Weekly Wednesday Update
April 15, 2020
In these unprecedented times of stay-at-home orders and teleworking, we'll send 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 forth to ensure the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed.
We encourage you to spend time outdoors exploring your own backyard while staying safer at home!
Thanks to Patti for sending this photo from her backyard on the west end of Sanibel. Please send your photos of our amazing coastal ecosystem to info@sccf.org.
First Loggerhead Nest of Season Today on Sanibel
The nesting season officially began today, and is off to a great start! This morning, two of our sea turtle program staff found the first loggerhead ( Caretta caretta) sea turtle nest on the east end of Sanibel. It is the earliest nest ever documented on the islands.
In the earliest crawl by its species ever documented on our islands, a loggerhead made a false crawl yesterday on Captiva. Previously, the earliest crawl by a loggerhead was on April 20, 2012, also on Captiva.
Thanks to a resident on Captiva for calling in the unmistakable crawl to our hotline the day before we started officially monitoring the beaches.
"We're ready for an exciting turtle season," said Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan.
Nesting season begins today and goes through October. As the earliest crawl of any sea turtle documented on our islands, a leatherback ( Dermochelys coriacea) made a false crawl on the east end of Sanibel on April 1.
“I think there could be the silver lining in all of this craziness. We are hopeful that, not only for the sea turtles but for the shorebirds, there might be a little less foot traffic on the beach,” said Sloan.
It's the first time in the history of SCCF's program that dedicated volunteers aren't out at first light on the beaches looking for signs of crawls and nests.
Sea turtle monitoring on Sanibel originally began in the late 1950s with Charles LeBuff and Caretta Research, Inc., making it one of the longest-running monitoring programs in the country. The program was transferred to the SCCF in 1992 when Caretta Research, Inc. disbanded. More than 100 volunteers are signed up to assist in the monitoring program.
In an abundance of caution, SCCF is putting volunteers on hold at least until the safer-at-home order is lifted by the state. Staff from the Marine Lab, Sanibel Sea School and the Native Landscapes & Garden Center are stepping up to take solo shifts monitoring the beaches from the Sanibel Lighthouse to Redfish Pass at the tip of Captiva.
Please do your part to keep our beaches sea turtle friendly:
  • Turn off or shield all lights that are visible from the beach. Do not use flashlights or cell phone lights on the beach. If necessary, use amber or red LED bulbs.
  • Remove all beach furniture and equipment from the beach at night.
  • Dispose of fishing line properly to avoid wildlife entanglement.
  • Fill in large holes that can trap hatchlings and nesting sea turtles.
  • Do not disturb nesting turtles – please do not to get too close, shine lights on, or take flash photos of nesting sea turtles.
  • Pick up litter.
Thanks for helping us protect our sea turtles, which are among the world’s oldest creatures. The species that can be found today have been on the earth for about 110 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs.

To report any issues with nests, nesting turtles, or hatchlings, please call SCCF’s Sea Turtle Hotline: 978-728-3663.
Register for 2020 Everglades Update

Join SCCF on Friday, April 17, at 2pm, for our 2020 Everglades Update: Celebrating Historic Progress on Everglades and Estuary Restoration, a discussion of Everglades and estuary conditions with those responsible for the management decisions to advance restoration.

The high-powered panel includes:
  • Chauncey Goss,SFWMD Governing Board Chair
  • Howard "Howie" Gonzalez, USACE Program Manager
  • Drew Bartlett, SFWMD Executive Director
  • Shanon Estenoz, Everglades Foundation Chief Operating Officer

SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel will serve as moderator.
Plan to join us and engage in the conversation during Q&A via chat on Zoom.
Thanks to the SFWMD for hosting the event on their secure Zoom channel.
Snowy Plover Nests Under Threat from Dogs Off Leashes
Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht is happy to report that we now have two confirmed snowy plover ( Charadrius nivosus) nests on Sanibel. The first nest was located on Saturday morning. April 11. Despite numerous crows in the area as well as crazy winds and tides, the nest survived.
A second nest was located Monday morning, April 13. Unfortunately, there were dog tracks inside the protective enclosure and unleashed dogs reported in the area recently. The nest was fine, but beach-goers need to keep dogs out of the enclosures.
You can help protect these state-threatened birds by always keeping pets leashed and staying out of posted areas.
If you have any questions about our snowy plovers please email shorebirds@sccf.org
Let's Consider
Nocturnal Lizards
With most of us spending increased time at home, many overlooked wildlife species may suddenly attract attention and questions about their identities. For instance, let’s consider the lizards that are commonly found around outside lights by our doors, garages and decorative landscapes.
The nocturnal lizards most often observed near these lights are geckos. The geckos found in our area are nocturnal and have toepads for climbing surfaces, even hanging upside down on ceilings. On Sanibel, there are three species of exotic geckos, plus a fourth that has only been documented on Captiva. The largest of our exotic geckos is the tokay gecko ( Gekko gecko). Pictured above, they are a gray-blue color with reddish dots on them and can be 12 inches in length. The loud mating call of this species sounds like “to-kay." Tokay geckos are common on the east end of the island in neighborhoods but are also found in various housing communities throughout the island.
The most common species is the tropical house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia), aka woodslave, followed by the Indo-pacific gecko ( Hemidactylus garnotti), both which rarely exceed 4-5 inches. These house geckos (Genus = Hemidactylus) look very similar in appearance (appearing white or gray at night) although one originates from Asia ( H. garnotti) and the other from Africa ( H. mabouia).
The Indo-pacific gecko is parthenogenic, meaning that they are an all-female species that lay viable eggs. Both species feed on invertebrates (mostly insects) and are commonly seen hunting for insects near lights at night.
Another gecko species pictured above is the flat-tailed gecko ( Hemidactylus platyurus), which was documented on Captiva in 2017. As of yet, there no reports on Sanibel of this species, which is one of the most common house geckos in its native Southeast Asia.
Will You Be My Shoalmate?
Social distancing is a term we have all become too familiar with. So, while we are keeping our distance let's learn why some fish like to stay close together. Shoaling and schooling are two behaviors used by many fish species.
Shoaling is a social grouping where the fish stay in close proximity to each other, but swim independently, schooling is when they all swim in the same direction in a coordinated manner, seeming to act as one organism.
These behaviors provide several benefits, such as defense against predators through a greater ability to detect them and a reduced chance of any one individual being preyed upon. Fish tend to shoal with their own species and of similar size. This reduces the “oddity effect” in which a fish that stands out from the group tends to be preferentially preyed upon.
Shoaling can increase the group's ability to find food and a mate. Having more eyes looking for food makes it easier to discover, while some species, such as sailfish, are thought to cooperatively hunt. Finally, shoaling and schooling can help increase hydrodynamic efficiency.
Similar to how race cars can go faster driving very close to each other or “drafting”, fish can reduce the drag caused by the water and swim more efficiently in a group, helping conserve energy. The marine lab conducted qualitative reef surveys using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) in 2019 that captured some amazing underwater footage.

Check out this underwater video taken at Blandas Reef, located approximately 10 miles off Sanibel in 45 feet of water. See if you can notice any shoaling or schooling behavior!
A Seapurslane
Look Alike!
Have you ever been out walking on the beach and see a plant and think you know it but it turns out to be something else? Garden Center Assistant Sue Ramos recently found two species growing close together and thought they were all the same. Turns out, they’re not.
Silverhead (Blutaparon vermiculare) is a common succulent herb with white flowers that grow and complete their life cycle in habitats with high salt content. Silverhead is part of the Amaranthaceae family which also includes plants such as glasswort and saltwort. They are halophytes in that they are salt accumulators. They can drink the salt water, use the water and store the salt in their cells. The leaves of the silverhead are slender and pointed with a vein down the middle and the stems are green or whitish green. Silverhead can grow in water at the edges of marshes, in with mangroves and on the beach where salt spray is constant.
In contrast, seashore seapurslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) differs in the following ways. The flowers of sea purslane are pink with five petals. The leaves are thick and more rounded or full with no center vein. The leaves and stems are tinged reddish. Seashore seapurslane is part of the Aizoaceae family and are also halophytes or salt plants: plants that grow and complete their lifecycle in habitats with a high salt content.
So the next time you are out on the beach and you see a plant and think it may be seashore seapurslane, take a closer look. It might just be silverhead!
Turn Your Backyard Into a 'Wildlife Sanctuary'
As we all are finding more time to spend in our backyard observing nature, we can deepen our experience by doing some of the activities the education team at Sanibel Sea School shares three days a week through Nature Near You – an e-newsletter designed to help engage kids in nature-based learning.

This week, you can learn some fun and simple ways to turn your backyard into a wildlife refuge. Animals search for food, water, shelter and room to raise their young. If you can provide one of these, and do it correctly, your backyard will become a beautiful and educational “wildlife sanctuary”.

Nature Near You is great for families and for the "kid" who loves to explore in all of us. If you are interested in joining the mailing list, please click on the button below or email info@sanibelseaschool.org.

If you missed out on an issue of Nature Near You, all of the content can be accessed here.
Neill to Retire May 31
Bruce Neill, co-founder of the Sanibel Sea School, will officially retire from his 14-year role as Executive Director of the innovative educational organization on May 31.
“Over the next 45 days, I will be working with the team to transition out,” said Neill, who has relocated to California to be with his family. “I’m confident in their ability to carry forth experiential learning that changes people’s lives.”
Neill founded the Sanibel Sea School in 2005 with his wife, Evelyn, as a place of ocean love. He’s excited that the leadership will transition to two educators who are as devoted to the mission as he and his wife are.
Nicole Finnicum, who began as an educator in 2013, will become director and Shannon Stainken, who came on board in 2017, will take on a bigger role in leading education.
“We believe that great teachers truly love kids. And we strive to hire, grow and inspire great teachers,” said Neill. “Nicole and Shannon are great teachers who have grown within our organization and understand how to foster intimate connections with our ocean planet and to provide a wellspring for lifelong stewardship.”
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.
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.
After he steps down, Neill will continue to support the Sanibel Sea School from afar and will carry the mission close to his heart, as well as his love for the Sanibel and Captiva community.
“I’m especially proud of our team of educators for launching Nature Near You the week after social distancing went into effect. They were trailblazers in transitioning to experiential environmental education through digital platforms with their community offering. We want to remind people that nature is an integral part of our lives; one that soothes us in hard times.” said Neill.
Watch Neill on Thursdays at noon, now through the end of May, as he does backyard nature discussion through Facebook LIVE.
Policy Update: County Joins State in Closing Parks & Preserves
As many of us navigate the best way to adhere to Florida’s Stay-at-Home order, the county’s parks and Conservation 20/20 properties were on our list of places we liked to visit to walk, run, bike or to watch wildlife. Unfortunately, as of Thursday, April 2, all Lee County parks, Conservation 20/20 preserves and paddle craft launches joined state parks and are closed until further notice.
County Issues Boating Etiquette Under COVID-19 Precautions
County-owned boat ramps remain open for now at regular hours. The Lee County Sheriff's Office has posted boating etiquette reminders to:
  • Limit offshore gatherings to groups of 10 or fewer.
  • Refrain from "rafting" of watercraft (boats tied together so passengers can pass from vessel to vessel).
  • Take personal responsibility and self-isolate if you aren't feeling well.
  • Sanitize your hands after fueling your boat.
  • Avoid sharing drinks, rafts, lotion and food.
  • Be respectful of others and practice social distancing of at least 6 ft apart when present at marinas and boat ramps.
Don't forget to watch out for sea turtles breeding in nearshore waters.
Natural Habitat Key to Freshwater Turtle Program
Thanks to the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce for selecting SCCF to be featured in a series of videos showcasing the amazing natural beauty of Sanibel and Captiva and the story behind island preservation. Interviewed at Haas Pond in the West Sanibel River Preserve, CEO Ryan Orgera talks about our lesser-known turtle monitoring program in this video, which was produced by former islander Chad Hatcher of Xtreme Heights Productions.

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