Wednesday Update
March 24, 2021
Welcome to the bi-weekly Wednesday Update!

We'll email the next issue on April 7.

By highlighting SCCF's mission to protect and care for Southwest Florida's coastal ecosystems, our updates connect you to nature.

Thanks to John Ryan for this photo of a gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) taken on Sanibel.


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Marine Lab Gets Grant to Study Recent Royal Tern Deaths
NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science Harmful Algal Bloom Event Response Program is funding research into the recent deaths of royal terns and a possible connection to the food web. Over the next six months, the SCCF Marine Lab will do sample prep and analysis on samples of royal terns and baitfish collected for the study.

In February 2021, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) reported a large increase in the admission of sick and dying royal terns. At the time, there were low and medium concentrations of the dinoflagellate that causes red tide, Karenia brevis. However, the large number of sick and dead birds, especially around the Sanibel Causeway, was not consistent with routine beach sampling or high-concentration bloom “patches” visible from satellite imagery.
A team formed to discuss this event included: CROW Medical and Research Director Heather Barron, DVM; Christine Angelini, Ph.D., assistant environmental engineering professor at University of Florida (UF); SCCF Marine Laboratory Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D.; and Leanne Flewelling, Ph.D., who directs the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute harmful algal bloom research.

The team agreed that studying the food web of the terns’ diets may hold the key to understanding what was causing their illness and mortality, Milbrandt said. A two-page proposal to study the food web was prepared with the help of Ph.D. student Kimberly Price (UF). The plan was submitted to NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science Harmful Algal Bloom Event Response Program and was granted $7,820 to fund isotopic and toxin analysis.

The team recognized that getting prey items and archiving dead birds would be essential for analyzing various tissues for toxin and isotopic analysis, Milbrandt said. The birds were collected and frozen by CROW volunteers while Coastal Watch President Pete Squibb asked fishing guides to secure baitfish around the Sanibel Causeway. In early March, Coastal Watch delivered nearly 20 bags of baitfish collected in late February and early March for the study. A final report is expected by the end of 2021.
Sanibel Sea School Hosts STEM Spring Break Camp
Sanibel Sea School partnered with the Lee County School District and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) to offer a week-long STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) spring break camp for girls. Funded by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the STEM camp was targeted to high school girls interested in pursuing a career in the sciences.

“We hope that after this camp, these young women are inspired to pursue a collegiate-level STEM education,” said Finnicum. “Our goal is to show them a few different fields of study so that they can get a better idea of what they might like to pursue in the future.” Encouraging young students to think about their future careers is the goal of the regional Workforce Now initiative, which is spearheaded by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

Sanibel Sea School educators partnered with FGCU professors to create a curriculum that gave participants field and laboratory experience in the marine science field. The educators discussed forming research questions, tools, techniques, and methodologies for conducting hands-on fieldwork in the water.

The camp is designed to immerse participants in marine science research and introduce them to future academic and career pathways. “We hope that after this camp, these young women are inspired to pursue a collegiate-level STEM education,” said Finnicum. “Our goal is to show them a few different fields of study so that they can get a better idea of what they might like to pursue in the future.”

Sanibel Sea School educators taught sessions on sand dollar population dynamics and seagrass ecology to share common research techniques used in marine science. Participants learned how to measure sand dollars around Sanibel using quadrats and transects, which are tools to measure how many sand dollars are in a grid area and where they are distributed.
They also conducted a study to determine coverage and biodiversity in the seagrass beds adjacent to causeway islands. Participants used quadrats to estimate the amount of seagrass in designated areas in two different site locations. Seine nets were used to sample the creatures living in the seagrass and to create a catalog of all the species observed or documented at those two sites. At the end of their study, they concluded that there was more biodiversity along Causeway Island B, but a higher coverage of seagrass on the seafloor along Causeway Island A.

FGCU professors Jo Muller, Ph.D., and Molly Nation, Ph.D., offered lessons on geomorphology and water quality. Participants spent a full day out on San Carlos Bay collecting sediment cores and water samples via boat to later analyze in the lab.

Muller discussed the importance of collecting sediment cores and how scientists can gain insight on past hurricanes to forecast future events and how climate change can affect the size and strength of hurricanes.

Camp participants analyzed water samples from the bay for microplastics, in a process that Nation directed, by running the water through filtration paper that separates the plastics from the water. Microplastics were found in almost every sample. Microplastics are consumed by fish, mollusks, and crustaceans, and eventually, in humans from consumption of seafood products.

At the end of the week, participants analyzed data collected from one of the research topics and presented their work at the Bailey Homestead.

This partnership with FGCU and Lee County public schools was made possible by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, and we are grateful for being given the time to develop this awesome camp experience.
Red Tide Persists; Counts Low to Medium on Islands
The latest red tide update from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) indicates that the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, is still evident in Southwest Florida.

SCCF's Marine Lab, its Sanibel Sea School, and volunteers continue sampling around the islands. Today's results show Karenia sp. levels of zero at West Gulf Access #1, with low counts at Bowman's Beach, Tarpon Bay Road Beach, Gulfside City Park, and Lighthouse Beach. 

Lee County found medium counts today on Captiva.

The FWC reports that K. brevis was observed last week at background to low concentrations in Charlotte County, background to high concentrations in and offshore of Lee County, and background to medium concentrations in and offshore of Collier County.

Reports from SCCF and Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) staff show that the impacts of red tide (Karenia brevis) continue to take a toll on local shorebirds, sea turtles, and beach visitors.

CROW had nine living admissions with toxicosis in the past week: a brown pelican, great blue heron, mottled duck, three double-crested cormorants, two great egrets, and a loggerhead sea turtle. A mottled duck and double-crested cormorant, which were already deceased, were also brought into the clinic, which is still caring for most of these patients, though the great blue heron and a great egret have died.

On Captiva on Friday, SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht encountered several beachgoers experiencing respiratory distress. “There were many people coughing, including me,” she said.

On her Monday walk from the Sanibel Lighthouse to Tarpon Bay, Albrecht did not experience the same respiratory irritation but did observe “a lot of dead sea life including crabs, fish, urchins, bivalves, and a great deal of parchment tube worm casings,” she said.

SCCF's Sea Turtle Team reported two loggerheads washed up dead on Sanibel and one on North Captiva over the past week, with unknown causes of death.

SCCF continues to monitor and report on local red tide conditions and is undertaking studies to determine the extent of harmful algal blooms and their impact within the marine food web.

Click the button below to learn more about red tide.
New Campaign Launches to Protect Coastal Wildlife
SCCF is excited to announce the launch of the Be a Lifesaver campaign to protect shorebirds, sea turtles, and sharks.

Thanks to a grant from the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau’s Tourist Development Council (TDC), the campaign seeks to inspire residents and visitors to do their part to protect and care for our coastal wildlife.

To help get the word out to visitors, the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce, Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, South Seas Island Resort, and Sundial Beach Resort & Spa are partners in the campaign. It is targeted to educate visitors on beach behavior through social media, in-house video, and a mobile-friendly website designed to provide additional wildlife tips and information.

“The tips included in this campaign were vetted by our scientists to prioritize what they thought would best protect wildlife,” said SCCF Communications Director Barbara Linstrom. “Thanks to the TDC funding, we were able to work with a professional design agency to create powerful messaging and graphics.”

The campaign is launching now to coincide with the beginning of shorebird and sea turtle nesting seasons.

"We’d like to give a big shout out to the Fort Myers-based Pearl Creative Agency, which specializes in marine, outdoor, and lifestyle brand marketing, for their expert creative work on all aspects of the campaign," said Linstrom.

To become a partner in getting the word out through your social media channels, or to get a poster to hang in your business, please contact SCCF Communications Director Barbara Linstrom,, or call 239-565-3641.
SCCF Contributes Data to Florida Shorebird Alliance
For more than a decade, SCCF has been a part of the Florida Shorebird Alliance (FSA). The FSA is comprised of a network of regional partnerships that work together for the conservation and protection of shorebirds and seabirds in Florida.

SCCF is part of a Lee/Charlotte partnership. The partnership is made up of various organizations including federal, state, county, and local municipalities, as well as nonprofits and volunteers. The group meets twice a year—in the spring and fall—to discuss the shorebird nesting season.

From March to August every year, the partners complete surveys of their designated routes during the monthly count windows. The synchronized statewide counts help the FSA estimate populations and identify trends. All nesting activity is reported in the Florida Shorebird Database. Nests of solitary nesting shorebirds, such as plovers and oystercatchers, are recorded and monitored differently than those of colonial nesting seabirds, such as skimmers and terns. In addition to ground-nesting birds, there are some species that also nest on rooftops.

SCCF continues to cover the same seven routes on Sanibel and two on Captiva, as well as a North Captiva route, explains SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht. Additionally, staff assist with sites in Fort Myers when coverage is needed. These routes are covered monthly throughout the year for routine shorebird surveys, but additional nesting data is collected during the breeding season count windows.

There are many great resources available on the FSA website, including instructions, manuals, reports, brochures, and even coloring books. To find out more about the FSA or how to get involved, email our shorebird biologist at or visit Florida Shorebird Alliance.
Bailey's Co-Sponsors Spring Issue of Magazine

SCCF would like to extend a big thank you to Bailey’s General Store for co-sponsoring the spring issue of SCCF’s new magazine.

The magazine, Connecting You to Nature, will be mailed island-wide and to all SCCF members in mid-April. The second issue of the seasonal magazine spotlights key research, advocacy, and educational initiatives by SCCF to protect and care for Southwest Florida’s coastal ecosystems.

“For our family, supporting the environment and our community is a long-standing tradition that began two generations ago,” said Bailey's General Store Owner Richard Johnson. “By choosing to shop locally at Bailey’s, you help us carry that forth into the next generation.”

Pictured here with Richard and his wife, Mead Bailey Johnson, are Calli, Bailie, and Dane, the fourth generation of Baileys to help run the general store that was founded in 1899. Another family tradition is to serve the community through leadership on the Sanibel City Council. That tradition is also thriving with Richard now serving as Vice Mayor.

“We are so thankful that Bailey’s is sponsoring our magazine to help spotlight the work our talented team of scientists, educators, and policy advocates do,” said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera. “We're also grateful for the leadership role that Richard and his family play in our community that extends to eco-friendly and sustainable business choices as well.”

SCCF also thanks Uhler & Vertich Financial Planners for stepping up as co-sponsor of next month’s issue of Connecting You to Nature. If your company is interested in future underwriting opportunities, please contact SCCF Development Director Cheryl Giattini at 239-395-2768.
Canopy Restoration Underway at Two SCCF Preserves

Following successful pilot projects, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management has been focused on clearing vegetation overgrowth and reopening wetlands canopies to encourage flora diversification and healthier habitats for wildlife.

The first restoration efforts on SCCF lands with a new John Deere tractor and skid-steer purchased in 2019 are showing remarkable results. Our thanks to Anne Nobles and David Johnson for funding the tractors' purchase. Clearing work on small sections of the Erick Lindblad Preserve and Frannie’s Preserve began shortly after receiving the new equipment, although the onset of the 2019 rainy season slowed efforts. “One of the largest tasks is maintaining historically open-canopy wetlands from hardwood trees and shrubby vegetation invasion,” said Chris Lechowicz, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director. “The 2019 pilot areas had been a mixture of wetlands and transitional wetlands that were no longer functional for most species we manage for.”

Other areas that include transitional wetlands with dense and high-reaching trees and bushes were also cleared in early 2020. The invasion of buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus), saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), which are all native plants, into wetlands change the groundcover and, ultimately, the canopy cover. Seasonal wildfires historically kept the groundcover—and these habitats—in balance. Choked canopies limit the presence of certain forms of wildlife, including wading birds and the Sanibel rice rat. Controlled burning, periodic mowing, and removing select trees in wetlands keep these areas functional for the wildlife species that use them.

The areas that were cleared first are now mostly low-growing sawgrass (Juncus jamaicense) and cordgrass (Spartina bakeri) with a spattering of other species.

“The reopened canopy now allows sunlight to reach these native grasses and other plants that are low to the ground,” Lechowicz said. “The open canopy also allows wading birds to find open pools during the wet season as well as access for their predators. More areas are planned for this type of restoration in the coming year.” 
Mangroves Being Grown by Residents for Restoration in Fall

Coastal Watch is celebrating a successful launch of their newest initiative as more than 140 mangrove propagules are now being cared for in the homes of Back to Our Roots participants.

From January through March, Coastal Watch held five workshops to share the importance of mangroves to our barrier island ecosystem. Coastal Watch Conservation Initiative Coordinator Kealy McNeal led each session virtually via Zoom.

“Our ‘Mangrove Mamas’ and ‘Propagule Papas’ will return their seedlings back to us in November or earlier if they are traveling back up north before the summer heat hits us. The seedlings will then start getting prepared to be planted in their forever home at our restoration sites,” said McNeal

McNeal strongly believes that the issues our local ecosystem faces will only be improved by educating members of the community.

“We had over 80 members of the community participate in our first round of workshops, listening for an hour about mangroves and why Coastal Watch is focusing on restoring mangrove habitats in and around Sanibel,” said McNeal. “My hope is that the participants will not only keep engaging in our initiative by growing mangroves at their homes, but also by passing along what they have learned to others.”

Back to Our Roots workshops have concluded for this season, but will be scheduled again next season. Coastal Watch encourages the community to stay tuned for more information about upcoming mangrove restoration plantings later this year.

For more information on the Back to Our Roots initiative, please click here.
Meet the Natives:
Scorpion Tail

Scorpion tail is in the Boraginaceae family, which is known as the forget-me-not family. Borages are generally herbs, often covered with bristly hairs and when you examine the opposite growing leaves of the scorpion tail up close, you can see these hairs. Other related plants in this genus include sea lavender and chiggery grapes.

The scorpion tail has small, five-petal, white flowers that grow in rows of two on a curved terminal spike. The flower head starts out small and grows and unwinds as it flowers. This unwinding can produce a flower head that can be three or four inches long. This short-lived perennial can grow up to two feet tall and wide. It is said to be deciduous because it is constantly dropping its old leaves and growing new ones, even though the scorpion tail is never completely bald.

This plant is a great butterfly and pollinator attractant. In fact, one of its other common names is butterfly heliotrope! Please come and see us--we currently have all of these plant species in stock.
SCCF's Native Landscapes & Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead is open Monday through Thursday, 10am to 3pm. We will also continue to offer contactless deliveries and curbside pickup. 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 
2021 Florida Legislature Session: Week 3

Federal Stimulus: Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his federal stimulus budget recommendations. Of the $193 billion slated for states and local governments, Florida expects to receive 10 billion. Among other planned spending, the governor wants to set aside $1 billion for his multi-year “Resilient Florida” plan, which would provide grants to local governments to address infrastructure, shoreline erosion, wastewater treatment, and future sea level rise planning. The program will be managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This spending is on top of the current spending proposals included in the governor’s $96.6 billion state budget, which includes other stimulus and economic recovery items.

Legislative bills that progressed last week:

Florida Forever: SB 1480 – Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which extends the date to which bonds can be issued to the Florida Forever program, has passed two of its three assigned committees. Bonds are issued to pay for existing debt service for land and expenditures to the existing Florida Forever land acquisition program. While this is a positive development, there are other Florida Forever-related bills that have been filed that extend bonding and designate a specified funding amount for future land acquisition. Those bills have not yet been scheduled in their respective committees.
Resiliency: There was little discussion in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee during the passage of SB 1954 – Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience. The bill passed unanimously 6-0 and is similar to the House version, HB 7019, which passed last week. The provisions in these bills closely mirror the “Resilient Florida” plan and are expected to pass this session.

TransportationMulti-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES) – SB 100 – Highway Projects is the partial repeal bill of the environmentally devastating toll road expansion bill. SB 100 proposes to return transportation toll road projects to the previously utilized FDOT needs-based project process rather than the political process that created MCORES. While SB 100 proposes to eliminate the southern portion of the proposed toll road planning process, it allocates funds to retrofit existing roadways in the area of the Northern Turnpike Connector in the Big Bend area with potential environmental impacts to existing water and wildlife corridors in that region. This bill passed the last of its Senate committees but may be amended to address some of the concerns expressed during committee debate.

Please visit the 2021 SCCF Legislative tracker for an easy guide to the environmental legislation filed this session. 
Join Weeds 'n' Seeds Virtual Walks to Learn Your Plants
Mark your calendar for the next Weeds ‘n’ Seeds Virtual Walk on Monday, April 5, at 9am. This group of amateur botanists enjoys sharing their enthusiasm for native plants. A leader will be on location, highlighting plants from the field, while another will be showing identifying characteristics through high-resolution pictures in studio.

If you haven’t participated this season, be sure to sign up today! The final walk of the season will take place on Monday, April 19.

Pre-registration is required through Zoom, though you do not need a Zoom account (you will just need to enter your name and email address). If you are new to Zoom and would like a quick walkthrough of features or need to troubleshoot, join the meeting at 8:45am so we can do our best to assist.

Register in advance for Weeds 'n' Seeds on Monday, April 5 at 9am. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Join Green Readers for Eye of the Albatross

Join the Green Readers, SCCF's nature-based book club, for a discussion of Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival by Carl Safina on Tuesday, April 6, at 7pm.

This book earned a John Burroughs Medal for Outstanding Natural History Writing and was selected by SCCF's Coastal Wildlife department. Eye of the Albatross follows the journeys of a Laysan albatross named Amelia as she travels from the sub-Arctic to the tropics. The New York Times Book Review says, "Safina delivers a message full of wonder at the natural world and concern about the fragility of his subject . . .He cannot contain his delight in birds, fish, and the profusion of life on the islands he visits.”

You can follow along with ongoing discussion by joining The Green Reader's Facebook group.

Register in advance to join the Zoom book discussion on Tuesday, April 6 at 7pm. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
On March 9, for our final Evening at the Homestead presentation of the 2021 season, SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht introduced Ken Meyer, Executive Director of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI). Ken shared his research on reddish egrets and swallow-tailed kites.

His in-depth presentation focused on management and conservation lessons learned from ARCI's 32 years of research on the full life cycle of swallow-tailed kites.

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