We've been sending weekly updates to your inbox every Wednesday afternoon since March 25, three days before Florida's first Safer-at-Home Executive Order was issued.
Our goal, as teleworking and drastic social distancing upended our lives, was to remind you that nature goes on in all its beautiful brilliance.
The coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed that are our mission to conserve and restore did not pause. The Weekly Wednesday Update was created as a way for us to share our ongoing work with you and connect you to nature as a healing outlet in stressful times.
Today's Weekly Wednesday Update closes out our fiscal year that ends June 30 and marks the end of our weekly run.
As chronicled in the Weekly Wednesday Update over the last three months, more sea turtles nested earlier than ever; snowy plovers and least terns struggled to find safe nesting habitat; critical water quality monitoring continued to inform water managers; red tide research investigated impacts on nesting sea turtles; oyster, hard clam, seagrass and mangrove restoration projects continued; and preserved lands were maintained to provide critical wildlife habitat.
Two weeks ago, all 100 of our sea turtle volunteers were back on morning beach patrol; our retail shops re-opened at the Bailey Homestead and the Sanibel Sea School. This Monday, June 29, in-person, small-group camps and classes will resume at the Sanibel Sea School. Our scientists are back in the field and the lab doing safe, socially-distanced research.
As we continue to adapt our work to these times, we'll bring you coverage witha bi-weekly Wednesday Update that will include more podcasts featuring conversations that elucidate our work and help you get to know the passionate, highly knowledgeable people dedicated to our mission, including interviews with individuals involved in SCCF's amazing 52-year history on these islands. And, we'll feature more videos that showcase our work in the field. We remain committed to deepening your knowledge of our coastal ecosystems and what we are doing to protect and restore the land, water and wildlife that we all love and appreciate.
You'll receive our next Wednesday Update on July 8, as the first bi-weekly issue of our new fiscal year that begins on July 1.
In the meantime, we encourage you to spend time outdoors while adhering to smart social distancing practices!
Thanks to Gene Blanc for sending in this week's photo of a gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) taken in his neighborhood on the West End of Sanibel.
Please send your wildlife photos to email@example.com.
Nine Sea Turtle Nests Hatch on Sanibel and Captiva
Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan reports that we’ve now had nine hatches of nests on Sanibel and Captiva to date.
SCCF volunteer Joan Rogers is pictured here conducting the first loggerhead (
Caretta caretta) nest inventory of the season on Captiva last week. Only 27 hatchlings emerged successfully from the first hatch.
"Today, we had a nest with 105 hatchlings that emerged," added Sloan.
Sea turtle nests have an incubation period of about two months. The average clutch size is 110 eggs, but there is a lot of variability from nest to nest.
Sadly, only an estimated one in 1,000 to 10,000 will survive to adulthood.
The natural obstacles faced by young and adult sea turtles are staggering, but it is the increasing threats caused by humans that are driving them to extinction. Today, all sea turtles found in U.S. waters are federally listed as endangered, except for the loggerhead which is listed as threatened.
Nests typically start hatching in July and the hatching season continues into September or October.
Nest counts surpassed 2019 counts last week.
Current total nest count on Sanibel and Captiva combined is 595, with 181 loggerhead nests and two leatherback (
Dermochelys coriacea) nests on Captiva; 100 loggerhead nests, three green (
Chelonia mydas) nests and one leatherback nest on the East End of Sanibel, and 305 loggerhead nests and three leatherback nests on the West End of Sanibel.
Click here to keep up with our nesting season on a daily basis!
To report any issues with nests, nesting turtles, or hatchlings, please call SCCF’s Sea Turtle Hotline: 978-728-3663.
Snowy Plover Chicks Take Flight; More Nests Possible
SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht reports that three of our snowy plover (
Charadrius nivosus) chicks on the East End of Sanibel can now fly and the remaining two chicks are now three weeks old. Pictured here is a fledgling snowy plover chick with mom. This is unusual, as the female typically leaves the male to raise their chicks. In this case, both the female and male are still with the chicks after six weeks!
Albrecht also notes that we may see more snowy plover nests.
“There is still time for the birds that lost nests to re-nest, and for the parents of fledged chicks to potentially re-nest,” she said.
We have one Wilson's plover (
Charadrius wilsonia) nest at Bowman's Beach, but the least tern (
Sternula antillarum) colony at Bowman's Beach has once again failed after repeated predation events. There are coyote tracks and crow tracks throughout the colony and around the empty nest bowls. Some nests were depredated and others have been completely abandoned with the eggs still there and the birds gone. All terns are gone.
"We are working with FWC to assess the situation and improve nesting success in the future," said Albrecht.
Pictured here is a Wilson's plover trying to find a spot of shade during the heat of day on Monday.
If you have any questions about our shorebirds please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Prescribed Burn Planned for Erick Lindblad Preserve
SCCF, in cooperation with the City of Sanibel and other local partners, is planning to conduct a prescribed burn of a portion of the Erick Lindblad Preserve in the coming days and weeks as conditions permit. The prescribed burn will help to preserve the natural ecology of the area and reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires.
Currently, a specific date has not been scheduled for the burn; however, SCCF Burn Boss Victor Young and partner organizations are monitoring for favorable environmental and forecast conditions.
"We will post a notice on social media and on our website by about 9am the day the burn will take place once all permits are approved by the Florida Forest Service," said Young.
Trails behind the SCCF Nature Center on Sanibel-Captiva Road in the Erick Lindblad Preserve will be closed the day of the burn and will remain closed until an inspection of the trails is conducted the following morning.
Some of the management goals are decreasing hazardous fuel loads, perpetuating the open canopy that is characteristic of the marsh ecosystem by reducing the encroachment of woody vegetation, primarily buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus).
“Although buttonwood is a native tree, it becomes very aggressive when the fire regime is decreased and hydrology is altered,” said Young. “Fire also enhances wildlife habitat and wetland function. Wildlife such as wading birds, secretive marsh birds, and birds of prey benefit from prescribed fire in the marsh lands."
The prep work was significantly accelerated thanks to the underwriting of a new tractor purchase by Anne Nobles and David Johnson.
"Having the new equipment definitely made preparing the fire lines and burn units effortless compared to the past so that was a great bonus," added Young.
Only a portion of the Erick Lindblad Preserve will be burned, including up to 30 acres between the main office (HQ) and the Wildlife & Habitat Management (HM) building and south to the Sanibel River as indicated on the map below.
Celebrate National Pollinator Week with a Native Plant
Happy Pollinator Week!
Almost any native plant supports some sort of pollinator in some way, whether the blooms on the plant are a nectar/pollen source or attractor, or if it’s is a larval host plant for butterflies. You can even spot many pollinators on one plant just like the one pictured here. This is spotted water hemlock (
Cicuta maculata) in bloom, which gets a bad rap for being toxic but it’s a great nectar source for several pollinators just like the bee you see pictured. It’s also a larval host plant for black swallowtail butterflies (
Larval host means that these butterflies lay their eggs on this plant and once they hatch, the caterpillars feed on the leaves and flowers, as pictured here.
You can learn more about water hemlock and many other pollinator plants at our Garden Center to see what might be appropriate in your yard.
Here’s a list of plants that we currently have in stock and how they support pollinators:
bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) -- larval host plant for white peacock butterflies
In 2007, the U.S. Senate gave unanimous approval to the designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week," addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.
Celebrate by planting native! Our Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead Preserve is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10am to 3pm.
We are asking all customers to bring a face covering or mask to use when physical distancing cannot be achieved and when interacting with staff.
We also continue to offer contactless deliveries and curbside pickup. On-island deliveries are made on Wednesdays and curbside pickup is also on Wednesdays, from 2 to 3pm. Simply place your order online by midnight on Tuesday for pickup or delivery that Wednesday.
Please email our Garden Center Assistant Sue Ramos at email@example.com with any questions or requests.
SCCF members will get their discount by entering this promo code: SCCFMBR10
Marine Lab & FGCU Investigating Impact of Caloosahatchee Flows on Oyster Reef Restoration
Last week, FGCU & SCCF researchers took their first cruise for a new collaborative project that is investigating how high flows from the Caloosahatchee may have an adverse impact on oyster reef restoration.
Planning for this summer’s research collaboration on bivalve larval transport began in February 2020. The project extends previous work from a Master’s of Science thesis project by Bass Dye and advised by Felix Jose, Ph.D., from FGCU. The thesis focused on the complex currents in San Carlos Bay and the pathways developed a predictive model for the transport of free-swimming larvae. SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D., served on the committee for the master’s thesis, which was completed in 2018.
It is important to understand the transport of larvae to improve restoration and recovery of oysters in our estuary.
It is estimated that oyster reefs are among the most imperiled marine habitats on earth, with losses of between 80-90 percent. Locally, oyster reefs were destroyed during the construction of McGregor Blvd. and the remaining reefs have been highly degraded by the extreme high flows and drought conditions that exacerbate imbalances in river flows to the Caloosahatchee estuary.
On June 19, 2020, the first of ten research cruises focused on collecting larvae from sites in San Carlos Bay, Matlacha Pass, and Pine Island Sound. The goal is to validate predictions from a 3-D hydrodynamic model coupled to a larval transport model.
On the cruises, researchers will collect samples to enumerate bivalve larvae and quantify the number of oyster spat settling on shell strings. The research will provide new information to guide future restoration and help with understanding the impacts of high flow events.
Initial findings suggest that larvae are transported out into the Gulf of Mexico during high flows and are never allowed the opportunity to settle on existing reefs.
Manatee Sightings Helping to Establish Slow Speed Zone
Thanks to those of you who have sent in photos of West Indian manatee (
Trichechus manatus) to help us build evidence to re-establish a slow speed zone in San Carlos Bay from Dixie Beach Blvd. to Lighthouse Point.
Lee County accounts for the highest number of boat-caused manatee mortalities in Florida, a sad statistic that will likely only grow with the State’s decision to remove this and other slow speed zones regionally.
Pictured here is a photo of a manatee taken from a residence on Isabel Drive, where more than seven manatee sightings were reported over 10 days.
SCCF is coordinating the process of petitioning the State to restore a slow speed zone for the safety of manatees as well as kayakers and paddleboarders. The process requires a few steps which you can help with:
Passage of an ordinance by the City of Sanibel creating a manatee protection zone.
Submission of this ordinance and supporting data showing the presence of manatees in this zone, seagrass habitat, and maps of water depths.
The final review processes will require signoff from the Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
SCCF is committed to gathering, collecting, and presenting data to support this request, as well as building support at the City and State level. Many of you have already reached out to City council members. We encourage you to reach out specifically in support of a City ordinance (re)creating this manatee protection zone by emailing all council members at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, we ask that you help us build a body of evidence by sending manatee sighting reports—when you can, take a picture, but please send us a time, date, and location of your sighting to email@example.com. Thanks for your help!
Sanibel Sea School Offering In-Person Camps & Courses
Sanibel Sea School Director Nicole Finnicum reports that most July and August in-person camps are filled up with waitlists of almost 20 students for some weeks.
By following the guidance of the CDC and American Camp Association, the weekly camps have been modified to do
everything possible to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19.
"Our staff has been working hard over the last couple of months to modify our camp
activities, as well as to implement necessary safety and sanitation procedures," said Finnicum. "Their creativity and dedication have been unmatched and we are so proud to have put together a camp that will be fun and engaging for campers – and much needed after a long couple of months."
They are also offering a limited number of half-day courses at the Flagship and Sundial campus. Course schedules are available at
www.sanibelseaschool.org under the programs tab.
"We have spaces in our day classes but class sizes are limited to nine people, so we encourage people to sign up quickly," says Finnicum.
Rae Ann Wessel Named Citizen of the Year by Sanibel Captiva Chamber
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce recently announced the winners of its four annual awards: Citizen of the Year, Business of the Year, New Business of the Year, and Volunteer of the Year.
“Normally, we would have hailed these individuals at our annual meeting in April, but that, of course, was cancelled due to the pandemic shutdown,” said Chamber President and CEO John Lai. “We hope the community joins us in applauding these deserving winners and reaches out to express appreciation for their above-and-beyond contributions.”
Citizen of the Year Award went to Rae Ann Wessel, who recently retired from 14 years as the Natural Resource Policy Director at SCCF. Her advocacy and outreach work brought sound scientific grounding to policy development, protection, and restoration of water resources, critical habitats, land management, and fish and wildlife conservation at the local, regional, state, and federal levels.
“Whether she was working quietly behind the scenes, speaking before local groups about the science and importance of water quality, or standing up to legislative bodies, Rae Ann has been the face of clean water activism on Sanibel, in Southwest Florida, and far beyond,” said Lai. “I can’t say enough about the contributions she has made to this community during her tenure and the contagious passion that has driven reform.”
“I can’t help feeling overwhelmed by this tremendous expression of appreciation for my contributions when I was just doing work I truly felt driven to engage in and could never have accomplished without our community’s broad-based ‘village’ effort. I have always believed that success is a team sport. Sometimes it just takes a longer dedicated and persistent effort and a larger team to see results.”
-Rae Ann Wessel
Thanks to all of you who are on our water advocacy team!
If you have not contributed to SCCF programs or operations since before July 1, 2019, please consider doing so now. Making a tax-deductible donation of $50 or more before June 30, 2020 will ensure that you will be recognized in the FY2019-2020 Annual Report. (If you’re unsure of your last gift date, call Cheryl Giattini at 239-822-6121.) And just a reminder – if you don’t itemize charitable deductions, the new above-the-line deduction allows you to write off up to $300 of your charitable contributions. Thank you in advance for being counted among SCCF’s partners in environmental stewardship!
Marine Science Educator Sam Lucas shares some interesting information about the white ibis (
Eudocimus albus) in this video. Every Tuesday for the past three months, Sanibel Sea School educators shared a
Creature Feature on their
YouTube Channel. Past episodes shine the spotlight on box turtles, grackles, upside-down jellyfish, and burrowing owls among many more!