Wednesday Update
September 16, 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 Sept. 30.

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

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

Thanks to Lori Covert for this photo of a nesting pair of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that have returned to Captiva and are building their nest. Last year, the pair started nesting at this time and their eggs hatched on Christmas Day.

Please send your wildlife photos to
Tropical Storm Sally Washes Away 10 Nests on Sanibel
Tropical Storm Sally pounded Sanibel and Captiva Islands, washing away at least ten sea turtle nests. More than 50 nests still contained viable eggs on Sanibel prior to the storm, and there were about 25 nests still incubating on Captiva. 

Some nests, such as the one pictured here were visibly washed out. In other cases, the stakes were completely washed away but the eggs may still be incubating under the sand. Our team is using a GPS device to confirm which nests have been fully lost.

As of today, the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva, once crowded with a record number of yellow stakes marking nests, now host only 51 incubating nests on both islands combined. The season is all but over, with our last nests due to hatch in October. So far, 569 nests have hatched and 32,862 hatchlings have started their long journey to the Loop Current.
James Evans & Chad Gillis Join the SCCF Family!
James Evans (pictured left) and Chad Gillis joined to SCCF team on Sept. 8. James will serve as the Environmental Policy Director while Chad will fill in as Policy Advocate, a new position at SCCF.

James served as the Director of Natural Resources for the City of Sanibel from 2012–2020. Prior to becoming the Director of Natural Resources, he held several positions with the City including Conservation Officer, Environmental Planner, and Environmental Health and Water Quality Specialist, in total serving more than 20 years with the City of Sanibel.

James has served as the Chair of the Lee County Coastal Advisory Council and Southwest Florida Watershed Council, Co-Chair of the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP) Management Committee, a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) Project Delivery Team, and the C-43 Reservoir Water Quality Treatment Component Feasibility Study Working Group, and is currently a member of the South Florida Water Management District Water Resources Accountability and Collaboration (WRAC) Public Forum Group.

James is responsible for interpreting science to create, inform, and advance environmental policy in Southwest Florida. SCCF’s environmental policy priorities include protection and restoration of important habitats, growth, and land management issues, fish and wildlife conservation, and restoration of inland and coastal water resources.

Chad joins SCCF after working for 23 years in the communications industry. An award-winning journalist, he spent years covering environmental issues for the Naples Daily News and News-Press.

He covered Hurricanes Charley, Wilma, and Irma and is familiar with challenges related to stormwater runoff, source pollution, sea level rise, and climate change. A long-time water quality advocate, Chad reported about Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River and estuary, focusing largely on water quality issues like pollution, blue-green algae and red tide outbreaks.

As Policy Advocate for SCCF, Chad splits his time between advocating for better water quality for our region and helping with communications, social media, and events.
More than 35 Species Tallied in Global Shorebird Counts
SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht covered more than 18 miles of beach on Sanibel and Captiva as part of the Global Shorebird Count, which ran from Sept. 3 through Sept. 9. As part of the counts, she also boated to North Captiva to survey shorebirds on the bayside mudflat adjacent to SCCF's Charlotte & Delbert Miller Preserve. 

“I counted 4,755 individual birds of 35 species including shorebirds, seabirds, wading birds, and birds of prey,” said Albrecht. “The five most numerous species observed were sandwich terns, sanderlings, royal terns, laughing gulls, and willets.” 

Numerous banded birds were encountered including sanderlings (Calidris alba), piping plovers (Charadrius melodus), black skimmers (Rynchops niger), royal terns (Thalasseus maximus), and a single least tern (Sternula antillarum). The least tern, pictured here, was originally banded at the Space Center, a rooftop colony in north Pinellas County, in 2017. 

In August, it was seen for the first time since banding at Fort Island Beach in Crystal River. Last week's encounter was only the second re-sighting of this individual.
In other shorebird updates, today is Plover Appreciation Day!

Join us in celebrating the six species of plovers that spend time on our islands. Pictured here is a snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus). The other five species include: semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia), and black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola), killdeer (Charadrius vociferous), and piping plover. 

Plover Appreciation Day is a day of raising awareness of the plight of plovers around the world.

Plovers are ground-nesting birds that live on beaches, lake shores, wetlands and grasslands. Unfortunately many species are also highly threatened, largely because humans also enjoy their coastal habitats. Plovers and their nests are small and well camouflaged, so humans can have a major impact on the survival of their eggs and chicks without even realizing it. Listen to our latest podcast to learn more!

Please email Audrey at with any questions about shorebirds or to report sightings of banded birds.
Chad Gillis Reflects on Swampland System in His Water Column
In his new role as SCCF's Policy Advocate, Chad Gillis will be writing a regular column to help us better understand the complexity and importance of local water quality issues and how they impact Sanibel and Captiva.

By Chad Gillis
My first week at SCCF has been very wet as you can see in this photo of the view out of my new office window, and that's fitting since we live in one of the world's great swampland systems. 

Water came from the sky, from the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Caloosahatchee River. 
The tropical disturbance that would become Hurricane Sally dumped more than a foot of rain on Sanibel and Captiva islands over the past several days.

That's about twice as much rain as what fell in all of August, when a scant six inches accumulated on the islands. Sanibel and Captiva seemed to have experienced the brunt of the impacts from what would become Sally as mainland Lee County didn't see higher winds or quite as much rain. 

Storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico also breached some beaches, and we lost at least ten sea turtle nests on the islands. September started off wet, with more than six inches falling during the Labor Day holiday weekend.  

These heavy rains come at a time when the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary were doing pretty well from a water quantity perspective. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't been releasing water from Lake Okeechobee recently, although that may change in the aftermath of Sally. 

Click below to continue reading about our great swampland system.
Sea Turtle Team Finds Leucistic Hatchling
Last week, SCCF's sea turtle team found a white loggerhead sea turtle hatchling while inventorying a hatched nest!

"They are rare on Sanibel and we only find a few every year," said Research Associate Andrew Glinsky. "This hatchling appears to be albino but actually has a condition known as leucism."

Albinism occurs when there is an absence of melanin. This makes the animals appear white or pale-yellow and the eyes will be pink in color.

Leucism is similar but the individual still has some pigmentation and its eyes are often normal in coloration. This hatchling was not quite ready to be released and will be monitored while it absorbs its remaining yolk.
With Boots, It's a Good Time to Walk Wetlands
Water levels in the freshwater basins on Sanibel are extremely high right now, as you can see in this photo of the trail into the Erick Lindblad Preserve from SCCF’s main parking lot at the Nature Center.

This time of the year generally gives the trails and wildlife a break, but the really dedicated nature lovers can wear boots or shoes that can get wet to explore this temporary change to the habitat that may enable you to see things you normally don’t see.

While levels were on par with what is considered a normal rainy season, the rains from Tropical Storm Sally have now pushed us into the higher-than-average range. Over the last few years, there was a lower-than-average amount of rainfall during the wet season, resulting in short-lived periods with standing water over the summer months. Many people have become accustomed to summer rains starting in mid-July and even early August, when rains typically start in June-early July and even late May, as they did this year.
Sanibel is bowl-shaped and water from rainfall moves toward the center of the island. This is what formed the Sanibel Reservoir that we now call the Sanibel River or Slough. The Sanibel Reservoir was a series of elongated marshes and lakes in the middle of the island whose level rose and fell with rainfall.

During periods of very high-water levels from storms, the Sanibel Reservoir would flood and water escaped into the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay. Today, with the weir structures on the Sanibel River, the water from wet season rains are held on the island and released when flooding events in residential areas become an issue.

The weir system allows for water to last longer in the Sanibel River basin in the dry season, which benefits many wildlife species. Historically, the Sanibel Reservoir would dry up by the late dry season (March-May), but now the Sanibel River holds water throughout the whole dry season until the summer rains begin again.

Click below to continue reading and learn how wildlife benefits from high water.
SCCF's New Nature-Inspired Book Club Launches with Hidden Life of Trees
We are excited to welcome everyone to gather and discuss books close to the heart of SCCF’s mission. Each month, a different selection will be chosen that focuses on a different aspect related to SCCF.  

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. 
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." Please note that you’ll be asked a few easy questions when joining; we simply set up these questions to prevent spam posts in our group. 

To celebrate Florida’s Native Plant Month in October, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben will be the first selection.  

“A walk through a forest might never be the same again after reading this elucidating book, which makes a case for trees as social beings that communicate, feel and help each other,” describes Andrea Wulf in the Washington Post.  
Despite its popularity with the public and his reliance on scientific studies, Wohllenben, a German forester, faced sharp criticism from many in the scientific community for his use of anthropomorphic terms to describe trees. 

Nonetheless, his goal in getting the public excited about the forest was successful, as the book topped both the New York Times and Washington Post’s bestseller lists. Join us, take a read, and decide if he’s succeeded for yourself.

The “official” kickoff of The Green Readers is Sunday, Sept. 27, with discussion on Facebook occurring throughout the month of October. The first online discussion group will take place during the week of Oct. 18. Specific dates and a Zoom link will be provided at a later date.  

Copies of The Hidden Life of Trees may be ordered for a 20% discount through MacIntosh Books + Paper at or 239-472-1447. 

Questions about the The Green Readers? Feel free to ask us a question through Facebook or contact Jenny Evans at:
Algae Takes On Colors During Anoxic Events
Sometimes SCCF's Marine Lab gets a report of discolored water they think may be a phytoplankton bloom or an algae spill.

Eutrophication occurs when bodies of water are overly enriched with nutrients and algal growth increases. In our estuaries, this process can cause ecosystem imbalances that become positive feedback loops that further destabilize the system.

One of the most destabilizing processes is decomposition since it can reduce dissolved oxygen concentrations to levels that cause the suffocation of aquatic animals. Some of those, like some snails, are algal grazers. Red tide toxins can kill other benthic algae grazers like mullet. Once grazing rates are decreased, the macroalgae can grow unchecked to problem levels again.
Eventually, the algal accumulations may be displaced or experience a rapid salinity change, and it may all start to decompose. When large amounts of the algae, or any organic material, like dead fish, decompose in shallow water, bacteria can use up the oxygen in the water faster than it can be replaced. Wave action can accelerate oxygen transfer. 

But, when the water is calm, the diffusion rate is very slow. Dissolved oxygen concentrations can drop to levels where only half of marine species can survive, or to levels where most all animals and many plants can’t survive. If the water column is stratified, the oxygen supply to the lower layer is very slow.

When the oxygen is consumed in saltwater, anoxic sulfate-reducing bacteria start blooming and hydrogen sulfide is formed.

If little light is available, as in deep water, this hydrogen sulfide can combine with dissolved iron to form a black precipitate (as pictured above). It can make the water look from gray to pitch black. When sufficient light is available, hydrogen sulfide can be oxidized by other types of sulfur bacteria that store elemental sulfur. The sulfur accumulations look chalky white and will make the water look milky or pastel-colored, as pictured here in Matlacha Pass earlier this year. One type of photosynthetic sulfur bacteria has purple pigments and can make the water look pink. 

As eutrophication progresses, and water temperatures increase, anoxic events are becoming larger and more common worldwide. These events are correlated with runoff which increases with development and wetland loss. Lee County was once 60% wetlands, but since the wetland protections in the 1972 Clean Water Act have been ignored, we’re down to about 10% wetlands today.
SCCF Appoints Sam Lucas as Community Outreach Coordinator
Please join us in welcoming Sam Lucas to a new role at SCCF! Sam joined the Sanibel Sea School in 2017 as the Conservation Initiative Coordinator and Marine Science Educator. 

Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, she spent her childhood summers exploring Florida’s Gulf coast. Sam earned a B.S. in Biology from Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. While at school, Sam worked as a naturalist at a local discovery center, where her passion for environmental education was ignited.

In her new role, Sam will be coordinating volunteers across all SCCF departments and will continue to promote, organize, and manage all Coastal Watch activities. 

“I am thrilled to be starting a new role at SCCF. I look forward to continue working with our community through Coastal Watch and now, with our amazing volunteer base,” she said.

The mission of Coastal Watch is to create and implement local conservation initiatives that promote and improve the future of marine resources, and our coastal heritage.
Sea Turtle Team Releases Loggerhead Rehabbed by CROW off West Gulf Drive
Yesterday, SCCF’s sea turtle team released a loggerhead that was rehabilitated by the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) over the past month. 

Thanks to SCCF Volunteer Cheri Hollis for capturing this photo of the release!

“We are grateful for our partnership with CROW and that community cooperation is so amazing on our islands in protecting our coastal wildlife. A Sanibel police officer alerted us to this sea turtle in need of rescue in August,” said Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan.
On Aug. 18, SCCF's turtle team rescued a sub-adult loggerhead sea turtle, weighing 110 pounds, from the surf near Beach Access #5 on Sanibel as it was washing ashore. 
The turtle was missing its right front flipper, but this appeared to be an older injury that had already healed. Veterinarians at CROW performed a full exam including bloodwork and radiographs. The turtle was found to be moderately to severely dehydrated and undernourished and had copious amounts of barnacles on its shell, underside, and mouth.

CROW is the only licensed sea turtle rehabilitator on the west coast between Sarasota and the Florida Keys.

The veterinary team provided the turtle with subcutaneous fluids, iron and B12 supplements and antibiotics to treat any lingering infection that may have been present from the traumatic injury to its flipper. It was then transferred to an outdoor rehab tank filled with freshwater, which helps with hydration and kills off barnacles growing on the shell. The water was transitioned to brackish water and then pool salt was used to gradually match the salinity of seawater.

Prior to yesterday’s release, the loggerhead had regained its strength and put on enough weight, after eating a lot of fish and blue crab, to swim strongly into the surf and back out to sea. With SCCF’s assistance on many rescues, CROW hospital typically admits 12 to 20 sub-adult or adult turtles a year and dozens of hatchlings.

To report any issues with nests, nesting turtles, or hatchlings, please call our Sea Turtle Hotline: 978-728-3663.
Sign Erected at Miller Preserve on North Captiva

Boaters off the Gulf shoreline of North Captiva can now see a new landmark – a sign recognizing the Charlotte & Delbert Miller Preserve.

Donated to SCCF by C. Douglas Miller in December 2016, the sign identifies 11.46 acres in the area known as Charley Pass, where Hurricane Charley temporarily divided North Captiva into two parts.

The Miller Preserve runs from beachfront to bayside, providing excellent habitat for lots of species. It welcomes nesting Wilson's plovers in the summer, and is also an extremely important spot for migratory and resident shorebirds, seabirds, and wading birds -- including piping plovers and red knots (Calidris canutus). The adjacent bayside shoal is a favorite site for the white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) in the winter months. There is a bald eagle nest nearby, and the eagles like to perch on the Miller Preserve when not on their nest. It's also valuable sea turtle habitat with high nesting density.

Many thanks to the Miller Family for preserving this land in perpetuity as significant wildlife habitat!
Shorebird Biologist Recaps 2020 Nesting Season
On the most recent episode of our podcast, Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht joins host Barbara Linstrom to talk about the highlights of the 2020 shorebird nesting season on Sanibel and North Captiva Islands. As the leader of SCCF’s Shorebird Monitoring Program that began in 2002, Albrecht reflects on what an unusual season the summer of 2020 was compared to her previous four seasons.

She also shares her experiences working with plovers and least terns in the prairies of the Dakotas and Nebraska before coming to SCCF and how that helps her more fully understand these species. Albrecht also explains why our islands are such critical nesting habitat for snowy plovers, piping plovers, and least terns, as well as the threats they encounter. And, she discusses how and why SCCF has enhanced overall shorebird monitoring efforts on our beaches since 2017. 
Video Captures Loggerhead Hatchling's Exciting Entry into Gulf
Yesterday, our sea turtle team inventoried a loggerhead nest on Sanibel that hatched on Saturday and found this hatchling that needed a little help getting to sea.
Since the team often is asked how hatchlings make it in rough conditions, they invited Sanibel native and freelance photographer Shane Antalick along.
Shane, who is known for his awesome surf photography and video, had no problem immersing himself in the wild waves to capture this amazing video of the hatchling's exciting entry into the Gulf of Mexico. ENJOY!
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