SCCF Gives Back to Volunteers with Hurricane Cleanup
This week, staff have responded to the calls for help with Hurricane Ian cleanup from more than a dozen dedicated SCCF volunteers. Coastal Watch Director Kealy McNeal sent out an email to the entire SCCF list of volunteers last week to offer boots-on-the-ground assistance in these tragic times.

“It has been such a rewarding feeling being able to help out our volunteers in their time of need,” said McNeal. “Our organization relies so heavily on the support of our volunteers and community that we consider them part of our family.”

Over the past few weeks, staff from nearly all departments have bonded over assisting emergency responders, general community support, and SCCF facilities' hurricane cleanup. This week, there has been an added depth of emotional connection as that help extended to those who generously give us their time by volunteering in our sea turtle, shorebird, terrestrial turtle, mangrove and oyster restoration, and native plant nursery programs. Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan also helped with the coordination of the volunteer assistance efforts, especially with sea turtle volunteers who are integral to monitoring efforts. 

For on-island assistance, please email
Research Cruise Completes 6 Days at Sea as Red Tide Blooms
Earlier this week, a research cruise organized by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) came back to port in St. Pete after documenting post-Hurricane Ian water quality conditions, as well as impacts to artificial reefs and bottom habitats down to Naples.

Researchers from SCCF and FGCU sampled about 50 sites located 2 to 12 miles off the Southwest Florida Gulf coast. They discovered discolored areas that have since been confirmed as red tide blooms by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). As of today, high counts of Karenia brevis, the dinoflagellate that causes red tide blooms, have been found offshore Punta Gorda, Boca Grande, and southwest of Sanibel.

Medium counts have also been documented off North Captiva and Captiva Islands, with low counts at Cayo Costa, where Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sept. 28. Low counts are also evident as far north as Manasota Beach and south to 32 miles offshore Wiggins Pass in Collier County. 

“The bloom is more widespread than FWC samples indicated yesterday and continues to extend south,” said SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D., who was aboard the 6-day cruise. “We were able to characterize nearshore ocean conditions before the bloom but after Hurricane Ian, which will help us better understand red tide blooms.”
Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce board chair Calli Johnson, whose family founded Bailey’s General Store on Sanibel more than a century ago, was also aboard the cruise as a safety dive officer for FGCU. Her role was to document the underwater habitat.

“While diving in our southwest Florida local waters, it is devastating both above and underwater. Artificial reefs that are 30 miles offshore are substantially affected by the hurricane,” said Johnson. “The one-time vibrant reefs are now underwater disaster sites themselves. Where there used to be a complete ecosystem, there are now only fish that were able to return after swimming away.”

The cruise was also able to locate the SCCF River, Estuary, Coastal Observing Network’s (RECON) wave buoy, pictured here, which was knocked off its mooring offshore Blind Pass during the hurricane after recording a 24-foot wave.

“We lost it for a few days after the storm and then mid-week after, it started broadcasting again about a mile from where it should have been,” said Milbrandt. “Calli and her dive team inspected it and determined that it was safe to leave it where it was. We then retrieved it this week with the R/V Norma Campbell.”
Sea Turtle Nest Found as Impacts to Beach Surveyed
Seventeen sea turtle nests remained on Sanibel and Captiva beaches before Hurricane Ian (out of 787 total during the 2022 season). After the storm, the SCCF sea turtle team used a Trimble GPS device to check on the remaining nests and were able to find one total — a green sea turtle nest. The others likely washed away from wave action and storm surge.

“Unfortunately, the nest we located is not likely to hatch due to the severe and prolonged inundation it experienced,” said SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director and Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Kelly Sloan. “It’s worth noting that sea turtles have a nesting strategy that accommodates for storms — they lay multiple nests per season so as to not put all their eggs in one basket, so to speak.”
Beach elevation relative to mean sea level decreased across Sanibel and Captiva after the storm, with Captiva experiencing the most significant change. Prior to the storm, Captiva’s sea turtle nest sites averaged 7.2 feet in elevation. That number is now 3.6 feet. Sanibel sea turtle nest elevation experienced an average loss of 1.64 feet on the west end and 1.3 feet on the east end.

“Beach elevation has effects on sea turtle nest conditions including groundwater exposure and ambient nest temperature, which can affect hatchling sex ratios and hatch success,” Sloan said. “The erosion could have been much worse, but there are still certainly areas of the beach that have been heavily impacted. However, we're optimistic that the beach will continue to provide suitable habitat for nesting wildlife, including sea turtles and shorebirds."

Other observations include substantial loss of dunes and dune vegetation in many places, as well as the formation of pools of water called runnels and washed-up garbage and debris across the beaches. The team also collected data on beach slope and width, which will be analyzed in the coming weeks.
Some RECON Sensors Back Online; Others Lost

The SCCF Marine Lab has succeeded in getting half of its sensors back online after Hurricane Ian interrupted the flow of real-time data in its River, Estuary, Coastal Observing Network (RECON). 

“We have been able to get five out of the ten sensors back online,” said Marine Lab Manager A.J. Martignette. “For three that are still offline, the pilings and sensors were lost. The others have been recovered, and we are working to get them back online.”

Several of the pilings where RECON sensors are located were completely lost, and others had extensive damage from the storm. 

“We also experienced nearly 4 feet of flooding from the storm surge on the first floor of the Marine Laboratory where the RECON workshop is located, causing us to lose many of the tools and specialty equipment needed to maintain RECON,” said Martignette.

To check out the ongoing, updated status of RECON, and to view wind speeds and wave heights recorded during Ian, click here.
For supporters interested in helping SCCF through this unprecedented chapter in our history, please consider making an unrestricted tax-deductible donation using the link below. It will be used to address our greatest immediate needs. As we learn of the unmet needs of other island nonprofits, we will do what we can to redirect donations to them as well.

If you have questions, including information on our bank wiring instructions and making a donation of stock shares, please contact SCCF Development Director Cheryl Giattini at 239-822-6121 or Also, please remember that the island post offices are not functioning and SCCF’s temporary mailing address is PO Box 101130, Cape Coral, FL 33910. Thank you in advance for your consideration of this heartfelt request.
Repairing the roof last week at the old nursery on San-Cap Road.
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