Wednesday Update
September 2, 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 September 16.
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, which goes on in all its beautiful brilliance.

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

Thanks to Matt Zilboorg @ Sanibel Through the Lens on Facebook for this photo of anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) taken on Sanibel.

Please send your wildlife photos to
Scientists Explain Record Number of Loggerhead Nests
We now have 659 loggerhead (Caretta caretta) nests on Sanibel, breaking the previous record number of 649 set in 2017! The record for loggerhead nests on Captiva was broken earlier this season and we’re now up to 265 loggerhead nests on Captiva, well beyond the previous record of 194 nests set in 2016!

This season's nest counts are very encouraging and are a testament to over 60 years of conservation work on Sanibel and Captiva, as well as the entire state of Florida and the surrounding waters. However, it’s important to keep in mind that monitoring population trends based on nest counts is very complicated.

Sea turtles have complex life cycles. Females lay more than one nest per year and do not typically reproduce every year, so even when the population is stable, it’s natural to see fluctuations in nesting from year to year.

A 2019 review by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) revealed that there was no evidence for an increasing or a declining trend in the breeding female population from 1998-2018. This remains a fragile population that is still facing many threats, including bycatch in fisheries, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.

While we can’t make inferences on the population as a whole, SCCF data from the last six years clearly show that Sanibel provides high quality nesting habitat for loggerheads.

The average number of loggerhead nests on Sanibel from 1998-2013 was 236 nests per year. For the past 6 years (2014 - 2019) that average has skyrocketed to 561 nests per year!
New Environmental Policy Team Starts Next Week
Next week, SCCF enters a new era as James Evans (pictured at left) becomes Environmental Policy Director on Sept. 8, joined by Chad Gillis (pictured at right) as Policy Advocate. 

Evans comes to SCCF after serving as Director of Natural Resources with the City of Sanibel, and Gillis, from the Naples Daily News and News-Press where he reported on the environment. Each of them brings 20 years of experience in water quality, land management, and Everglades restoration issues to their new roles.

“We are excited to welcome them to our SCCF family and to take our policy work to a new level with this supercharged team,” said CEO Ryan Orgera.

Evans and Gillis will work with Policy Assistants Leah Reidenbach, who has a strong background in water quality science and science communication, and Holly Schwartz, who worked in management with Lee County Government for 21 years and specializes in legislative and growth management issues.

The team is excited to carry forth the policy work established over the past 14 years by Natural Resources Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel, who retired in May. Our new colleagues are also eager to deepen and expand the advocacy efforts needed to restore and protect our region’s waterways.
Spotlight on Red Knot & Piping Plover during Global Shorebird Counts
In honor of the annual Global Shorebird Counts, which start tomorrow Sept. 3 and go through Wednesday Sept. 9, our Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht is asking for sightings of red knots (Calidris canutus) and piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) to be reported. Please remember to always observe shorebirds from a respectful distance. These long-distance migrants are exhausted and need to replenish their energy reserves.

Pictured here with its long black bill, the red knot is a threatened species of sandpiper. Its population has diminished 80% in the Atlantic flyway and it has been sighted less often over the last couple of years on Sanibel and Captiva, especially since the red tide in 2018.
Also pictured here with orange legs is the piping plover, an endangered/threatened species as seen on our islands in non-breeding plumage. They are uncommon on Sanibel and Captiva, but we do see them. They are more common in mudflats -- places like Bunche Beach.

“I am always keeping track of threatened and endangered species,” said Albrecht. “When it comes time for review of these species for listing and de-listing as endangered, it is especially important to have these records.”

The Global Shorebird Counts is held every year around World Shorebirds Day, which is Sept. 6. A goal of the worldwide effort is to transform amateur birdwatchers into citizen scientists on a local level.

To support that effort, SCCF is asking that if you see either of these birds during the Global Shorebird Counts, or at any time, please email Audrey at
Attention: Will You Be a Late-Returning Snowbird?
We will be mailing the FY19-20 annual report on Nov. 5. 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
Thanks to Our Sea Turtle Volunteers for the Extra Effort!
This is the time of year when our sea turtles have finished laying new nests and our primary focus turns to monitoring and inventorying previously discovered nests.

Over 690 nests have hatched and been inventoried by our volunteers and staff, and these nests produced nearly 29,000 hatchlings! With hundreds of nests still to hatch, many more hatchlings will start their journey to sea in the coming months.

We are in the fourth month of sea turtle season and our 109 volunteers have already spent countless hours protecting sea turtles on Sanibel and Captiva. They wake up before dawn to patrol the beach for new crawls, check existing nests, and inventory nests after they hatch. A record-breaking year translates to more work and longer days, and our volunteers have enthusiastically taken on this increased workload. Pictured here are long-time turtle volunteers Kerry Salatino and Joan Rogers.

We are very fortunate to have such a passionate and dedicated team. We couldn’t do it without them!
Before our record-breaking loggerhead nesting season even officially began, Sanibel was met with a surprise visit from a leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), who false crawled on April 1. We were hopeful that she would return to nest and we didn't have to wait too long! Our first leatherback nest was documented on April 17, just two days after the official start of our nesting season.

In total, six leatherback nests were laid on Sanibel and Captiva this year. There have only been two other documented leatherback nests in the history of our program -- one during the 2009 season and one nest during the 2015 season.

We encountered the leatherback, who was affectionately named “Juniper," four times during night surveys! While we can only say with complete certainty that four of the six nests laid belonged to Juniper, we suspect that the other two nests, laid before we began night surveys this season, were also hers.

Of the six nests laid, only one hatched. Inventories of the five other nests revealed a total of 478 unhatched eggs. Compared to other marine turtle species, leatherbacks tend to have low hatching success, which indicates the percentage of eggs of that hatch in each nest, so this is not considered unusual. Volunteer Allen Dunham is pictured here, digging deep, while inventorying one of Juniper’s nests.

The leatherback nest that did hatch, however, was a strong one, producing 56 hatchlings.
We are hopeful that some of these hatchlings survive to reproductive age and return to our islands to nest!
A Close Look at Dinoflagellates around Sanibel & Captiva
There is an amazing variety of life within a single droplet of seawater from the Gulf of Mexico. Phytoplankton is a word with Greek roots phyto (plant) and plankton (wandering, drifting). There are about 5,000 known phytoplankton species described from microscopic examination of water in the world’s oceans.

The most common types of phytoplankton include diatoms, cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates. The word dinoflagellate has roots in both Greek dino (whirling) and Latin flagellum (whip). Dinoflagellates are mostly in marine environments and are uncommon in freshwater. Many dinoflagellates are known to be photosynthetic like plants, but can also be mixotrophic, which means they can supplement photosynthesis by ingesting prey, such as small flagellates and bacteria.
Many Florida residents have heard about dinoflagellates because of the toxic species that form red tide, Karenia brevis. Karenia brevis blooms typically form in the Gulf of Mexico in offshore areas when a moderate amount of upwelling of nutrient-rich, deep ocean water is transported to the photic zone. This combined with warm Gulf temperatures in September can cause red tide blooms.

The blooms are then pushed to the coast of Florida by ocean currents and the blooms tend to concentrate on beaches when the prevailing winds push onshore. Karenia brevis blooms in Southwest Florida have occurred 57 of the last 66 years according to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute's microscopic cell count database. While it occurs nearly every year, there are many years when people do not experience the coughing and irritation typical of a strong red tide near the beach. This is because the blooms sometimes are localized to one barrier island, or they can be relatively mild.
SCCF's Marine Laboratory has been monitoring red tide blooms and other dinoflagellates since 2002. There are other dinoflagellate species that we’ve identified under the microscope and recently have begun to catalog them using a imaging flow cytometer.

Some, but not all, dinoflagellates are toxic. Given the upcoming fall red tide season, we thought we would share a few images to show some local dinoflagellates; Ceratium (pictured at top), Karenia, (pictured in middle), and Dinophysis (pictured here).
Podcast Features Marine Lab Scientists on Whether (or Not) We Will See Red Tide This Fall
Since it’s the time of year when red tide typically blooms offshore, we asked SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D., and Research Scientist Rick Bartleson, Ph.D., to explain what we can expect this fall.

They discuss the seasonal dynamics of red tide and monitoring efforts by the lab to track it once it is detected offshore. The conversation also includes an in-depth explanation of Karenia brevis, the dinoflagellate that causes red tides, and their historical occurrence off the Southwest Florida coast.

They also talk about red tide research the Lab is assisting with related to sea turtles and what you can do in your own backyard to help prevent harmful algal blooms such as red tide.

Click below to listen if you want to better understand why we may or may not experience a red tide bloom this fall.
Juliana Koller Joins Wildlife & Habitat Management as Field Biologist Intern
Juliana Koller has joined the SCCF team as the field biologist intern in the Wildlife & Habitat Management program. She will be helping to gather and manage data on all departmental projects, particularly the freshwater and terrestrial turtle projects. This is her first experience working with turtles, and she is excited to be collecting data in the unique environment of Sanibel Island.

“I am looking forward to understanding Sanibel’s wildlife and ecosystems first hand, as well as learning data collection and processing techniques,” said Juliana, who will be with us for four months.
She is from Weston, Connecticut, and attends Colgate University; studying Environmental Studies, Geography, and Psychology.

“My favorite topics include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Environmental Ethics, and Intersectional Environmentalism,” she said.

Juliana previously assisted two professors with their research in Uganda, studying antibiotic resistance. She also previously worked with domesticated animals as a vet technician, and with sea creatures in the Long Island Sound, as an instructor for school children.

“I hope to travel the world to study political ecology, and to eventually work to prevent climate change through research and education,” she said.
Sanibel Sea School Offers Homeschool at Sea Program
With many families opting for virtual or homeschool this fall, Sanibel Sea School is excited to offer supplemental homeschool education through their Homeschool at Sea experience.

Homeschool at Sea is an experiential, hands-on program where families can design a customized science curriculum with the help of the marine science education team. Similar to the school’s regular day classes, homeschool sessions include field trips to the Gulf beaches, mangrove forests or to SCCF's inland preserves on Sanibel.

The Homeschool at Sea curriculum uses marine biology as a platform to dive into subjects, such as symbiotic relationships, lunar cycles, and taxonomy. Topics of study may also focus on a specific sea creature or part of the marine ecosystem. Families work closely with the team to design a curriculum that meets the students at their existing level of knowledge and compliments what they are learning in school or homeschool.

“We love working with homeschool groups because we can get really creative with the lessons,” said Education Programs Manager Shannon Stainken. “Since we meet with the groups multiple times throughout the year we can dive a little deeper into the topics.”

Sanibel Sea School already has eight different homeschool groups starting in September and is excited to welcome returning families back and meet the new groups. Currently, Sanibel Sea School hosts groups from Sanibel, Ft. Myers, and Cape Coral.

Email info@sanibelseaschool to find out more about Homeschool at Sea options!
Calling on Eagle-Eyed Birders to Help Monitor
In late summer and early fall our bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) begin returning to their nest sites, though Oct. 1 is considered the official start of nesting season in Florida.

SCCF monitors 11 nest sites on Sanibel, Captiva, and North Captiva with the help of volunteers. Data is collected and reported to Audubon Florida’s Eagle Watch Program. The photo here, taken by Gary Biltgen, is of the pair that are often seen at the Donax cell tower.

Bald eagles are known to maintain multiple nest sites and alternate use of them. Although we currently monitor 11 nest structures, there are only seven known pairs actively nesting. Since many eagle nests are on private property or in remote locations, volunteers for the monitoring program typically live near a nest. If you know of a nest near you and are interested in becoming a volunteer monitor, let Audrey know at and she can help coordinate.

Have you seen any bald eagles recently? Let us know by emailing
Intern Adam Tardif Joins Native Landscapes & Garden Center
Born and raised in Fort Myers, Adam Tardif has strong roots in Southwest Florida and the ecosystems it offers.
“My love for plants and the environment began in middle school after learning about beach and mangrove ecosystems during a summer program called Camp Aqua Trek,” he said. “I decided to take Environmental Science and Marine Biology in high school, and my passion kept growing in college when I took classes on Sustainable Food and the Flora of Southwest Florida.”

Adam has also interned at the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium, where he led nature hikes and helped to build the science curriculum for the winter and summer camps. His senior research involved studying soil amendments on radishes in raised beds. Adam graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2019 with a degree in Environmental Studies.

He is very passionate about ecology, conservation, and learning to reduce his ecological footprint. Spending his whole life in Fort Myers has given him a deep appreciation and love for nature and its beauty that he is excited to share.

“I find it so fulfilling to be able to share my knowledge with others and continue to learn,” said Adam. “I’m extremely grateful for this internship opportunity with SCCF and excited to learn from and work alongside others that share my passions!”
Blue Porterweed Lush & Full of Flowers This Time of Year
Summer must be the favorite season of our native blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), as it is blooming beautifully and its stems are full of its dark green, rounded oval leaves.

Admittedly, there are times in the winter when it becomes a bit bedraggled (though the butterflies don't seem to notice) and it is better to remove older plants and allow them to reseed.

But right now, it is easy to understand why it is a favorite of hungry gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts alike. There are enough flowers for butterflies to get their fill of nectar and for you to sample.

The edible lavender flowers are said to taste a bit like mushrooms, though you would need quite a few to fill a salad. If you're feeling adventurous, its leaves can also be infused dried or fresh to make a tea, and it may also be brewed to make a foaming drink (hence, where the "porter" name originated). Enjoy!

Stop by our Native Landscapes & Garden Center on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 10am to 3pm to view our demonstration pollinator garden that features blue porterweed. Located at 1300 Periwinkle Way on the sprawling grounds of the historic Bailey Homestead Preserve, our Garden Center offers plenty of room for safe, social distancing.
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
Plover Fledglng Passes Away
We are very sad to report that one of our five 2020 snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) fledglings (Blue/Orange) has passed away from an unknown illness.

On Aug. 26, it was brought in to Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota by a good samaritan who found it unable to fly and being picked on by other birds on Siesta Key. It passed away over the weekend. Its death has been reported to FWC and they are looking into it. Blue/Orange is pictured here as a baby on Sanibel in a photo taken by Jean Hall.
In case you missed us on WINK News...

Click here to watch a WINK News story on sky glow's impact on sea turtles featuring an interview with our Sea Turtle Program's Research Associate Andrew Glinsky.
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