Wednesday Update
March 10, 2021
Welcome to the bi-weekly Wednesday Update!

We'll email the next issue on March 24.

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

Thanks to Mike Puma for this photo of a tri-colored heron (Egretta tricolor) taken on Sanibel.

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Please send your photos to info@sccf.org to be featured in an upcoming issue.
SCCF Partners with Conservancy to Hire Water Analyst
To further a commitment to regional water quality and Everglades restoration through a unified front, SCCF and the Naples-based Conservancy of Southwest Florida have partnered to hire a hydrological modeler.

“We better fulfill our west coast mission by pooling our resources and streamlining our efforts,” said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Ph.D. “Doing so, we were able to hire a highly qualified data analyst who will move us more efficiently towards water quality solutions.”

On March 16, Paul Julian, Ph.D., will begin working as a hydrological modeler for SCCF and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

The goal of this partnership is to address an important need for modeling expertise and data analysis in Southwest Florida. Work products will be shared between the two non-profits, which have led conservation efforts in Lee and Collier counties for more than five decades. 

For the past ten years, Julian worked as the Everglades Technical Lead for the Florida Department of Environment Protection (FDEP). In that role, he gained deep understanding of the dynamic Greater Everglades Ecosystem by performing water quality compliance calculations, supporting federal and state restoration planning efforts, developing water quality nutrient models, and mining and analysis of environmental data.
“We are very pleased to be able to bring someone of Paul’s caliber to our combined team, and to be working even closer with our partners at SCCF to advance science-based water quality solutions for our region,” said Conservancy CEO & President Rob Moher. “Paul’s deep experience as one of the lead technical experts on Everglades restoration combined with his passion for conservation will strengthen our shared efforts to protect water resources."

Julian has an M.S. in Environmental Science from FGCU, and a Ph.D. in Soil and Water Science from the University of Florida, which he earned while employed with FDEP. He is infatuated with wetlands and at his website, swampthingecology.org, he describes how his love of science and the unique ecosystems of South Florida overlap.

In his new role as hydrological modeler, he will use mechanistic and empirical models to synthesize environmental data and evaluate the effects of Everglades restoration projects, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water management operations, impacts of regional and local development, sea-level rise, and other drivers on the hydrologic, water quality, and ecological integrity of Southwest Florida’s watersheds, including but not limited to the Caloosahatchee and Lake Okeechobee.

“I'm really excited to join SCCF and the Conservancy and to provide data-driven solutions to improving and understanding regional water quality and ecosystem function,” said Julian. “As part of this data-driven perspective, my goal is to synthesize existing data and, if needed, identify areas where more data is needed to aid in landscape and ecosystem level assessments to inform restoration activities and policy directives.” 

Have You Seen the Yellow Ropes on Periwinkle?
For more than two decades, SCCF members have seen yellow ropes go up along property borders to signal that a new land acquisition campaign is launching.

SCCF’s 2021 acquisition target? A 12-plus-acre parcel featuring wetland habitat extending 1,800 feet back from Periwinkle Way to the freshwater river known locally as the Sanibel Slough.

The property, dubbed Periwinkle Wetlands for SCCF’s fundraising campaign, is home to more than 40 different animal species, countless invertebrates, and hundreds of different native plants. Alligators, crocodiles, and bobcats are among the wildlife that has been observed in the interior acreage.
When preserved, the property will be the last piece in SCCF’s 5.7-mile wildlife corridor running from the Bob Wigley Preserve to the West Sanibel River Preserve, including an unbroken 1.6 miles of contiguous river frontage. In an alternate future, at least 13 houses could be built on the property if the land is not preserved.

“Our Trustees and major donors have already been very generous in starting this $2.4 million campaign,” said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera. “Now we hope our island neighbors can help us fund the restoration of this habitat for wildlife as well as the creation of new community space off the 525 feet of Periwinkle frontage.”

Beyond removing the exotic vegetation and other strategies to make the habitat more hospitable for wildlife, SCCF’s plans include creating a two-acre community space featuring a 1,100-foot walking/biking trail, welcome plaza, pollinator garden, demonstration marsh, and sculpture garden. “It will be a great place to 'just be’ with the surrounding nature,” added Orgera.

To make a tax-deductible donation, please contact Cheryl Giattini at cgiattini@sccf.org or 239-395-2768.
Red Tide Continues to Bloom; Counts on Sanibel Down
The latest red tide update from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) indicates that the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, continues to persist in Southwest Florida.

SCCF's Marine Lab, its Sanibel Sea School, and volunteers continue sampling around the islands. Their latest results show Karenia sp. levels at none to a very low count at the Sanibel Boat Ramp. Counts at three Sanibel beaches were zero today. 

Samples collected Monday for the FWC in island waters found medium counts at Redfish Pass, Buck Key, and Captiva Pass, as well as low counts in other parts of Pine Island Sound.

As the red tide organism persists in Southwest Florida, it continues to sicken and kill local birds.

Last week, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) admitted seven avian patients in apparent brevetoxin distress. Five of them died: an osprey (Pandion haliaetus), great egret (Ardea alba), royal tern (Thalasseus maximus), and two double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auratus). CROW reports two cormorants and a brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) remain in their care.

“We had fewer red tide patients, but the ones we got in were in pretty bad shape, so it was still a tough week for them,” reports CROW Admissions Manager Shelli Albright. SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht said she will be closely monitoring Sanibel beaches in the coming weeks.

The SCCF Sea Turtle Team reports one stranding of a deceased Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) over the past week.

FWC reports K. brevis bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were observed in seven samples from Lee County over the last week. Satellite imagery on March 2 (NOAA, USF) indicated the presence of chlorophyll patches along and/or offshore of Charlotte, Collier, Lee, and Monroe counties. K. brevis was observed at very low to low concentrations in Sarasota County, very low to medium concentrations in Charlotte County, background to medium concentrations in Lee County, and background to low concentrations in and offshore of Collier County. 

Click the button below to learn more about red tide.
Sea Turtle Team Paints Stakes to Prep for Nesting Season
Nearly 20 SCCF sea turtle program volunteers recently gathered to prep for the 2021 sea turtle nesting season, which officially begins April 15. Volunteers and staff met on March 2 and March 4 to repaint wooden stakes used to mark sea turtle nests. This could not be completed in one session, as it has in the past, due to social gathering limits.

“In five, two-hour shifts over two separate days, the entire process of cleaning, painting, and stacking thousands of stakes was finished,” SCCF Coastal Wildlife Biologist Jack Brzoza explained. Groups of four volunteers, spread out over well-separated painting stations, chatted with each other across their individual stations and socialized safely.

“These dedicated volunteers graciously donated their time and effort while remaining excited and upbeat,” Brzoza said. “For many, this marks the unofficial beginning of the season, and our staff and volunteers are excitedly anticipating the arrival of turtles on our beaches.”
Tracking the 2021 Florida Legislature Session

Last week marked the first full week of the 2021 Legislative Session. Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the joint meeting of the House and Senate to outline his legislative priorities. He pledged to address sea-level rise by providing funding to local governments for flooding infrastructure needs and has pledged continued support for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir to aid Everglades restoration. 

The first week included hearings on two issues important to SCCF members: SB 94 - Water Storage North of Lake Okeechobee and SB 100 – Highway Projects, a bill to repeal major elements of the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES) Toll Road legislation passed in 2019. Both bills passed their respective committees and you can track their progress on the regularly updated SCCF 2021 Legislative Tracker.

The legislature is strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocols which has a limiting effect on public input during committee meetings. With restricted in-person access to elected officials this year, it is even more important that we call and email our legislators on bills and issues that are important to us.

Each Monday, we will post the week’s committee hearings on the SCCF legislative tracker and each Friday we will provide a recap of the week’s bill action. As the legislation that impacts our priorities progresses, please expect some Action Alerts from us to further engage in the process. You can sign up to receive our Action Alerts at: SCCF Action Alert Sign-up. SCCF looks forward to working together with you again this year on the issues that matter.
Marine Lab Partners with Researchers on Seagrass Study

During the first week of March, the SCCF Marine Lab hosted University of Michigan doctoral candidate Samantha Iliff (left) and Rachel Joy Harris, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Loxahatchee River Environmental Control District, to collaborate with SCCF scientists on a research project investigating invertebrate populations in seagrass beds. 

The Marine Lab provided local knowledge and the use of equipment, lab space, and a stay at the Wilmeth Cottage for the visiting scientists. Florida Gulf Coast University graduate and undergraduate students Brondum Krebs and Amanda Lewan also helped.
During two field days, the crew extracted approximately 48 sediment core samples and 12 samples using custom-made suction dredge equipment. (It was created with a simple water pump, a complex set of tubes, and a special suction nozzle used in gold mining.) 

Back in Michigan, Samantha will sort and identify the crabs, shrimp, fish, snails, clams, and other small creatures, and quantify invertebrate biomass and production to determine who is living in the seagrass beds. These organisms provide the base of the food chain in seagrass beds, which is the foundation of our coastal fisheries. Samantha’s research was originally planned to be conducted in the Bahamas, but COVID-19 restrictions prevented her from entering the country. She plans to use the Florida sampling to publish a short paper and for comparisons to the Bahamas next year. 
Seeking Sightings: Rare Eastern Indigo Snakes

The SCCF Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project began researching these rare snakes in 2012 on several islands near Sanibel, although it’s a real challenge because Sanibel is not an optimal place for this federally threatened species due to modern infrastructure design and traffic. These docile snakes breed and move around the most during the winter, when the island’s roads are busy.

Eastern indigos snakes (Drymarchon couperi) are considered the longest native snake found in the United States (the record was just over 9 feet), though the average is typically 5 to 6.5 feet. The genus “Drymarchon” literally means “ruler of the forest” because of their size and their proclivity to eat other snakes, even venomous snakes. “Despite their dominance over other snakes, they have the reputation for being amenable toward human beings and seem to not have much fear of people,” said SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz.

These snakes have been protected from harassment or taking in Florida since 1971 and were listed as a threatened (and protected) species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1978. Several agencies are looking for information on the person who recently killed one in Georgia which is an egregious act with harsh penalties. Click here to learn more.
The last verified wild indigo snake on Sanibel was run over by a bicycle in 1999. Lechowicz explained that Sanibel is not suitable for indigos because of heavy seasonal traffic on busy roadways, such as Sanibel-Captiva Road, Periwinkle Way, and even Tarpon Bay Road. “These are serious obstacles for these large snakes to traverse multiple times a day,” he said. “One by one, they were struck by vehicles over several decades until the populations could no longer sustain themselves.” The west end of the island is the most suitable place, and restoring the population requires elevating Sanibel-Captiva Road or putting up barriers on both sides to create eco-passages in several locations to allow wildlife to cross back and forth. 

If you see an Eastern indigo snake in Florida, especially in the Fort Myers/Sanibel area, please take a picture and send it indigo@sccf.org.
Identification note:
The most common snake on the island and in South Florida, the Southern black racer (Coluber constrictor), is often mistaken for Eastern indigo snakes simply because they are black. However, the average size of the Southern black racer on the islands is two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half feet, and they are much thinner than indigos. Black racers are more nervous and less tolerant of human interference and will dart at the first opportunity.
Meet the Natives: Virginia Willow

Virginia willow (Itea virginica) is a native understory shrub that naturally occurs in swamps, wetlands, and mesic hammocks throughout most of Florida. Its common name is a little deceiving because it is not a true willow but has characteristics that resemble those of true willow species. It is also known as Virginia sweetspire.

Virginia willow grows 6 to 10 feet tall by approximately 6 feet wide. The arching stems are covered in white, 4-inch-long, spike-like flowers beginning in late winter or early spring and continue to provide a showy display throughout the summer. Ideal growing conditions require moist to wet soils in full to part shade.

It spreads by suckering and is useful as a soil stabilizer along pond or stream edges where erosion could be an issue. Virginia willow attracts a variety of pollinators and is an attractive addition to shady, low-lying areas of the landscape, planted singularly or in mass.
SCCF's Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead, pictured here, 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 sramos@sccf.org with any questions or requests.

SCCF members will get their discount by entering this promo code: SCCFMBR10 
2nd Graders Dig into Soil Samples at the Pick Preserve

Students from the Sanibel School took a close look at three different soil samples found within SCCF’s Pick Preserve. Comparisons were made on the soils’ appearance, composition, smell, texture, and signs of life. 

From their observations, the second-grade students theorized which soil type would be most beneficial to support the greatest variety of life. In the Pick Preserve gazebo, students on the March 1 field trip wrote out their observations and discussed the importance of soil and habitats. SCCF Environmental Educator Richard Finkel led the excursion.

SCCF notes with sadness the passing of Tom Pick who, with his wife, Sue, funded the acquisition of this very special preserve.
Spaces Going Fast for Sanibel Sea School's Summer Camp

Kids and our marine science educators are excited to dive into a summer filled with in-the-water experiences! For the first time this summer, a base camp will operate out of our Bailey Homestead Preserve. But, in true Sanibel Sea School fashion, we’ll hop in our vans and head to the ocean for hands-on, marine science fun. 

We’ll spend most of our time at the beach and we’ll also use the Homestead to have lunch and cool off under a covered pavilion, play games on the wide-open, grassy lawn, and be within walking distance to hiking trails through wild Sanibel.

Join us for a fun new adventure - Camp at the Homestead! Don't miss your chance to sign up for limited spaces and be part of the inaugural season.
UPCOMING PROGRAMS & WORKSHOPS
Weeds 'n' Seeds Virtual Walks to Go Through April
Weeds 'n' Seeds walks have gone (mostly) virtual—please join SCCF for the next walk on Monday, March 22 at 9am. This group of amateur botanists enjoys sharing their enthusiasm for native plants. A leader will be on location, highlighting plants from the field, while another will be showing identifying characteristics through high-resolution pictures in studio.

Walks will occur on every other Monday at 9am through the end of April.

Pre-registration is required through Zoom, though you do not need a Zoom account (you will just need to enter your name and email address). If you are new to Zoom and would like a quick walkthrough of features or need to troubleshoot, join the meeting at 8:45am so we can do our best to assist.

Register in advance for Weeds 'n' Seeds on Monday, March 22 at 9am. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Panel to Present a Sustainable, Renewable Energy Future

Join co-hosts SCCF and the Sanibel Community House for a conversation about building a green energy future to protect property values, sustain water and ecosystem health, and
keep our economy vibrant.

The virtual presentation on Tuesday, March 23, 6:30pm to 8pm, will spotlight “Solutions for a Sustainable, Renewable Energy Future for Sanibel and the Region.” The panelists will explain how climate change is vital to our economic and environmental health and how it is intrinsically linked to our water quality issues.

The event will feature a panel of four speakers introduced and moderated by Bob Moore, Senior Vice President of Training and Program Development at Health Management Resources. He is also an SCCF volunteer and co-founder with his wife, Ariel Hoover, of the Lee County Climate Reality Project.
Speakers include:

  • James Evans, SCCF Environmental Policy Director. Evans will explain why resiliency and climate change policy is critical for Sanibel from the perspectives of water quality/ecosystem protection, quality of life, and economic prosperity.

  • Keynote: Dunedin Mayor Julie Bujalski and Dunedin Sustainability Coordinator Natalie Gass. Dunedin is a coastal city with many similarities to Sanibel and is one of the Florida cities that has made a commitment to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy in its city facilities by 2035 and citywide by 2050. They’ll discuss how the city came to make that commitment, why they believe it is important to the city’s future prosperity, and their plans to achieve it.

  • Richard Johnson, owner of Bailey’s General Store. Johnson will speak about the benefits of rooftop solar from the perspective of a business owner, focusing on why it makes business sense in direct cost savings and for building goodwill in the community.

  • Julia Herbst, Gulf Coast Regional Coordinator, Solar United Neighbors (SUN). Herbst will explain how SUN has worked to make solar affordable for homeowners and businesses through the organization of solar co-ops. She will also address the policy initiative SUN is working on now to legalize solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) in Florida. PPA’s are a funding mechanism that make it easier for schools, municipalities, and nonprofits to finance solar projects and benefit from the cost savings.

There will be an opportunity for questions from the audience following the presentations. Please join us to advance a conversation about how our city and the region can begin to actively engage in this important planning 
Join Green Readers for Amelia's Journey

The Green Readers, SCCF's nature-based book club, is pleased to announce that the March book selection is Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival by Carl Safina. Selected by SCCF's Coastal Wildlife department and a winner of the John Burroughs Medal for Outstanding Natural History Writing, the book follows the journeys of Amelia, a Laysan albatross, as she travels thousands of miles from the sub-Arctic to the tropics. The New York Times Book Review says, "Safina delivers a message full of wonder at the natural world and concern about the fragility of his subject . . .He cannot contain his delight in birds, fish, and the profusion of life on the islands he visits.”

You can follow along with ongoing discussion by joining The Green Reader's Facebook group.

Register in advance to join the Zoom book discussion on Tuesday, April 6 at 7pm. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

On Wednesday evening, Feb. 24, SCCF and the Everglades Foundation co-hosted the 2021 Everglades Update also featuring our partners at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Captains for Clean Water.

Click here to watch the virtual presentation, moderated by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, that focused on the indispensable Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir and the momentum underway to restore the Everglades and fix our region's water qualty issues.
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