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

We'll email the next issue on March 10.

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

Thanks to Frances Tutt for this photo of an Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) taken in her backyard on the East End of Sanibel.


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Join us for Annual 'Everglades Update' This Evening

Please join SCCF and the Everglades Foundation on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 6pm to 8pm for a virtual panel discussion to explore the benefits of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir.

Learn more about this critical Everglades restoration project and the benefits it will provide to the Everglades and coastal communities, including how we can keep this project moving forward.

The program will be moderated by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Ph.D., and the panel will include:

  • Steve Davis, Ph.D., Vice President of Communications and Engagement and Senior Ecologist, Everglades Foundation
  • Capt. Daniel Andrews, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Captains for Clean Water
  • Marisa Carrozzo, Everglades and Water Policy Manager, Conservancy of Southwest Florida
  • James Evans, Environmental Policy Director, SCCF

If you miss this evening's presentation, you can watch it on our SCCF YouTube channel where a recording will be posted.
Partnership Aims to Restore Estuaries and Everglades
On Feb. 17, as the cool morning winds blew across San Carlos Bay, a flotilla of boats departed the Punta Rassa boat ramp and headed north towards the mouth of the Caloosahatchee. This was the start of a new partnership between the east and west coasts of Florida aimed at restoring freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee and the Everglades.

Commissioner Ken Russell, representing the City of Miami’s District 2, and his Chief of Staff Abigael Mahony, joined Vice Mayor of the City of Sanibel Holly Smith, SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, and Environmental Policy Director James Evans, along with Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Trust for a boat tour of the Caloosahatchee estuary and Pine Island Sound.
The first stop of the tour was at SCCF’s Shell Point RECON (River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network) station located at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee. James Evans and Eric Milbrandt provided a brief overview of the water management issues and discussed how RECON data are used by water managers when making decisions that impact the Caloosahatchee. The group also discussed the differences between the east and west coast estuaries.

“A marked difference is the Caloosahatchee system, which needs some freshwater during the dry season to balance salinity within the upper estuary—but not too much water, which can impact organisms like seagrasses and oysters in the lower estuary,” said Evans.
The group discussed the synergy between Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects and the need for additional storage, treatment, and conveyance of water south, while recognizing the need to achieve the project objectives outlined in the CERP.

After leaving the mouth of the river, the fleet headed northwest into Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass and stopped near a large oyster reef. While anchored along the reef, Eric Milbrandt took a group to explore it, explaining oyster reef ecology and the impacts the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee are having on the coastal ecosystems of Southwest Florida. Commissioner Russell took great interest in the west coast issues and discussed opportunities for partnering with the City of Miami to reduce the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee—moving more water south, thereby restoring the Everglades ecosystem and helping recharge aquifers for water supply along the lower-east coast.

Before heading back to the dock, the group talked about the many challenges ahead, as well as the opportunities, in working together towards this common goal. The tour participants all felt that this may be the start of a great partnership.
Marine Lab Finds Low to Medium Red Tide Counts

Samples collected by SCCF's Marine Lab and Sanibel Sea School from Feb. 18-22 at local beaches and the back bay have ranged from medium concentrations (>100,000 Karenia sp. cells/liter) to not present, with most samples at low levels.

Click the button below to learn more about red tide and how to track it to avoid respiratory irritation.
Snowy Plover Nesting Season Officially Begins in Florida
Snowy plover nesting season has officially begun in Florida, though the snowy plovers of Sanibel don’t typically lay their first eggs until early April. Over the next month, snowy plovers will begin returning to Sanibel’s beaches to find a mate and establish a nesting territory.

SCCF staff will begin roping off nesting areas as they are identified. Please remember to observe wildlife from a respectful distance and stay out of all posted areas. Snowy plovers and their nests are very small and are hard to see due to their incredible camouflage.

If you see a snowy plover, please email 
Extremely Rare Sanibel Visitor: Iceland Gull

SCCF staff and volunteers participated in the 13th Annual Florida Winter Shorebird Survey to better understand the winter distribution of shorebirds and seabirds and identify long-term trends or changes in winter populations. Staff counted 2,443 individuals of 25 different species.

One of the most interesting, and unexpected, observations was an all-white gull on the East End on Monday, Feb. 8. Staff took several photographs of it before moving on to help an injured pelican. Upon closer inspection of the photographs later and consultation with local birders and experts, the bird was determined to be an Iceland gull (Larus glaucoides), an extremely rare Florida visitor, said SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht.

Iceland gulls nest in Arctic Canada and are typically not seen this far south in the winter. The bird had an orange mark on its neck, which could be related to an injury or some type of staining, Albrecht said.
Several banded birds were observed as well, including this 20-year-old banded royal tern. It was banded as a chick with number 814-48719 in Lola, North Carolina, in July 2001.

“Unfortunately, several sick and dead royal terns were observed as well,” Albrecht noted. “SCCF is working closely with partner agencies including CROW, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the City of Sanibel to monitor conditions affecting these birds.”
These numbers account for the highest numbers of individuals per species in the survey.

Please email any questions related to our shorebirds or any unusual sightings to
New SCCF Magazine & Logo!

SCCF’s new magazine, Connecting You to Nature, launched last week featuring our new logo, as well as news and features from the foundation’s core pillars of our work protecting and caring for land, water, and wildlife.

The cover story features a capital campaign to raise funds to preserve a 12-acre interior parcel that will complete a valuable wildlife corridor in the heart of Sanibel and connect 1.6 miles of contiguous frontage along the Sanibel Slough.

The magazine includes an overview of SCCF’s successful preservation initiatives on the island, the story behind the unveiling of its new branding and logo, and interesting articles on the foundation’s RECON water-monitoring system, nature-friendly water gardens, and much more. It was distributed to all SCCF members, Sanibel and Captiva postal customers, and county and state officials, and leaders at the South Florida Water Management District.

SCCF staff hopes the magazine helps fulfill a key mission: to connect each of us to our roles in nature through:

  • Water Quality Research
  • Policy and Advocacy
  • Sea Turtles and Shorebirds
  • Environmental Education
  • Land and Wildlife

Please share the digital version of the magazine with northern family members, friends, and neighbors who have come to visit you in this island paradise and who also believe in the importance of conserving and protecting our precious environmental resources.

Thanks to our sponsors Sanibel Captiva Trust Company and Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille for making our inaugural issue possible!

If your company is interested in future underwriting opportunities, please contact SCCF Development Director Cheryl Giattini at 239-395-2768.
SCCF's Herpetologist Chris Lechowicz Joins National Group to Combat Turtle Trafficking

SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz recently joined the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles, which is made up of biologists and law enforcement personnel from state, federal, and non-government agencies across the country. This group discusses current issues and trends involving turtle trafficking in the United States, devises solutions to combat trafficking, and protocols for the relocation of confiscated turtles.

It’s a critical time for the important work of the Collaborative, Lechowicz said. Turtles and tortoises were recently declared the most at-risk vertebrate group for extinction, surpassing primates. This designation is primarily from habitat loss, human consumption, traditional medicine use, and an ever-increasing pet trade demand. A global demand for turtles has placed heavy strain on turtle populations in the U.S., especially in the Southeast, which is severely affecting Southwest Florida, including Sanibel.
The illegal trafficking of turtles has become more common, and many law enforcement agencies are now spending more of their time and budgets investigating and thwarting these activities. Most “turtle-rich” states have been strengthening laws to align with neighboring states to close loopholes. “Sea turtles and native tortoises, such as the gopher tortoise, are only slightly affected by this current problem,” Lechowicz said. Primarily aquatic and semi-aquatic species such as box turtles (pictured here), diamondback terrapins, and mud turtles are kept as pets and as a good luck charm or symbol of a long-life or prosperity, mainly in Southeast Asia. They are transported in harsh conditions and investors bid on these poached turtles to sell to turtle-breeding farms or resellers to supply the exploding pet market.

SCCF has increased its efforts to conserve and research non-marine turtles on the island by taking on volunteers to assist with the Terrestrial and Freshwater Turtle Research (TFTR) efforts. This group surveys, measures and marks specific species on Sanibel in order to document movement and longevity data. Volunteers have a badge verifying their identity as part of the SCCF TFTR group.

By the Numbers
There are 360 species of turtles and tortoises throughout the world; 59 species belonging to seven taxonomic families exist in the United States. Florida has a rich diversity of turtles (27 species). Sixteen species (from all seven taxonomic families in the U.S.) either reside or nest on Sanibel, so the island hosts a strong diversity.

All turtles are protected on Sanibel as written in Section 10-6 (a-e) of the Sanibel Code. Sanibel turtles cannot be taken, captured, kept as pets, or killed for consumption. If you see someone catching turtles that is not clearly marked as one of our volunteers, please call the non-emergency phone number for the Sanibel Police Department (239-472-3111). For questions concerning this issue email
Sea Turtle Volunteer Program at Full Capacity
Sea turtle nesting season on our islands is just around the corner and preparation is underway! One important component of preseason planning is volunteer recruitment and scheduling.

The immense amount of work required to survey all of Sanibel and Captiva from April 15 through October is made possible by the efforts of a group of very dedicated volunteers. Nearly 100 SCCF volunteers contribute to sea turtle monitoring, with many returning to devote their time year after year.

Over the last several years, SCCF has experienced an unprecedented rise in new volunteer registration. While this increased interest is incredibly encouraging for the program and for the conservation of vulnerable sea turtles, this influx of new requests also presents a challenge: more passionate people than opportunities to participate.
Our survey structure is designed by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the number of volunteer positions available is defined by its format, explained SCCF Coastal Wildlife Biologist Jack Brzoza. Currently, the number of names on the waitlist, some of whom signed up several years ago, has eclipsed 100—more than our entire group of active volunteers. Only a few volunteer openings occur each year and the later waitlist additions may be several seasons out from participating.

“We regret that we can no longer accept new volunteer requests or add to the waitlist at this time,” Brzoza said. “Unfortunately, it’s not possible to involve all of the wonderful members of our community offering to volunteer their time in a way that would provide everyone with a meaningful sea turtle volunteer experience.” Amidst this challenge, the influx of support we've seen through volunteer requests has proven once again that our community is exceptionally encouraging and passionate.
Don't Let Wedelia Go Wild

It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week—what better time to take a look at one of our worst invasive plants? An invasive plant is a plant one that is not endemic to a particular region or ecosystem and is able to outcompete native vegetation and cause disruption to local habitats. A good example in Southwest Florida is wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata).

Originally introduced into the U.S. as an ornamental plant, it is a sprawling groundcover that can quickly blanket a wide area (and other plants) if permitted to thrive unchecked. It roots at nodes as the stems creep along the ground, and removal is difficult because it will resprout from any of those nodes if left behind.

For this reason, mowing wedelia is not advised because its spread can be compounded when small, chopped pieces spread into a larger area. Being in the Aster family, flowers are yellow and daisy-shaped, and can be confused with the islands’ native dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis).
It is highly recommended to remove as much wedelia as possible from your property, though it may be a slow process that requires a healthy dose of patience.

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 
Sanibel Sea School Welcomes Two New Marine Science Educators

Join us in welcoming two new marine science educators to our team of ocean advocates. They arrived in time to help kick off Sanibel Sea School’s busy spring and summer seasons and will be working in educational programming for children and families.

Joey Garofano is no stranger to Sanibel. He previously worked as a tour guide with Segway Tours of Sanibel and is familiar with the flora and fauna of Southwest Florida. Garofano studied youth programming and camp management at University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, where he earned a solid foundation in environmental education and took his skills across the United States teaching children of all ages. As a Boy Scout and lover of the natural environment, Garofano is excited to share his passion with kids at Sanibel Sea School during classes, summer camps, and specialty programs.

Kimberly Bowukamp will be joining the Sanibel Sea School as a seasonal educator and will work through August, primarily assisting with educational day courses. Originally from Michigan, Bowukamp recently graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife and a concentration in wildlife biology. Bowukamp worked as an environmental education volunteer on the east coast of Florida and also as an interpretative park ranger at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. She is excited to continue to learn about the marine environment on Sanibel and share the excitement of ocean discovery with kids.
SCCF’s James Evans Presenting on Water Quality Challenges & Everglades Restoration

SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans will give a virtual presententation on “Southwest Florida’s Water Quality Challenges and the Urgent Need to Complete Everglades Restoration” tomorrow Feb. 25 at 5pm. 

Part of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum H20 Art Exhibition, his presentation will explore water quality issues from state, regional and local perspectives, focusing on the impact water quality is having in Southwest Florida. He will discuss the factors contributing to poor water quality and harmful algal blooms — such as blue-green algae and red tide — and how harmful algal blooms in 2018 impacted the ecology of our coastal waters and the local economy.

To celebrate its current H2O Art Exhibition, on display through April 30, the Shell Museum is presenting a free three-lecture series on the life-giving liquid.
SCCF’s Jenny Evans Presents“Reframing Our Perspective: Gardening in Southwest Florida” 

Jenny Evans, SCCF Native Landscapes & Adult Education Director, is presenting “Reframing Our Perspective: Gardening in Southwest Florida” on Tuesday, March 2 at 4pm, as part of the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) weekly Virtual Speaker Series.

Evans will discuss how yards can be attractive while becoming a refuge for local wildlife and a place to conserve natural resources. Evans has a graduate degree in public garden management from Cornell University in New York and has been an SCCF manager since 2005. She enjoys teaching people about the natural world and helping them to make the connection between plants, people, and wildlife.

The hour-long talks are presented through Zoom and are limited to 100 participants so advanced registration is required. Admission per device is $10 plus taxes and fees. The CROW Virtual Speaker Series is presented by LCEC.
Join Green Readers for Book Discussion

The Green Readers, SCCF's nature-based book club, is pleased to announce that February's book selection is Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. As the book that partially inspired Sanibel Sea School's hands-on, nature-based curriculum, this month's selection can be enjoyed equally by young adults and the young-at-heart. All ages are welcome at this month's virtual discussion, scheduled for Thursday, March 4, at 5pm. (Regular participants: Please note the time change!)

Carl Hiaasen is a well-known novelist and columnist for the Miami Herald. The New York Times notes that Hoot is “...about greedy developers, corrupt politicians, clueless cops, and middle-school screwballs of all persuasions. You don't have to be a young adult to enjoy it. Hoot is a story of good versus evil: how to save a species of owl endangered by the imminent construction of the 469th Mother Paula's All-American House of Pancakes."

Join the Green Readers group on Facebook at Green Readers Facebook Group.

Register in advance to join the Zoom book discussion on March 4 at 5pm. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Adopt Your Very Own Mangrove at Educational Workshop
Join us for a "Back to Our Roots" workshop on Saturday, March 6 at 10am to learn the value of mangroves on our islands through community involvement. The goal of this initiative is to spread awareness in the community about the importance of mangroves – trees that are so important, yet vulnerable to coastal development.

Through this educational initiative, Coastal Watch is inviting the community to participate by “adopting” their very own mangrove to grow and care for to be planted at various mangrove restoration sites around Sanibel and Captiva.

This workshop is will allow participants to gain a deeper understanding of mangrove biology and their role in the marine ecosystem, and learn about the need for restoration in Southwest Florida. Participants will also learn how to care for the mangrove they will receive. The mangroves will be collected and planted at restoration sites around Sanibel in the fall of 2021.
'Weeds & Seeds' Virtual Walks Focus on Native Plants
Weeds & Seeds walks have gone (mostly) virtual—please join SCCF for the next walk on Monday, March 8 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.

Walks will occur on every other Monday at 9am through the end of March.

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 & Seeds on Monday, March 8th, 9am. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Final Evening at the Homestead: Swallow-Tail Kites
The final presentation for the season of SCCF’s Evenings at the Homestead has been changed from the topic of fire to the biology of swallow-tailed kites.

Join us on Tuesday, March 9 at 7pm, for an engaging presentation on the conservation biology of swallow-tail kites (Elanoides forficatus). The graceful black-and-white fliers with narrow, pointed wings, slim bodies, and a forked tail frequent swamps, marshes, and large rivers, especially in Florida. These migratory avians head to South America at the end of summer.

Register for the lecture, which will be presented virtually on Tuesday, Mar. 9, at 7pm. If you missed our previous Evenings at the Homestead, you can view them online on our SCCF YouTube Channel.
Solutions for a Sustainable, Renewable Energy Future for Sanibel and the Region

Join co-hosts SCCF and the Sanibel Community House for a conversation about building a green energy future to protect property values, sustain water and ecosystem health, and
keep our economy vibrant.

The virtual presentation on Tuesday, March 23, 6:30pm to 8pm, will spotlight “Solutions for a Sustainable, Renewable Energy Future for Sanibel and the Region.”

The event will feature a panel of four speakers introduced and moderated by Bob Moore, Senior Vice President of Training and Program Development at Health Management Resources. He also is an SCCF volunteer and co-founder with his wife, Ariel Hoover, of the Lee County Climate Reality Project.

Speakers will include:

  • James Evans, SCCF Environmental Policy Director. Evans will explain why resiliency and climate change policy is critical for Sanibel from the perspectives of water quality/ecosystem protection, quality of life, and economic prosperity.

  • Keynote: Dunedin Mayor Julie Bujalski and Dunedin Sustainability Coordinator Natalie Gass. Dunedin is a coastal city with many similarities to Sanibel and is one of the Florida cities that has made a commitment to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy in its city facilities by 2035 and citywide by 2050. They’ll discuss how the city came to make that commitment, why they believe it is important to the city’s future prosperity, and their plans to achieve it.

  • Richard Johnson, owner of Bailey’s General Store. Johnson will speak about the benefits of rooftop solar from the perspective of a business owner, focusing on why it makes business sense in direct cost savings and for building goodwill in the community.

  • Julia Herbst, Gulf Coast Regional Coordinator, Solar United Neighbors (SUN). Herbst will explain how SUN has worked to make solar affordable for homeowners and businesses through the organization of solar co-ops. She will also address the policy initiative SUN is working on now to legalize solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) in Florida. PPA’s are a funding mechanism that make it easier for schools, municipalities, and nonprofits to finance solar projects and benefit from the cost savings.

There will be an opportunity for questions from the audience with discussion by panel members following the presentations.
Katharine Hayhoe: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Join our friends at BIG ARTS for a virtual visit on Thursday, March 4 at 4pm by climate expert Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D., co-director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University. Named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People” and Fortune’s “50 Greatest Leaders,” Haydoe will provide the audience with the latest research on global warming, as well steps we all can take to protect the environment for future generations. Haydoe earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois and holds honorary doctorates from Colgate University and Victoria College at the University of Toronto.
SWFL Climate Compass Series Features Free Virtual Lectures
Growing Climate Solutions is introducing a free, three-part, virtual speaker series to address the changing climate and its impact on the region. The SWFL Climate Compass Series will feature prominent national speakers discussing critical aspects of climate change, including politics, maritime activity, and real estate.

Registration is free. Each event takes place on a Wednesday at 4 pm. Here is the speaker lineup:

  • March 24: The Nexus of Our Climate, Oceans, and Security: Challenges and Opportunities will be presented by Ret. Rear Admiral Jonathan White, an advisory board member for the Center for Climate and Security and president/CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.
  • April 21: The Coastal Real Estate Reckoning is Already Happening will be presented by Wharton School of Business Professor Benjamin Keys, who also is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Growing Climate Solutions formed in 2019 as a partnership between the Community Foundation of Collier County, Southwest Florida Community Foundation, Florida Gulf Coast University, and Conservancy of Southwest Florida. It has expanded to include community leaders from the business, health, civic, faith, and nonprofit sectors across the five-county region.
On Wednesday evening, Feb. 10, SCCF recorded a City Council Candidate Forum on the Environment. Watch CEO Ryan Orgera moderate a socially-distanced panel featuring all candidates up for election next week. Click here to watch.
Click here to subscribe to the Wednesday Update and other SCCF mailing lists.
Stay Connected!