Wednesday Update
May 19, 2021

Welcome to the bi-weekly Wednesday Update. We'll email the next issue on June 2.

We appreciate your interest in SCCF's mission to protect and care for Southwest Florida's coastal ecosystems.

Thanks to Donald Hartshorn for this photo of a gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) on Sanibel during a recent vacation.


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Thanks for Helping Us Preserve Periwinkle Wetlands!
The signs on Periwinkle Way promoting SCCF’s latest land preservation effort now bear bright red emblems declaring: “THANK YOU! YOU DID IT!” Pictured here, l to r, are SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Ph.D., and Board of Trustees President Don Rice smiling with gratitude.

That message of appreciation is directed at the approximately 150 families that contributed to SCCF’s Periwinkle Wetlands land acquisition campaign. With gifts ranging from $25 to $1 million, these donors have assured that 12-plus acres of wildlife habitat running from Periwinkle Way to the Sanibel River will be protected in perpetuity. Prior plans were to develop 13 or more homes on the property.

“This is a great day for conservation,” said Orgera. “Saving this habitat that connects to other already preserved interior wetlands provides the last piece to a significant wildlife corridor along the Sanibel River. We are also very excited to take an unattractive stretch of land along Periwinkle Way and convert it into a beautiful community gathering place where people can contemplate the beauty of nature that surrounds us.”

Photo above by Shane Antalick
Lead Gift Made by Puschels

As previously announced, the lead gift was made by Philip and Roberta Puschel, longtime SCCF supporters and volunteers, who have been granted naming rights to the new preserve and are pictured here.

Other naming opportunities granted to major donors for features within the preserve will also be announced after significant work is done on the property.

Before then, intensive restoration will be undertaken to remove Class I invasive exotics including java plum (Syzygium cumini) and Australian pines (Casuarina equisetifolia). Surveys are being conducted to see which Class II exotic trees are being used by birds of prey and care will be taken to leave those in place. Because the property was once used as a non-native nursery, the ground cover will also need to be restored, with low-lying invasive plants removed on the front three acres of the property.

“We will shortly close on the property for a discounted purchase price of $2 million,” said SCCF Board President Don Rice. “The balance of the campaign funds will then be used for these significant restoration, improvements, and maintenance costs. I am so grateful to my fellow Trustees and all the other very generous donors who have helped us achieve this most recent and significant accomplishment in SCCF’s 54-year history of land acquisition.”

After the initial restoration is completed, community improvements will be designed on the front three acres of the property along the 525 feet of Periwinkle Way perimeter. Those improvements include a 1,000-foot loop trail connected to Sanibel’s shared-use path at two points, a welcome plaza with a bike rack and water bottle refill station, pollinator and sculpture gardens, and a demonstration marsh highlighting the importance of water quality within Sanibel’s freshwater wetlands. SCCF will begin this work upon closing and hopes to complete the improvements and open the preserve’s front section to the public within a two-year timeframe.

Since its incorporation in 1967, SCCF has grown its standing as a land trust, to date preserving approximately 2,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land on Sanibel, other Southwest Florida barrier islands including North Captiva, and in the cities of Cape Coral, and Fort Myers.

Photo above by David Meardon
Sea Turtle Nesting Season Off to a Promising Start
Sea turtle nesting season has started to pick up speed. SCCF’s current nesting numbers are 60 on Sanibel, and 25 on Captiva.

“So far, the counts are on pace with 2019, a strong year that finished with 848 total nests,” said SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan. “It’s still too early in the season to know how things will shake out, but we are hopeful for another great year.”

On May 7, SCCF daytime tagging intern Hollis Hatfield, pictured here, found her first loggerhead nest of the season!
Since May 1, the nighttime tagging team has seen 29 females who have nested here in the past. One of our returning loggerheads, and one of our biggest, Paper Fig, was counted in 2016 and 2019 prior to being seen this year.

She has laid eight nests on Sanibel during the past three years and we are happy to have her back. She’s pictured here covering her nest.

The first green sea turtle of the season, Dellora, false crawled on the west end before finally nesting a few days later. Dellora previously nested on Sanibel in 2018 and 2019. She was outfitted with a satellite transmitter in 2017 on Keewaydin and 2018 on Sanibel. Her transmitter shows that she cruises around the western Florida Bay when she is not nesting. We're looking forward to seeing which of the other green turtles return to nest this season!
Red Tide Continues to Impact Wildlife

The red tide organism, Karenia brevis, persists in Southwest Florida, where it was detected in 54 samples over the past week. , Medium to high bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were observed in eight samples from Lee County and seven samples from Collier County by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Today's mid-week update from the FWC stated that "K. brevis was observed at very low concentrations in Pinellas County (in one sample), background to low concentrations in Manatee County (in 11 samples), background to low concentrations in Sarasota County (in 12 samples), background to high concentrations in and offshore of Lee County (in 19 samples), very low to high concentrations in and offshore of Collier County (in eight samples), and background to low concentrations offshore of Monroe County (in three samples). Samples from Hillsborough and Charlotte counties did not contain red tide."

As the FWC reports background to high concentrations inshore and offshore of Lee County, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) reports admitting nine red tide patients in the past week.

Among the patients that died: an anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), sanderling (Calidris alba), and two laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla). Two laughing gulls remain at CROW along with a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auratus), while a ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) brought in by SCCF was successfully released.

These CROW admission numbers are lower than in recent weeks, likely due to shorebirds’ migration north and tidal conditions. “The tide pools and wet areas on the East End have dried up this week, so I am seeing fewer shorebirds in general as there is less foraging habitat and they are migrating north by now,” explained SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht.

If you see a distressed shorebird, contact or a sea turtle you believe is struggling, call our sea turtle hotline: (978) 728-3663.

You can track the red tide bloom that has been lingering in Southwest Florida waters since November 2020 and access a link to a Red Tide Respiratory Irritation Forecast Map that is continually updated on SCCF’s Red Tide Resources page.

Click the button below to learn more about red tide and how to track it.
Blue-Green Algae Observed Today in Caloosahatchee

SCCF's Environmental Policy team took their new drone to document conditions in the Caloosahatchee today.

Pictured here is blue-green algae at the Franklin Lock (S-79) in Alva. The team also documented blue-green algae at the Moore Haven Lock (S-77).

Flows from Lake Okeechobee were cut back from 2000 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the Franklin Lock to 1500 cfs on May 15.
Pictured here is Environmental Policy Associate Leah Reidenbach photographing the blue-green algae at the Moore Haven Lock. SCCF Hydrologic Modeler Paul Julian also joined the team on the trip to see the conditions first-hand.

"With the blue-green algae coming down the river, we are happy to see the Corps cut back on flows down the Caloosahatchee. The lake levels are still high and the Corps will have to figure out where to send the water, but we certainly don’t want water filled with blue-green algae when we have a red tide bloom intensifying along the Southwest Florida coast," said SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans.

Click here to watch, "Blue Green Algae coming down the Caloosahatchee, and the Army Corps isn't stopping releases" on FOX4 News prior to the announcement of reduced discharges.
Army Corps Cannot Sacrifice the Caloosahatchee
By James Evans
SCCF Environmental Policy Director
You might as well forget the term “shared adversity." The Army Corps of Engineers is adopting a new strategy with the next Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule that should be termed “redistribution of adversity to the Caloosahatchee” instead.

The new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual or LOSOM, will determine when and how much water is released from the lake and where it goes. One of the Corps’ stated goals for LOSOM is to “balance” all project purposes—flood control, water supply for agricultural, urban and environmental uses, navigation, preservation of fish and wildlife, and recreation.

On May 7, the Corps presented its so-called “balanced alternatives” to the Project Delivery Team—a group of government and agency stakeholders overseeing the project. The proposals presented were anything but balanced when it comes to the Caloosahatchee.

Of the five options presented, two would eliminate all flows to the St. Lucie estuary, except when lake levels get above critical levels—resulting in increased high-volume damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee. One alternative was put together by lobbyists for the Florida Sugar Cane League, labeled the “Lakeside Communities Plan”— need I say more?

The fourth plan would cut back flows to the Caloosahatchee below the minimum needed to sustain the estuary during the dry season, just so water can be held and dumped with toxic algae into the Caloosahatchee in the wet season. The last alternative relies heavily on what the Corps calls “operational flexibility,” which is Corps-speak for adaptive management.
Over the past couple years, the Corps has done a pretty good job by releasing water during the dry season to get water levels low for the wet season. Unfortunately, the LOSOM process has shown that the Corps’ decisions are based less on science and more on politics. Given this fact, it may not be in the best interest of our coastal communities and natural systems to depend on the political winds to blow a favorable decision our way.

Balance starts with where we measure flows to the estuaries. The Corps’ proposed alternatives would measure flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee in different locations with respect to the lake and estuaries. The Corps measures flows to the Caloosahatchee at the Franklin Lock (S-79), at the start of the estuary, when lake levels are low or when conditions are dry.

However, when lake levels are high or conditions are wet, the schedule measures flow at the lake at the Moore Haven Lock (S-77). This is important because when the Corps measures at S-77, the target flows do not include watershed runoff. Yet, in the St. Lucie, all flows are measured at the estuary at the S-80 structure, and watershed runoff is included. This inequity allows the Corps to send much higher flows to the Caloosahatchee regardless of watershed flows, which can make up half of the damaging water we receive in the estuary.

Since the LOSOM process began, the City of Sanibel and other west coast stakeholders have urged the Corps to address this by measuring all flows at the Franklin Lock.
If the Corps is serious about balancing the purposes of LOSOM, it needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror to see if it is doing the work of the people or the work of a few powerful individuals.

It is unacceptable to sacrifice the public resources of the Caloosahatchee and the coastal communities of Lee County to protect other parts of the South Florida water management system. 

Click button below to sign up for upcoming Action Alerts to advocate for our water quality.
New SCCF Bird List Gets Lively Community Response
SCCF has received great feedback on its updated Sanibel Captiva Bird List featuring 298 avian species that launched on May 7. In the last two weeks, exciting sighting information has come in about these nine additional species:

  • Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis)
  • Couch’s Kingbird (Tyrannus couchii)
  • Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope)
  • Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)
  • Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)
  • Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
  • Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
  • Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
  • Venezuelan Troupial (Icterus icterus)

Thanks to Janet Kirk for leading the effort to get historical sighting input from fellow birders Aaron Kirk, Vince McGrath, Jim Boughton, and Lesley Simmons on these species.

We appreciate the community engaging with this list as a “living” document that accurately reflects the amazing diversity of avian species on our two barrier islands.

Islanders and visitors are encouraged to continue to send sightings of any birds not included on our list to We will vet all submissions as needed for inclusion in an updated edition of the SCCF Sanibel Captiva Bird List that will be e-published this fall.
Shorebird Team Monitoring Four Plover Nests on Sanibel

SCCF staff and volunteers have been busy monitoring our beaches for nesting shorebirds.

Currently there are four active snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) nests—and more are expected. Recently, several more snowy plovers have arrived, possibly seeking new nesting locations after failing on other nesting beaches in the region. On Monday, monitors observed the snowy plover female pictured here incubating her nest.

At this time, there are no least terns (Sternula antillarum) nesting on the island, but they have been seen at several locations foraging and exhibiting courtship behaviors. Additionally, there is one Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia) nest.
One snowy plover laid its nest in beach artwork as shown here, with the egg in the center of the shell design. Beach visitors sitting near the nest were unaware of it but graciously moved away immediately after SCCF shorebird monitors pointed it out. Shortly after it was roped off, the eggs were depredated by crows.

If you see a shorebird nest that has not yet been roped off, please contact the SCCF Shorebird staff right away via
Arctic Nesting Species Molting into Breeding Plumages

In addition to monitoring our beach-nesting birds, staff continues to conduct monthly shorebird surveys for all resident and migratory birds. Arctic nesting species such as this black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola), as well as ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), and sanderlings (Calidris alba) are noticeably molting into their breeding plumages and getting ready for their long trips north.

Never chase birds and always try to walk around groups of resting and feeding birds. It is especially important this time of year not to disturb these birds as they need every bit of their energy to make that long trip.
Watch Share the Shore Video

This engaging, animated short video highlights the threats shorebirds face every day and provides simple ways we all can help shorebirds thrive on Sanibel and throughout our coastal region.

It was produced through a collaborative effort by the City of Sanibel, SCCF, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, and the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society.
Toxic Exotic: Rosary Pea Vine

Rosary pea (Abrus precatorius) is a common exotic vine in South Florida (including Sanibel) that is native to tropical Asia. It escaped from the plant trade in the 1930s in the United States. It has since become pantropical, which means it is now found around the world in tropical and semitropical areas.

This plant is easily identified by pairs of alternate leaves on a petiole, which is a stalk that attaches the leaves to the plant’s stem and can twist leaves to face the sun. Its highly toxic seeds are bright red with a black base. The seeds superficially resemble a ladybug and are attached to a brown seed case that splits open, dropping seeds to the ground.

One ingested seed (legume) by humans and wildlife can be fatal if not treated. The toxin abrin, which is found in the seeds, is one of the deadliest toxins to human beings found in the plant world. However, birds eat them with no ill effects and spread the seeds around in their feces. At this time of year, the seeds are highly visible and are falling off the plant. Their beauty and consistent size and shape have made them suitable for jewelry (including rosaries) in their native range. After being boiled to denature the toxin, the seeds are also used in traditional medicines.

Rosary pea is often found remarkably high up in trees as the vine wraps and grows its way upward. They can be difficult to eradicate due to their deep root system. SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Director Chris Lechowicz says that pulling them out of the ground, especially young plants, can be effective “but diligence is needed to keep them under control,” he advises. Herbicides can be used for mature plants but repeat treatments may be needed due to regrowth.
Be a Citizen Scientist This Summer with Coastal Watch

By Nicole Finnicum
Sanibel Sea School Director

Coastal Watch, an outreach program of SCCF’s Sanibel Sea School, is dedicated to preserving our estuaries and oceans for future generations through initiatives that promote the conservation of our islands. It is important to work locally, so the Coastal Watch team is encouraging the community to get involved to help execute projects that will benefit the Sanibel and Captiva environments.

Coastal Watch is excited to launch a variety of community citizen science projects this summer that will engage the public, promote awareness of these important projects, and create meaningful volunteer opportunities for those who’d like to be citizen scientists.

Propagule Collection and Potting

Through the new Back to Our Roots initiative, Coastal Watch and the SCCF Marine Lab are teaming up to restore mangroves on Southwest Florida barrier islands. Through this program, mangrove propagules are collected, grown, and planted at restoration sites to fortify existing mangrove ecosystems and coastlines.

Volunteers are needed for red mangrove propagule collection the week of Monday, June 21 through Friday, June 25. Buckets will be available for pickup at Sanibel Sea School throughout the week. Full buckets need to be returned by noon on Friday, June 25. Propagule potting will take place at the SCCF Nature Center on Friday, June 25, at 2pm.

Based on interest, Coastal Watch will facilitate more propagule collection and potting sessions throughout the summer months.
Red Tide Monitoring

Coastal Watch is one of many organizations in Southwest Florida that have been working with the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to record red tide data using the HABscope (HAB = harmful algal bloom) system. The HABscope is a microscope that utilizes an iPod to record 30-second videos of water samples to determine the sample’s level of Karenia brevis, which is the dinoflagellate algae that causes red tide.

Volunteers are needed to collect water samples at Lighthouse Beach and bring them to Sanibel Sea School to be counted via HABscope starting Monday, June 7. Water samples will be collected every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Sample collection and analysis take about an hour. We may increase sampling frequency during the summer if red tide is present in our area.
If you are interested in assisting with any of these projects or have any questions, please contact Coastal Watch’s Conservation Initiative Coordinator Kealy McNeal at
Meet the Natives:
Zebra Longwing Butterflies Savor Corky-stemmed Passionflower

The zebra longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly is named for its striped wing pattern. The wings are black with pale yellow strips. The caterpillars are white with black spots and hairs. It is the official butterfly of the State of Florida and can be found throughout the state. The zebra longwing is active year-round in warm climates.

Zebra longwings are different from most butterflies because they eat pollen and
sip nectar. Eating pollen gives them more protein and extends their life. They can live up to three months while most butterflies only live a few weeks. Butterflies that feed on pollen are also more distasteful to predators because the pollen’s amino acids create toxicity in the adults and in the caterpillars.
The corky-stemmed passionflower (Passiflora suberosa) is one of just a few plants that the zebra feed on and lay their eggs on. The corky-stemmed passionflower has tiny hairs on the tops of the leaves. Therefore, the caterpillars are more likely to be found on the underside or edges of the leaves. There is no need for the caterpillars to hide from predators; the distinctive markings of the zebra caterpillar are a warning of their toxicity.

The caterpillars feed on the leaves of the corky-stemmed passionflower until it is time to form the chrysalis. The light brown chrysalis resembles a dried-up leaf. The zebra longwing butterfly can go from egg to butterfly in a little over three weeks. Adult butterflies sleep or roost in groups at night on the same perch night after night.

The corky-stemmed passionflower is a flowering vine with small white to light green flowers. The leaves can vary from one to three lobes. It can be grown on a trellis, up a tree, or as a ground cover. It can handle full sun to part shade and does not need additional supplementation after established.

SCCF's Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead is open Monday through Thursday, 10am to 3pm. We will also continue to offer contactless deliveries and curbside pickup. 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 
Students Enjoy Fern Finder Field Trip

Sanibel School students in Mrs. Camputaro’s third-grade class joined SCCF Environmental Educator Richard Finkel to identify and learn about ferns in SCCF's Pick Preserve last week. Students learned what makes these primitive plants different from other plants while making observations and sketching the ferns they found along the Pick Preserve Nature Trail.

SCCF's Pick Preserve, featuring a nature trail and boardwalk, is located directly across the street from The Sanibel School making it an ideal setting for outdoor education and the opportunity to incorporate environmental science into curriculum goals.
Green Readers to Resume in Fall

Thanks for everyone's participation in The Green Reader's inaugural season! Since October 2020, The Green Readers successfully read a book from each of SCCF's departments. The group is taking a short summer break and is planning to resume in the fall.

Suggestions for next season’s reads are gladly accepted. The topics or themes should be in the spirit of SCCF's mission, but don't have to have a direct connection. Send comments, suggestions, and ideas to Jenny Evans at
On May 12, SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans and South Florida Water Management District Board Chairman Chauncey Goss were the featured speakers for the Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce's May virtual meeting.

Watch the recorded video to get an overview of water quality concerns and projects in the works to fix them.
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