCCF observations. Royal terns do not breed until 3-4 years of age so there are royal terns present on our beaches year-round despite the fact that they do not nest here.

Albrecht also noted a 27-year-old royal tern on her survey work this week.

“I found this tern Friday afternoon between Island Beach Club and Casa Ybel Resort. The oldest known royal tern was 31. I hope this one lives four more years to beat the record,” said Albrecht.

Please email Audrey at shorebirds@sccf.org with any questions about shorebirds or to report sightings of banded birds.
Next Book Announced for Green Readers Book Club

The Green Readers’ second book selection is here! SCCF members may remember the turtle smuggling ring that was discovered locally in 2019, and its effects on our local wild populations of turtles. SCCF’s Wildlife Habitat Management department works tirelessly to care for our local wildlife and prevent this type of illicit activity.  

The Lizard King by Bryan Christy is a look into this other world, as “a fascinating account of a father and son family business suspected of smuggling reptiles, and the federal agent who tried to take them down.”  

Janet Maslin of The New York Times, says, “The Lizard King is a wild, woolly, finny, feathery and scaly account of animal smuggling on a grand scale, in a weird world so expansive that a few hundred stray snakes and turtles amount to peanuts.”

Green Readers’ members can participate in one of several ways: simply read the book, join our Facebook group for ongoing online discussion, or join our virtual Zoom meeting to discuss the book at the end of the reading period. This month’s Zoom discussion will occur during the week of Nov. 15, with the exact date to be determined.  

The Lizard King is available on the Hoopla app through the Sanibel Public Library, or locally at MacIntosh Books, where a 20% discount is offered for The Green Readers members and delivery is available. 

You are welcome to participate in one, two, or all three of these options depending on your preference. Joining the Facebook group is easy! Simply click here or go to SCCF's Facebook page and click on "Groups." Happy reading!  
Fabulous, Fragrant Marlberry!

You know that we've made it out of the summer doldrums when marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides) begins to bloom. When it's not flowering, this shrub is attractive in its own right, but its flowers and fruit really allow it to shine.

The light scent of the flowers will waft across the morning air, attracting pollinators. Once spent, the pollinated flowers will develop into round green fruit that ripen to a deep shade of indigo. The berries are a favorite for many different kinds of birds.

Preferring a little shade, marlberry can grow to a large shrub or small tree size, with enough density to provide cover for birds as well. It's tolerant of a wide range of conditions from dry to moist soils, and even a small amount of salt exposure.

If you're looking for a wildlife friendly, versatile plant, marlberry may be a top pick for you!
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
Annual Report Arriving Soon!

Be on the lookout for your SCCF FY2019-2020 Annual Report, which will be delivered island-wide on or about Monday, Nov. 9.
 
“The annual report is a great representation of the scope and breadth of our mission-driven work,” said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera. “That work is really something that all our island neighbors, not just SCCF members, should be aware of. If it inspires more islanders to become members, we’d be happy to welcome any and all into the SCCF family.”
 
This blanketed distribution would not be possible without the substantial underwriting support of Bank of the Islands/Edison National Bank, a long-time community partner of SCCF and many other island non-profits.
 
As Bank of the Islands/Edison National Bank CEO Geoff Roepstorff noted on the annual report’s back cover:
 
“As the oldest locally owned and managed community bank in Lee County and on the islands, Bank of the Islands/Edison National Bank cares deeply about the natural beauty we all value in Southwest Florida. Now more than ever, it is a great comfort to know SCCF stands strong in its environmental stewardship for the place we call home. For more than five decades, SCCF has been a leader in fighting to keep Sanibel, Captiva and this entire region so special. We are honored to be one of their partners in making that happen.”
 
Edison National Bank/Bank of the Islands is so helpful to SCCF in so many ways,” said Orgera. “We really can’t thank them enough for helping us share this important publication as widely as possible.”
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. All events are free of charge.

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

  • Thursday, Dec. 17, 7pm: 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., presented by Gregg Poulakis, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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

  • Mar. 9, 7pm: Florida Needs Fire!, presented by Reed Noss, Florida Institute for Conservation Science
Hemp Key Elevation Assessed Ahead of Restoration Work

Prior to doing any restoration work, the SCCF Marine Lab recently assessed the elevation of Hemp Key. The elevation survey helped determine whether oyster shell additions or mangrove planting would be needed to increase the mangrove canopy cover.

Hemp Key is an island that is part of the Pine Island Sound National Wildlife Refuge. It has a Calusa shell mound and is used by many bird species for nesting. Aside from the shell mound uplands, the 7-acre island is otherwise all mangroves.

“The island has well-developed oyster reefs on the east side that once formed the margin of an extensive mangrove canopy,” said SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D.. “The canopy is mostly gone today but observations and historic aerial imagery show the extensive mangrove canopy.”
Mangroves and oysters do not overlap in their vertical distribution along the slope of a shoreline. Oysters typically are found between -0.25 meters and -0.75 meters while mangroves are found at 0.0 meters and higher.
 
“Using a Garmin depth sounder linked to a Trimble GeoXT GPS, the elevations were determined by mounting the sounder to the kayak as shown,” Milbrandt said. “The vertical accuracy is eight centimeters for the kayak surveys and about two centimeters for the equipment when using with a staff.” 

The Marine Lab staff surveyed the entire area on Oct. 14 and created the digital elevation model pictured here. The team will now use the elevation model to determine how the island will be restored. 

Starting on Nov. 6, SCCF and Coastal Watch volunteers will begin planting mangroves and adding oyster substrate additions to Hemp Key. 

The Marine Lab and Coastal Watch will also need volunteers to fill buckets of oyster shell in November and December to deliver up to Hemp Key. Dates will be announced soon! 
How Fauna Has Transitioned Over Time on Sanibel

Sanibel is home to a large variety of faunal species that have changed over time.
 
“If you compare species that are extant (still surviving), extirpated (locally extinct), or recent additions to the island over the last century, you will notice that there have been several notable changes,” said SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz. “These revisions can be the result of natural events such as hurricanes resulting in wash over events, extended wild fires, or prey/foraging loss for various reasons.” 

However, manmade changes to the habitat such as the suppression of fire, changes in hydrology, introduction of exotic species, and overharvesting also play a large factor.

Since Sanibel is an island, losses of wildlife species are not easily replaced. Historically, faunal migration to the island was slow, even though the coastal areas were not as developed and species were more common.
 
“Now, coastal areas are mostly developed where fewer species are present resulting in less migration from the mainland,” Lechowicz said. 

Established species such as the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) pictured above, the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), and the American mink (Neovison vison) were all extirpated from Sanibel in the 20th century, mostly due to hunting. It is highly unlikely that they will ever re-colonize naturally. 
The infestation of exotic species onto Sanibel, such as the green iguana (Iguana iguana), black rat (Rattus rattus), and Mayan cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus) were all likely caused from people, whether intentionally or not. 

Animals such as the coyote (Canis latrans), and our one black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) likely found passage from “island-hopping” during a low tide, or by the causeway. 

“These changes in species richness are caused by a combination of natural and human-induced actions,” Lechowicz said.
 
Habitat changes, such as the majority of the island succeeding to tropical hammock instead of open canopy grasslands due to fire suppression has had some positive effects on species such as migrating songbirds and bobcats (Lynx rufus) due to additional cover and food sources.
  
Species such as the eastern coachwhip snake (Masticophis flagellum), gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) and the Sanibel rice rat (Oryzomys palustris sanibeli), pictured above, were negatively affected due to their preference for open grasslands.  

The storing of water in the Sanibel River from the weir system over the winter benefits aquatic and semiaquatic species such as alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), aquatic turtles, and game fish species.
 
Management decisions that directly or indirectly affect the natural habitats on the island must be carefully considered for native species that SCCF seeks to sustain.
Kealy McNeal Takes Reins of Coastal Watch Initiatives

Coastal Watch is proud to announce that Kealy McNeal is taking the reins as Conservation Initiatives Coordinator. Kealy will be the liaison between SCCF and the Coastal Watch Advisory Committee to plan and execute conservation initiatives on Sanibel and Captiva. 

Kealy brings her passion for our coastlines, conservation, and public outreach to this position and is excited to work with the community on a deeper level. 

Kealy grew up in Iowa and spent her childhood vacationing in Florida, where she fell in love with the ocean. As a young girl, her career aspirations ranged from dolphin trainer to marine biologist. Eventually, Kealy attended the University of Tampa, where she studied environmental and marine science. After her studies, she worked for The Audubon Society, monitoring and protecting nesting shorebirds on beaches in Florida and Massachusetts. 

Environmental education is very important to Kealy, and she is thrilled to share her ocean knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Kealy has been with the Sanibel Sea School since 2018 and also leads paddles and community events for Ocean Tribe Paddlers, an affiliated organization for those who share her love of paddling.
Sierra Greene Joins SCCF Marine Labs as Research Assistant

We are pleased to introduce you to SCCF Marine Lab’s new Research Assistant Sierra Greene!

Sierra grew up with a deep appreciation for the environment, cultivated through her family’s love for the outdoors. She then studied Marine Biology and Geology at the University of South Florida to better understand Florida’s geological origin and the unique marine ecosystems. 

While obtaining her bachelor’s, Sierra was involved with programs that researched sea turtle nesting and migration, coastal wetland environments, and coral reef ecosystems. In her free time, Sierra enjoys just about every outdoor activity. 

In college, she worked as an outdoor recreation trip leader; and enjoyed leading kayaking, hiking, SCUBA diving, and rock-climbing trips throughout the country and abroad. After graduating, Sierra worked in a fisheries lab in Mississippi, where she was part of a lab that studied the ecology of Gulf sharks and fishes. 

Sierra joined SCCF earlier this month as a research assistant. Her primary roles include servicing the RECON water quality monitoring sensors and supporting various other projects conducted at the Marine Lab. 
Register for Water Management Presentation by SCCF & City

Please join us on Nov. 12 from 7 to 8:30pm 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 last month. 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.
WATCH: Video Recording of Oct. 10 Panel Discussion
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. Click above to watch the recording of the discussion!
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