Wednesday Update
January 13, 2021
Welcome to the first 2021 edition of the Wednesday Update!

We'll email the next issue on Jan. 27.

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 American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) feeding.


Please send your photos to to be featured in an upcoming issue.
Marine Lab Monitoring Red Tide Around Islands
Today's daily sampling map from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), pictured here, shows that a patchy bloom of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, persists in Southwest Florida based on sampling conducted over the past eight days.

This afternoon's mid-week update reported that background to high concentrations of K. brevis were detected in 42 samples over the past week. Medium bloom concentrations (>100,000 cells/liter) were observed in 32 samples collected from Lee and Collier counties, according to the FWC.

As indicated by the dots on this map, background to high concentrations were recorded in Lee County in 24 samples, and medium to high concentrations in and offshore of Collier County were observed in 17 samples.

Daily samples collected by SCCF's Marine Lab and Sanibel Sea School at local beaches and back bay waters have ranged from high concentrations (>1 million K. brevis cells/liter) to low (>10,000 cells/liter).

"Today we counted low levels mid-island on Sanibel and a high level at the Lighthouse," said SCCF Research Scientist Rick Bartleson. "Recent counts at Bowman's Beach have been medium, while counts at the Lighthouse and the Sanibel boat ramp have been high recently."

Those counts and others are uploaded to the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System's (GCOOS) continually-updated Red Tide Respiratory Forecast. Once you open the online tool, you can click on various beaches for updated conditions.

For instance, based on winds and K. brevis counts, today's forecast was for high irritation at the South Seas beach on Captiva and for low to very low irritation on Sanibel.

Click here for the GCOOS Red Tide Respiratory Forecast. Though experimental, it is proving to be an effective way to avoid respiratory irritation.
'Most Vertical Person on Earth' to Speak at Memorial Lecture
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan will talk about her amazing career as “the most vertical person on Earth” at the 3rd Annual Paul McCarthy Memorial Lecture on Feb. 4.

“We are honored to have Dr. Sullivan share her fascinating story of being the first person to both orbit the planet and reach its deepest point,” said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera.

Aside from her amazing experiences of spending more than 500 hours in space and plunging seven miles down into the depths of the ocean, Sullivan has held a variety of senior executive positions.

“Her presidential appointments to the National Science Board and as Chief Scientist, Deputy Administrator and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also give her a singular perspective,” said Orgera, who met Sullivan on several occasions when he worked for the United States Senate.

A distinguished scientist, astronaut, and ocean explorer, Sullivan joined the NASA astronaut corps in 1978 and holds the distinction of being the first American woman to walk in space. Her submersible dive to the Challenger Deep in June of 2020 made her the first woman to dive to full ocean depth.
The Paul McCarthy Memorial Lecture Series was conceived by the Boler Family Foundation, which underwrites the speaker fees and expenses, as a way to honor a dear family friend, Paul McCarthy, founder of Captiva Cruises and an active presence on the islands for years. Feb. 6 would have been McCarthy’s 68th birthday.

This year, the lecture will be presented virtually through Zoom. Unlike other SCCF presentations this year, the 45-minute lecture will only be offered live at 5:30pm on Thursday, Feb. 4. It will not be available for recorded viewing.

Sullivan is also the author of Handprints on Hubble, An Astronaut’s Story of Invention (MIT Press, 2019), which is the January selection for SCCF’s nature-inspired book club, The Green Readers. The discussion for the book will take place the night before the lecture, on Wednesday, Feb. 3. SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera will be joining our discussion. Links to the discussion and more information coming soon!

Click here to register for the lecture. $20 for adults; $10 for students.
EAA Reservoir—The Keystone of Everglades Restoration  
By James Evans, Environmental Policy Director

On January 10, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 19-12, Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment. This executive order outlines the governor’s priorities and goals for protecting the state’s waters and natural resources, which are the foundation of Florida’s communities, economy, and way of life.

Among the governor’s top priorities for reducing the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal estuaries was a plan to accelerate the construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. The EAA Reservoir remains a top priority for the coastal communities and Everglades advocates because it is the only Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) project that will both reduce the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and restore freshwater flows to the Everglades.

The EAA Reservoir was one of the original CERP projects, conditionally authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (SFWMD), and remains a keystone of Everglades Restoration. The current project authorized by Congress in 2018 includes an above-ground reservoir capable of storing 240,000 acre-feet (~78 billion gallons) of water, a 6,500-acre wetland stormwater treatment area (STA) to clean the water, and infrastructure to convey water from Lake Okeechobee south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

It is estimated that in combination with previously authorized CERP projects, the EAA Reservoir will reduce discharge volumes to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by 55 percent and reduce mean monthly high-flow discharge events by 63 percent (SFWMD 2018). At the same time, this project would almost double the flows south to the central Everglades from 210,000 acre-feet (~68 billion gallons) to 370,000 acre-feet (~120 billion) (SFWMD 2018).  

Recently, some lawmakers in Florida have raised concerns about the EAA Reservoir, citing budget shortfalls related to the COVID-19 pandemic to justify halting the project. The reality is that Everglades restoration is estimated to provide a 4:1 return on investment. For each dollar spent on restoration, four dollars are generated to support Florida’s economy (Mather Economics 2012).

Moreover, any delays in a project that has already broken ground will prevent critical ecosystem restoration benefits from being realized for both the Everglades and the estuaries and will ultimately cost Florida taxpayers more in the long term.

Now is not the time to delay funding for the EAA Reservoir. We need to stay the course and continue to invest in Florida’s future.
Virtual Everglades Update to Address Importance of EAA
To learn more about the benefits of the EAA Reservoir project, please join us on Feb. 24 from 6-8pm for a panel discussion. SCCF, in partnership with the Everglades Foundation, will be hosting a virtual Everglades Update.

The program will feature a panel discussion about the importance of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. The panel will include:
  • Steve Davis, Ph.D., 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

The program will be moderated by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Ph.D..

Registration will be opening soon.
Learn About Sand Dunes at Next Evening at Homestead

Dr. Patrick Hesp, will present an engaging and informative talk called, Sand Dunes, A Global & Local Perspective on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Dr. Hesp will examine the major coastal dune types that exist in the world, how they are initiated, their geomorphology, and their relationships to climate. Dunes typical of the Gulf and Florida coasts will also be discussed, and their evolutionary paths as sea level rises will be detailed.

Dr. Hesp is the former Head of Geography and Anthropology at LSU (Baton Rouge), and currently the Strategic Professor of Coastal Studies at Flinders University in South Australia. He is a world expert on coastal dunes, and has conducted studies on both coastal and desert dunes all over the world. He currently has ongoing research in Poland, W. Sahara, The Canaries (Spain), NW China and Tibet, New Zealand, and Australia.

The talk will be at 7pm via Zoom. It will also be archived on the SCCF YouTube Channel if you are not able to attend. Click here to register.

Save the date for this upcoming Evening at the Homestead:

Tuesday, Mar. 9 at 7pm
Florida Needs Fire!, presented by Reed Noss, Florida Institute for Conservation Science
A Different Journey: Hiking During Wet Conditions
The winter months invite increased visitation to the island and more frequent use of SCCF’s hiking trails. In recent years our trails, such as the Erick Lindblad Preserve trails, were either dry or drying out by January. However, as a result of the active wet season of 2020, most of the trails are currently impassable without waterproof boots and expectations of getting muddy.

“Many people aren’t aware that hiking through shallow puddles or muddy trails during non-dry times can be quite enjoyable with the proper footwear and clothing,” said Chris Lechowicz, Director, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management. “Not only is it less crowded, but there are often different and increased opportunities to see wildlife, especially species that you may not see otherwise, such as river otters, freshwater fish, frogs, and aquatic reptiles.”
Florida is known for its vast wetlands, and wet hikes are not uncommon. Some ecotour companies offer guided wet hikes in areas such as Big Cypress National Preserve.

If you are planning to embark on this type of adventurous hike, wear rubber or waterproof boots with long pants. When standing water is present, mosquitoes are not far away, so long-sleeve shirts are recommended, as well as sunscreen and insect repellent.

A walking stick is recommended to help you maintain your balance and footing, and to feel the depth of puddles in front of you before you walk through them. Please remember to stay on the trails at all times.
Probing Mysterious Life Stages and Strandings of Sea Turtles
The SCCF sea turtle program is focused on ensuring the survival of sea turtles through nest monitoring, research, education, training, advocacy, and habitat protection. Achieving these goals is becoming increasingly complex in the face of coastal development, climate change, ocean plastics, habitat loss, and a wide variety of emerging and worsening threats.

In addition to the identifiable threats, there are also some profound mysteries that sometimes stymie sea turtle conservation efforts.

“Our brief experience with them on the beach provides an important glimpse into their lives, but relatively little is known about sea turtles from the time the tiny hatchlings enter the open ocean until they return 25 to 30 years later to nest as adults,” said SCCFCoastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan. “Where do they go when they leave? What route do they take to get there? Where and when are human activities more likely to affect their survival and their health?”

Understanding sea turtle behavior at each of their life stages is critical for ensuring their survival. Satellite telemetry has been used widely to explore these mysteries by tracking their movements at sea and has had profound impacts on in-water conservation efforts, connecting life history, ecology, and hazardous intersections for turtles. SCCF staff members have successfully deployed 17 satellite tags on loggerhead and green sea turtles to help make these connections for the turtles nesting in Southwest Florida.
An unfortunate but important way to learn more about the in-water threats they face is by documenting the sources of morbidity and mortality in strandings (sea turtles that are found dead, sick, or injured). The Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN) is a cooperative effort comprised of federal, state, and permitted private partners along the entire coast from Maine to Texas. STSSN participants report sea turtle strandings to a centralized database so that trends and emerging issues can be identified and addressed.

In the decade preceding the 2018 red tide—from 2007 to 2017—an average of 31 strandings were reported annually by SCCF on Sanibel and Captiva. During the catastrophic red tide event, that number skyrocketed to 205 (with an additional 51 reported by CROW). In 2019 and 2020, our stranding totals were 55 and 41, respectively.

The species composition in 2020 was 23 loggerheads (Caretta caretta), comprising 56 percent; 15 green turtles (Chelonia mydas), making up 36 percent, two Kemp’s ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii), and one unidentifiable species due to its state of decomposition. Boat strikes (13) and predation (15) represented the most significant source of mortality last year. It is unknown if these injuries occurred pre- or post-mortem. In six strandings, there were no obvious injuries, and the cause of death could not be determined using external evaluation alone.

Each of these life-cycle puzzle pieces has guided strategic sea turtle conservation for decades. We remain committed to collecting the data that build these national databases to give turtles a brighter future.
Viva Florida Grant Funds Enhanced Wetland Garden

In May, the SCCF Native Landscapes and Garden Center was awarded the Viva Florida Landscape Demonstration grant funded by the Florida Wildflower Foundation. The grant funds were used to enhance an existing demonstration garden at the Bailey Homestead Preserve.

Stacey Matrazzo, program manager for the Florida Wildflower Foundation, said SCCF’s project was “only the second wetland garden ever proposed to the foundation.” She added: “We saw it as an opportunity to showcase the beauty of wetland wildflowers while demonstrating how they can be used in home landscapes. We have great confidence in SCCF staff and volunteers to create and maintain a beautiful and beneficial project.”

The wetland garden area was originally implemented in 2015 as a dry, wildflower meadow demonstration garden. The following year, an irrigation system was installed in the retail space adjacent to the site. Over the course of that year, the irrigation runoff from the retail area began to settle in the lower-lying dry wildflower meadow, causing many of the plants to gradually die off or become unhealthy. The Viva Florida grant allowed SCCF to address drainage issues and introduce native wetland plants that were more appropriate for the existing site conditions. The redesign and replanting vastly improved the aesthetics and utility of the garden and the space now teaches visitors about the many benefits of wetland (littoral) plants.
This summer, the Hammerheads, a group of local volunteers, constructed an elevated walkway through the center of the garden that allows visitors better access to the plants without getting their feet wet. A drain was installed around the perimeter of the garden to divert standing water away from the main walkway.

Once the site preparation was finished, SCCF Native Landscapes and Garden Center staff planted about 30 different species of wetland plants. The new wetland pollinator garden currently showcases native wetland shrubs, wildflowers, and groundcovers that local residents can utilize in areas of their yard that hold water seasonally or year-round.

The Native Landscapes & Garden SCCF's Native Landscapes and Garden Center at the Bailey Homestead is now 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 
“Natives in the Garden” Exhibit Opens on Jan. 19

More than a dozen locally created 3D works have been submitted for the joint SCCF and Sanibel-Captiva Art League “Natives in the Garden” outdoor exhibit at the Bailey Homestead Preserve, opening Monday, Jan. 19, 10am to 3pm.

The original works of weather-resilient, outdoor art featured in “Natives in the Garden” were created by members of the Sanibel-Captiva Art League and SCCF, and 20 percent of the proceeds of works sold will support SCCF’s mission. Pictured here is a piece submitted by Nancy Watkins.

“The “Natives in the Garden” exhibit offers the opportunity to expand upon our previous collaborations with the Sanibel-Captiva Art League. We've been co-hosting indoor, 2D exhibits over the past couple of years,” said SCCF Natives Landscapes & Adult Education Director Jenny Evans. “This is a unique opportunity to display the artists’ works in our gardens. We’ve received a great diversity of pieces that lend a bit of whimsy to our outdoor spaces. We couldn't be more excited to have visitors discover the art.”

The exhibit runs through March 12.
Grow Your Own Mangrove Through New Coastal Watch Initiative

Coastal Watch is hosting two “Back to Our Roots” virtual workshops over the next week to help participants gain a deeper understanding of the biology of mangroves and their role in Southwest Florida’s marine ecosystem.

Mangroves are a vital source of energy, provide nursery habitats for juvenile fish, nesting habitat for wading birds, stabilize shorelines by reducing erosion, and are a buffer against storm damage. Many people are familiar with these iconic trees, but few may understand how tightly linked they are to the marine ecosystem in Southwest Florida.

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

Workshop participants will receive a starter kit to grow their mangrove at home until it is ready to be planted at a local restoration site during a community planting event this fall. The virtual workshops are Saturday, Jan. 16 at 1pm and Thursday, Jan. 21 at 6pm. 
Sea Level Rise: A Threat to Coastal Wildlife and Ecosystems
By Luke Miller, Environmental Policy Intern 

Sea level rise is among the largest threats to Florida’s coastal wildlife habitats. Many species depend on valuable coastline for their nesting sites, and the prospect of heightened sea levels that could impact these habitats is certainly cause for concern.

Florida in particular is especially vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise. The Sunshine State has more than 1,200 miles of coastline, almost 4,500 square miles of estuaries and bays, and more than 6,700 square miles of other coastal waters. Many Florida ecosystems are highly susceptible to the effects of sea level rise, including shorelines, barrier islands, bays, estuaries, lagoons, sounds, tidal salt marshes and creeks, mangrove swamps, shellfish beds, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and oyster bars.

Sea level rise and its related effects are already occurring, and they will continue to accelerate under current environmental conditions. Scientists with the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact have forecasted between 17 to 31 inches of sea level rise by 2060, and up to 74 inches by 2100. For Sanibel, three feet of sea level rise would leave almost all of our low-lying wetland habitats, which includes the vast majority of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Tarpon Bay, Sanibel Slough, and the bayous, completely underwater (NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer, 2020).
Such drastic changes to the island’s landscape would cause dramatic effects on the wildlife species that make their homes along our coastlines. Among the species at highest risk of extinction due to sea level rise are sea turtles and shorebirds that nest on sandy beaches (Center for Biological Diversity, 2013). Habitat loss would force these species to find homes elsewhere, and that transition could seriously reduce population numbers as they are forced to relocate to suitable habitats.

Fortunately, there are ways we can combat sea level rise and its effects on our barrier islands and coastal communities. Across Florida, municipalities are teaming up to form regional climate compacts, which share resources and coordinate management efforts to make our communities more resilient to sea level rise and the effects of climate change. Locally, the Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact aims to address these challenges.

By sharing expertise, scientific data, and other resources, the region can maximize the efficiency of its efforts against climate change. Coordinating efforts will put Southwest Florida in a good position to qualify for state and federal funding for projects to mitigate the impacts of sea level rise. Regional compacts also provide a mechanism for advocating for policies that can help reduce greenhouse gasses, support cleaner energy (solar electricity, wind power), and forest preservation to achieve regional carbon neutrality.

If Florida’s communities enact policies such as these, we will be in a much better position to combat climate change and its associated effects on sea levels. 
Sanibel Sea School Thrilled to Offer One Session of Winter Camp

Sanibel Sea School was excited to offer one session of winter camp, themed “New Year, New Ocean,” during the last week of December.

In order to keep campers, employees, and the community safe, the staff at Sanibel Sea School implemented several COVID-19 safety procedures throughout the week. The camp was limited to 20 participants that were split into smaller, separate groups, and masks, social distancing, and frequent hand-washing were incorporated throughout the week. With these precautions, the education team was able to pull off a successful and safe winter camp.

The camp’s theme celebrated getting back to nature after a challenging year for all. In addition to enjoying the beautiful Sanibel outdoors, counselors shared the importance of environmental conservation, and held a camp-wide “bioblitz” to teach about the creatures that are all around us. The campers cataloged all of the plants, animals, and shells that they encountered on the East End of Sanibel.
“It was so nice to get back to a small sense of normalcy because we weren’t able to hold our summer camps this year,” said Sea School Director Nicole Finnicum. “We were thrilled to have campers back in our building and to get back to our favorite activities, like surf paddling.”

Campers also participated in Sanibel Sea School’s annual “Give Your Worries to the Sea” ceremony. “Each camper writes down what’s been troubling or worrying them over the past year and then we burn the papers in a small campfire,” said Education Programs Manager Shannon Stainken. “Then we head to our favorite beach, and each camper throws a pinch of ashes into the sea, allowing the ocean to wash our worries away.”

After a successful week of winter camp, Sanibel Sea School hopes to implement these procedures during its 2021 summer camp. Registration will open in February; details will be announced later in January.
Outdoor Classes Focus on Freshwater Habitats

The Sanibel School’s fourth-grade classes recently visited SCCF’s Pick Preserve, located directly across the street from the school, for a Habitat Study Field Trip.

Led by SCCF Educator Richard Finkel, students in Julie Wappes’ and Daryl Peters’ classes observed and recorded the defining plant life within the interior of Sanibel.

“Discovering the diversity of life found within the ecosystem clearly revealed the importance of freshwater habitats for the students,” Finkel said. “Students enjoyed the outdoor classroom and writing about their observations and excitement into descriptive narratives in the Pick Preserve’s gazebo.”
Roskamp Red Tide Project: Slots Filled for Mobile Lab on Sanibel; Seeking More Volunteers

More than 50 residents of Sanibel and Captiva responded to the call for participants to volunteer for a clinical study by the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota that is investigating whether red tide has neurological impacts on humans.

"All of our slots filled up two weeks ago for our mobile lab on Sanibel this Saturday," said study leader David Patterson. "But we still need more people for the study, especially right now while there's an active red tide bloom."

The mobile lab will be parked in the Sanibel Public Library parking lot from 9am to 2pm on Saturday, Jan. 16, to take blood and urine samples from those who have signed up for the study.

The project, which is the first step in establishing a potential medical diagnosis, is still looking for more volunteers to participate at the Roskamp Institute's lab in Sarasota.

“The response has been tremendous. We have people from 30 to 90 years of age signed up. Some say they don't feel anything from the current red tide bloom and others say they can't leave the house,” said Patterson. “It’s about a 90-minute drive and we really encourage people to volunteer. We need a robust group of volunteers to fulfill the critical goals of this research.”

Watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and a red tide “tickle” in the throat are associated with the aerosolized brevetoxin, though many people have also reported headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and disorientation during active blooms.

This is the first human trial of its kind to investigate whether exposure to red tide toxins can contribute to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological issues, or impact different organs, by gathering data on the presence of antibodies and biomarkers in individuals.

“Until a study such as this one is done, you can’t get a medical diagnosis because there have not been any human trials documenting impacts,” said Patterson. "Some people have called looking for a diagnosis and decide not to take part when they realize it's not a doctor's appointment."

To sign up for the study, call David Patterson at (941) 256-8018, ext. 3008. The Roskamp Institute is located at 2040 Whitfield Ave. in Sarasota.
In case you missed us on ABC-7/NBC-2...

On Jan. 8, SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans explained how onshore winds impact the release of neurotoxins from red tide blooms. Click here to watch.
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