SCCF's Weekly Wednesday Update
March 25, 2020
In these times of social distancing, quarantine and teleworking, we will be bringing weekly updates to your inbox every Wednesday afternoon to brighten your week and to remind you that nature goes on in all its beautiful brilliance.
At SCCF, our work carries on as we continue to be dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed.
SCCF Announces New Leadership at Sanibel Sea School
SCCF has selected Nicole Finnicum to become the next Director of Sanibel Sea School when co-founder Bruce Neill retires.
Finnicum joined Sanibel Sea School in 2013, working her way up from educator to the role of Operations Director. She recently earned her second master's degree in Nonprofit Management from the University of Central Florida and also has a master's in Environmental Studies.
“Sanibel Sea School has such a great team,” said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera. “Nicole has the right understanding of that team, management skills and passion to lead it into the future and to grow it in meaningful ways.” 
To help fill the gap in Neill's leadership role in education, Shannon Stainken has also been promoted. She will take on a more active role in developing course offerings and will oversee all Sanibel Sea School educational programming. 
Stainken has a master's degree in Professional Science, with a focus on Marine Conservation and has been with Sanibel Sea School since 2017 when she also started as a marine educator and was promoted to manage education within a year. READ MORE
First Enclosure Goes Up for Snowy Plover Nesting Season
Yesterday, SCCF staff roped off an area of beach for nesting snowy plovers in cooperation with the city of Sanibel near the Lighthouse.
Snowy plovers are a threatened species in the state of Florida. In 2019, two pairs of plovers nested and raised their young in the same location. Four chicks total fledged on Sanibel in 2019, which was an increase from the previous 2 years.
Currently there are 4 pairs of snowy plovers pairing up and establishing territories in this area. Protecting their nesting areas is essential to their survival, as these small, sand-colored birds lay their nests in shallow depressions in the sand. They need a safe space to protect their nests from accidental destruction.
You can help protect our snowy plovers by giving them their space. Always stay outside posted areas, and keep all pets on a leash. If a plover is scared off her nest, the eggs and chicks are left exposed to the hot florida sun, and to predators like crows and gulls.
Never feed wildlife, as this can attract predators to nesting areas. Always pick up your trash, and remember to fill in any holes you dig on the beach. Small flightless shorebird chicks can become entrapped and die.

Please contact with any questions about our snowy plovers. If you see a violation, please call the FWC wildlife alert hotline number 888-404-FWCC.

Boat Safely For Sea Turtles
Breeding In Nearshore Waters
Please use safe boating practices as loggerheads are currently breeding in nearshore waters. Last weekend, sea turtle staff served as first responders in coordination with boat rescues by the Lee County Sheriff's Office Marine Unit and in transportation to CROW. Sadly, a loggerhead died due to a boat strike.
We'd like to remind everyone that we are seeing higher than usual boat traffic right now as a favorite social distancing activity.
Please encourage safe boating with a turtle lookout if you go out on the water and travel at idle speed so the sea turtles have a chance to dive out of your way if you are within .6 mile of the shoreline.
If you see a sea turtle in distress, please call the SCCF sea turtle hotline at 978-728-3663.
Sea Turtle Team Transitions to Virtual Training As Season Nears
With four virtual meetings planned for the next two weeks, SCCF's Sea Turtle monitoring team is getting ready for nesting season, which officially begins April 15, with the first nests usually laid in late April.
"Two meetings are for new volunteers, one for authorized personnel, and our kickoff meeting for the entire group," said Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan.
"Loggerheads and leatherbacks on the east coast have both been documented earlier than normal. If we're lucky we might see some earlybirds on our coast, too!"
Sanibel Sea School Launches Virtual Education Offering
The education team has been working eagerly to transpose environmental education as they know it into an interactive, weekly e-newsletter called Nature Near You , which launched on Monday, March 23.

Nature Near You will be delivered to families’ email inboxes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and will include a new topic each day. Participants can expect brief science-based lessons, arts and crafts using natural materials, and activities and experiments they can conduct at their kitchen tables. All of the activities will include exploration, discovery and encourage kids to enjoy a small slice of nature in their backyard! LEARN MORE  
Marine Lab Finds Seaweed Closest to Caloosahatchee Not As Healthy or Diverse
In early March, researchers found a diverse and abundant seaweed community in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Back at the lab, the sample was sorted by species, dried in the oven, and will be weighed to determine biomass at each site when our lab re-opens. 
As part of a long-standing partnership with Ding Darling, the SCCF Marine Laboratory conducts routine monitoring of nutrients, water quality, seagrass, and macroalgae or seaweed at 10 sites in the refuge.
Generally, we noticed higher abundances, but fewer species of seaweed dominating in the sites closest to the Tarpon Bay. Further west, near Wulfert Flats, we noticed lower abundances and more diversity of up to nine species. 
Our research shows us that excess nitrogen from freshwater runoff and discharges from the Caloosahatchee can fuel the growth of a couple of dominant species and lessen the biodiversity.
Overgrowth of seaweed can be detrimental to the overall ecosystem, including shrimp, crabs and fish that thrive in healthy seagrass communities.
SCCF Continues to Inform Policymakers of Water Conditions
SCCF's Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel and the Marine Lab's Research Scientist Rick Bartleson are still putting their heads together with a group of scientists from the city of Sanibel, Ding Darling, Lee County and the city of Cape Coral every week to assess the needs of our waters.
Each Wednesday, a report containing the scientific assessment of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary conditions and how these conditions affect the health, productivity and function of the system is shared with water managers and policy makers on local, regional and statewide levels.
Today's report shows that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continued pulse releases to the Caloosahatchee from Lake Okeechobee at a 7-day average of 650 cfs at S-79. Releases to the St. Lucie estuary at S-80 remain at zero cfs. ( Click here for ful report. )
The team of scientists continues to recommend that the Caloosahatchee needs additional water to lower salinity levels to support/ protect the remaining western edge of tapegrass habitat. If cut backs are needed to conserve lake water levels they ask they be applied equally to all water users, not just the Caloosahatchee estuary.

Former Intern Presents Dissertation Data on Sanibel Rice Rat
Former SCCF Intern Wesley Boone did an online video presentation of his Ph.D. exit seminar yesterday. It addressed the three data chapters of his dissertation: (1) ecological influence on genetic divergence + genetic validity of taxonomic designations of insular rodent populations in southwest Florida, (2) determinants of contemporary Sanibel Island rice rat distributions, and (3) investigation of how climate change and invasive black rats are influencing the distribution of Sanibel Island rice rats and insular hispid cotton rats, and inference about how this will change in a future impacted by climate change.

In his honor, we are sharing this video he made while doing research on Sanibel. Enjoy!

Stay Connected!