Wednesday Update
Nov. 25, 2020
Welcome to our bi-weekly edition of the Wednesday Update!

We'll email it to you every two weeks, with the next edition on Dec. 9.

By highlighting SCCF's work to conserve and restore coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed, our updates connect you with nature.

Thanks to Colleen Kirwan for this photo of a barn owl (Tyto alba), taken in her Lake Murex backyard.


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Grateful for Your Support & Happy Thanksgiving!
By Ryan Orgera

We are incredibly grateful for your interest and investment in SCCF's work. While 2020 has been full of difficulties for many, our staff and communities have shown an extraordinary dedication and creativity in the face of all the unwelcome newness.

I have never met a more capable group of employees or a more supportive community. I am incredibly thankful for this. 

Our nature continues even when our activities change, and SCCF has not missed a beat this year; we still managed to monitor a record number of sea turtle nests, continue important water quality, box turtle, and climate research, and a wide variety of other activities from socially-distanced childhood education to the planting of native flora. 

We at SCCF all wish you the finest Thanksgiving this pandemic will allow. Thank you for all you do for us and our shared natural world.   
Fish Farms: A New Threat to Water Quality in SWFL
By James Evans
SCCF Environmental Policy Director

We want to thank everyone who responded to our Call-to-Action to oppose federal permits for the Ocean Era Inc. aquaculture project proposed in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of our campaign last week, more than 500 emails were submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposing the project.

It is clear from the response that our communities are concerned about the potential environmental, ecological, and economic impacts that this project may have on Southwest Florida.

Southwest Florida has endured many challenges to its local economy over the past decade, from water quality issues related to Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee water releases, to red tide, to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, our communities and ecosystems have been resilient. While our communities and ecosystems are resilient, as Benjamin Franklin famously said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Now we face a new threat to water quality and our local economies. Federal agencies are now considering a permit application for an aquaculture operation in the Gulf of Mexico, just 45 miles southwest of Sarasota. Ocean Era Inc. ─ a Hawaii-based corporation, formerly known as Kampachi Farms ─ is requesting federal permits for a pilot project to evaluate the prospects and efficacy of aquaculture in U.S. waters.

It would be the first such facility permitted off the continental U.S. The facility would culture approximately 20,000 Almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) in an open net-pen, as pictured here in this photo by NOAA. And, it would produce a maximum annual harvest of 88,000 pounds. If the project proves feasible, it would likely become a full-scale aquaculture operation. (WATCH WINK News report featuring Ocean Era founder on the future scale of farming.)
SCCF is not opposed to aquaculture and understands the need for sustainable fish-farming practices in the U.S. Aquaculture is an important tool that can be used to produce food and other commercial products, replenish wild stocks, restore habitat, and help in the recovery of threatened and endangered species.

It is estimated that 42% of the seafood we consume comes from aquaculture. Human population growth is putting extensive pressure on the world’s fisheries and aquaculture is becoming an important instrument for supplying seafood for our growing population.

Promoting sustainable aquaculture in the U.S. is in our nation’s best interest. However, if these operations are not carefully planned they can have unintended consequences on the environment and local economy. (WATCH NBC-2 report featuring SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans on potential impacts.)

SCCF’s scientists believe that this project is not appropriate for the warm, shallow waters along the west Florida shelf in an area prone to Florida red tide.

Aquaculture facilities are intensive operations that generate large amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus as well as other waste products. The organism that causes Florida red tides, Karenia brevis, is known to use many sources of nutrients as it forms and intensifies on the west Florida shelf (Heil et al. 2014).

This project proposes a marine net-pen facility within the initiation and intensification zone for red tide (Weisberg et al. 2019). Click here to read more.

To sign up for our Action Alert mailing list so you can be counted as an advocate on SCCF’s environmental policy campaigns, click here.
Sharing Gratitude for our Devoted Volunteers!
Despite COVID Setback, 3,356 Hours Logged for Sea Turtle Conservation
During the 2020 season, SCCF's team of volunteers contributed a total of 3,356.5 hours toward sea turtle conservation. In terms of 40-hour work weeks, that equates to nearly 84 weeks!

Having missed one month (on-island volunteers) or one-and-a-half months (off-island) at the start of the season, this total represents an incredible effort by a dedicated group of passionate individuals.

It was an exciting moment when volunteers returned to patrols again, with staff as happy to have them back as volunteers were thrilled to jump right back into the action. And there was certainly no easing into it. Patrolling at the peak of nesting during a banner year kept our volunteers busy, spending long days out on the beach right away.
The group was always enthusiastic and positive, from verifying a leatherback nest on their first day back, to spending more than seven hours at a time on the beach in peak season, to completing 12 inventories on a single patrol.

The 2020 season was unpredictable and memorable, generating records, highlights, and exciting moments. Volunteers were an incredibly large part of that and one of the biggest reasons our monitoring efforts remained so successful in such a busy and challenging year.

We are extremely grateful for our team of volunteers and we cannot thank them enough!
Thanks to Volunteers for Mangrove Restoration on Hemp Key Last Week

Thanks to the eight volunteers who joined us last Friday, Nov. 20 for the Hemp Key mangrove restoration project.

We planted hundreds of red mangrove propagules and distributed around 30 buckets of fossil shell.

As an SCCF Marine Lab and Coastal Watch initiative, the project seeks to restore an extensive mangrove canopy that provides nesting habitat for many species of birds.
RECON Tracks Unexpected Tides & Turbulence of TS Eta
As pictured here, the entire Marine Lab parking lot flooded on Nov.11 due to storm surge in Tarpon Bay.

As Tropical Strom Eta passed through the area, SCCF’s RECON (River, Estuary, and Coastal Observing Network) sensors stationed throughout the Caloosahatchee River and surrounding waters recorded exaggerated changes in barometric pressure, windspeed, tide levels, and salinity.

Eta was the 28th storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season and the first official tropical storm of the year to make landfall in Florida. Although the eye remained in the Gulf of Mexico, Southwest Florida got the brunt of Eta’s force on Wednesday, Nov. 11, with max wind speeds clocking in at 69 mph in Naples and up to 2.75 feet of storm surge recorded in Fort Myers.

Eta was located about 120 miles west of Sanibel when upgraded to a Cat. 1 Hurricane in a 7:30am update from the National Hurricane Center on Nov. 11, and was downgraded to a Tropical Storm with the 1pm update. Click here to see a WINK News video of flooding on the Sanibel Causeway, which closed temporarily.

From Nov. 4 through Nov. 9, sensors at Redfish Pass and Fort Myers recorded a steady drop in barometric pressure, which remained low through Nov. 11. Barometric pressure is crucial in predicting approaching storms. The faster and lower the drop, the quicker the storm will arrive and the greater its intensity will be.

On Nov. 11, wind gusts at the Redfish Pass RECON site reached a maximum of 56.9 mph at 11am, with wind speeds remaining around 30 mph for most of the day. For comparison, the average wind speed throughout the month of November at Redfish Pass has been 15.2 mph.
At all sites, high tide levels surged during Eta to more than triple their yearly tidal average. At the Shell Point and Fort Myers RECON sites, the tide levels were respectively over six and seven times higher than their averages for 2020.

At the estuarine sites of Tarpon Bay and Shell Point, Eta’s tidal surges brought levels of higher salinity for longer than usual at high tide. This extended period of increased salinity was due to the unidirectional winds blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, forcing higher salinity ocean water into the estuary and up the Caloosahatchee.

Click here to dig deeper and explore the effects Eta had on local waters.
Click here to see real time water quality data.
Hearing Examiner Extends Final Presentation on
Eden Oak to June 3, 2021

On Nov. 19, the Lee County Hearing Examiner granted another extension to move the final arguments from the Eden Oak applicant and county staff from Dec. 11, 2020 to June 3, 2021. The continuance was requested by the applicant due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions to the U.S. from his residence in Canada.

This is the second continuance due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions and the tenth extension or continuance requested by the applicant or by staff since the zoning request was originally filed in December 2016. Click here to download the latest extension order.

The proposed Eden Oak development is on Shell Point Boulevard at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee near the Sanibel Causeway, as pictured here. The applicant's proposal is to dredge and fill 36 acres of mangrove wetlands to build 55 residential home-sites with docks, including the excavation of a new canal and the creation of a boat basin with additional docks.

The plan will put more people in the coastal high hazard area, creates new sources of pollution from runoff, will create boat traffic in sensitive habitat used by a number of threatened and endangered species, and adds traffic to the evacuation and emergency access on Shell Point Boulevard.

In a parallel track on Eden Oak, the property owner has also nominated the property to be considered for purchase by the County’s Conservation 20/20 Land Acquisition Program. The property has cleared several steps in the process and has been recommended for purchase by both the County Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Board and the Board of County Commissioners. County staff is in the midst of purchase negotiations with the property owner.

SCCF remains actively involved in advocating for the protection of the natural resources on this property and will continue to post updates on both the zoning case and the nomination to Conservation 20/20.
Next Evening at Homestead Features Leader of State's Smalltooth Sawfish Program

Join us via Zoom for the next in our virtual series of Evenings at the Homestead on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 7pm for a fascinating presentation on smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata).

Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?: The Plight of the Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish and What is Being Done to Promote Recovery in the U.S., will be presented by Gregg Poulakis, Ph.D., of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Dr. Poulakis, pictured here with a smalltooth sawfish, will discuss why it became endangered, summarize his team’s research on juveniles in our local waters, and address what the future holds for the species. The talk will include how use of state-of-the-art technology is helping to promote recovery of this unique species.

Dr. Poulakis has been a fish biologist with the State of Florida since 1997. For his entire career, he has been based out of the Charlotte Harbor Field Laboratory in Port Charlotte and has been dedicated to learning about the fishes of the Charlotte Harbor estuarine system.

If you can't join us, we are archiving all of our virtual presentations on our SCCF YouTube Channel so you can watch and learn anytime! Click here to watch the Nov. 17 Evenings at the Homestead on leatherback sea turtles and an update on the SCCF 2020 nesting season.

Save the date for these upcoming Evenings at the Homestead:

Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 7pm
Sand Dunes: A Global & Local Perspective, presented by Patrick Hesp, Flinders University, Australia
Tuesday, Mar. 9 at 7pm
Florida Needs Fire!, presented by Reed Noss, Florida Institute for Conservation Science
SCCF Contributes Data to Alarming Oceana Report on Plastics
In a report released last week, Oceana has compiled for the first time the available data on plastic ingestion and entanglements in marine mammals and sea turtles in U.S. waters.

SCCF's Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan and her team contributed data from our sea turtle program to the eye-opening compilation of information from more than dozens of government agencies, organizations and institutions that collect data on the impact of plastic on marine animals.

Oceana found evidence of nearly 1,800 animals from 40 different species swallowing or becoming entangled in plastic since 2009. Of those, a staggering 88% were species listed as endangered or threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

Some recommendations outlined in the report:

  • Companies must reduce the production of plastic, especially unnecessary single-use plastic.
  • Companies must offer consumers plastic-free choices.
  • National, state and local governments must pass policies to reduce the production and use of single-use plastic.
  • Companies and governments must move to establish widespread use of reusable and refillable containers and packaging.

BYOB Initiative During Luminary Week
Coastal Watch will be passing out reusable canvas bags at Sanibel Sea School during Luminary week Dec. 4 to Dec. 11.

Coastal Watch’s Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) initiative is designed to reduce the use of disposable bags on our islands and educate locals and visitors about the harm plastic bags cause to our environment. Free, reusable canvas bags are distributed at events and stores throughout the island. To date, over 20,000 bags have been distributed. Bags are also always available at Bailey’s General Store.
Join the Green Readers for December Book Selection

The next selection for SCCF's book club, The Green Readers, is The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. As a topic close to the heart of SCCF's Marine Lab, this book takes an in-depth look at one of the most fascinating creatures of the ocean: the octopus.

A finalist for the National Book Award, The Soul of an Octopus "reveals a watery world of animal intelligence painted with such sparkle that I was bereft to leave it for dry land at the book’s end,” according to the Times Literary Supplement.

From the publisher: In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir, The Good Good Pig, Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus—a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature—and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.

Montgomery’s popular 2011 ORION magazine piece, “Deep Intellect,” about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and grief at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures.

Since then she has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to Mexico and French Polynesia, pursuing these solitary shape-shifters. With a central brain the size of that of an African grey parrot and neural matter in each of its eight arms, octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to get food and escape enclosures; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading their caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms.

But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?

To join the Green Readers Facebook group, just click here or go to SCCF's Facebook page and click on "Groups." Happy reading!  
Skyblue Clustervine Blooms Profusely in Winter Months

Skyblue clustervine (Jacquemontia pentanthos) is native to south Florida. This vine likes to grow in full sun or light shade and is part of the morning glory Convolvulaceae family. The beautiful blooms open in the morning and die by evening.

The flowers are full of nectar and attract many pollinators. You can tell which bees have visited the skyblue clustervine because they will be covered in white pollen!

This vine blooms year round but more profusely in the winter months making it perfect for our seasonal visitors.

At the Bailey Homestead gardens, we have it growing as a ground cover and up a trellis. The many bright blue flowers and ease of growing make this vine a show stopper.
The Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead Preserve is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10am to 3pm. 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 with any questions or requests.

SCCF members will get their discount by entering this promo code: SCCFMBR10
SCCF Annual Report
Online Edition

If you are a member of SCCF or a resident of Sanibel or Captiva, you should have received SCCF’s FY2019-2020 Annual Report in the mail by now. We are proud of all the stories of accomplishment profiled in the report, and encourage everyone to give it a good read.

If you prefer to read online, please click here for our digital version. It's a great summary of the results that flow from your ongoing investment in our mission-driven work.

The Annual Report’s arrival also marks the official start of our Annual Fund Drive. Please consider renewing your support of SCCF’s ongoing operations by using the enclosed envelope to make your most generous and tax-deductible Annual Fund Drive gift. Or, become a new supporter by clicking the donate button below.

If you report has not yet arrived, please contact Development Director Cheryl Giattini at or 239-822-6121 to request a replacement copy.
Sanibel Sea School Invites Families to Share Ornament During Luminary 2020

Sanibel Sea School will participate in Luminary Week - Coastal Distance Edition from Dec. 4 through Dec. 11. This year’s Luminary event will be spread out over the course of a week in an effort to be able to celebrate the Sanibel community safely.

Ocean Tribe Outfitters, Sanibel Sea School’s retail store, will be offering a sale of 15% off any merchandise in the store. This is a great time to stock up on Sanibel Sea School hoodies, Hydroflask insulated water bottles, hats, and any ocean-related gifts for friends, family, or a Sanibel Sea School camper you may know. All proceeds at Ocean Tribe Outfitters go directly back to the organization’s mission and help support outreach efforts.

Sanibel Sea School educators are also doing a call for ocean-themed ornaments! This year, they are asking people to get creative at home and craft their own ocean-inspired ornament to be hung on the Sanibel Sea School holiday tree during Luminary week. It is encouraged that all ornaments are created using mostly natural materials, such as shells, leaves, sticks, coconuts and wooden/glass beads, for example.

Sanibel Sea School’s special holiday tree will be located outside the porch at 455 Periwinkle Way, so participants can safely deliver their ornament.

There will be a contest for Best Overall Ornament, Best Use of Natural Materials, and Funniest Ornament. Winners will be announced through Sanibel Sea School’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

Sanibel Sea School will be open from 9am to 4pm Monday through Friday during Luminary Week. Any questions related to Luminary events can be directed to or you can call (239) 472-8585 for more information. 
WATCH: SCCF Update from San-Cap Chamber Event
CEO Ryan Orgera and Environmental Policy Director James Evans presented an update on SCCF at the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce's monthly virtual event last week. Click here to watch the Zoom presentation.

Watch Recording of Water Management Panel Discussion
If you missed our Nov. 12 panel discussion about Sanibel’s approach to water management and the partnership between the City of Sanibel and SCCF in developing the current policy, you can watch it online.

The virtual panel featured SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans, MS, and the City of Sanibel's Director of Community Services and City Engineer Keith Williams, MBA, PE, and Director of Natural Resources Holly Milbrandt, MS. It was moderated by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Ph.D..
WATCH: Red Tide Suspected Offshore
In case you missed us on ABC7 SWFL News last night...

Click here to watch SCCF Marine Lab Research Scientist Rick Bartleson, Ph.D., as he explains how an offshore red tide bloom may be sickening double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) even though it's not yet showing up in water samples off our beaches.

In this week's Caloosahatchee Conditions Report, we report that over the past three weeks, CROW has had over 30 double-crested cormorants confirmed as brevetoxin positive by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's lab.
Click here to subscribe to the Wednesday Update and other SCCF mailing lists.
Stay Connected!