Connecting You to Nature Winter 2021

Page 1

Winter 2021


Acre Conservation

Periwinkle Wetlands Campaign

Water Quality Periwinkle Wetlands, East of Purdy Drive

Winter 2021

Connecting You to Nature is published by SCCF, a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) founded in 1967 on Sanibel Island, Florida. Through stories about how we fulfill our mission to protect and care for Southwest Florida’s coastal ecosystems, we hope to deepen your understanding of how our land, water, and wildlife depend on our stewardship. Ryan Orgera, CEO Barbara Linstrom, Editor Doug Cook, Design CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Audrey Albrecht, Jack Brzoza, James Evans, Jenny Evans, Nicole Finnicum, Chris Lechowicz, Barbara Linstrom, Kealy McNeal CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Doug Cook, David Meardon, Karl Werner SPONSORING PARTNERS The Sanibel-Captiva Trust Company Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille OPEN TO THE PUBLIC Native Landscapes & Garden Center at Bailey Homestead Preserve 1300 Periwinkle Way (239) 472-1932 Sanibel Sea School 455 Periwinkle Way (239) 472-8585 Main Office (239) 472-2329 SCCF Sea Turtle Hotline (978) 728-3663 Shorebird Inquiries | P.O. Box 839, Sanibel, FL 33957

Over the past year, SCCF has been engaged in the development of a new logo—one that represents our evolution to who and what we are today. This new publication is just the right place to reveal it. The new logo is based on three elements and inspired by the work we do to protect land, water, and wildlife. LAND Sawgrass is an iconic wetland plant—giving the River of Grass its famous nickname. Our islands would have originally been covered in marsh vegetation, including sawgrass. Wetlands are at the heart of our restoration and preservation efforts and are the geographic feature that makes our islands so unique. WATER The subtle blue waves reflect our work on water quality, marine wildlife, and sea-level rise—a central theme in SCCF's work, from wetlands to the Caloosahatchee and the Gulf of Mexico. WILDLIFE Inspired by the royal tern, we chose a shorebird to represent this third pillar of SCCF’s work. Shorebirds are a great representation of the space where water and land connect, and they symbolize the importance of the monitoring and research work we do with various species of wildlife. New tagline, too! “Connecting you to nature” is SCCF’s ethic—we want you to protect and care for the nature around us!

The iconic SCCF logo served our organization well for 53 years. Our new logo acknowledges how we have evolved from our founding focus on land to our expanded focus on coastal ecosystems today.




Original drawing by Founding Board Member Ann Winterbotham

Sanibel artist Ikki Matsumoto stylized the drawing

Shades of blue and green, still retained in the new logo, were added


Dear Friends, Welcome to our new magazine Connecting You to Nature! Our title is more than just a name: It is an ethic. We have spent the last 53 years fighting to keep our islands special and unique in the history of Florida. The incredible love our communities have for our shared nature has allowed us to be stewards of these incredible ecosystems. As our region grows, as our islands meet so many new people, it is SCCF’s charge to make sure we all remember what makes our communities so special. We work to connect each of us to our roles in nature through:

Ryan Orgera

• Water Quality Research • Policy and Advocacy • Sea Turtles and Shorebirds • Environmental Education • Land and Wildlife SCCF has grown considerably since 1967. We were founded to acquire environmentally sensitive lands on our islands. By all measures, SCCF has been extraordinarily successful in protecting our natural spaces—I can brag because this occurred before I arrived—and this adventure is not over yet! You’ll learn in this issue about our newest slice of paradise we need your help to save. We hope to restore a highly disturbed habitat, offering a new community connection to our wetlands in the heart of Sanibel’s busiest corridor. Today our energy must also be spent protecting Captiva and Sanibel from the outside. Water quality and sea-level rise threaten our connection to the nature of our islands. We cannot turn a blind eye; we have to face these challenges squarely and move the needle toward balance. You have entrusted us with the humbling responsibility of being your honest broker of information. Our agenda is the wellbeing of all our communities of life, human and natural. There is not a shred of light between a healthy environment and a healthy economy in our region—the interconnectivity is direct and imperative. I hope this magazine helps each of us reflect on our roles in natural systems. Never underestimate your single voice. Thank you for being ambassadors for our critters and lands. We are indeed connected. Stay safe and well, Ryan Orgera

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The Periwinkle Wet Campaign WATER QUALITY

JOIN IN THE LEGACY OF LAND ACQUISITION By becoming a member, you'll also support SCCF's mission to protect and care not just for these unique and treasured barrier islands, but Southwest Florida's overall ecosystems.


AT THE HEART OF SANIBEL AND CAPTIVA IS A BOND FORGED AMONG US ALL— a deep and nourishing connection to nature. Often, it was made by


parents and grandparents before us, passed down generationally. It is what defines those of us who seek refuge and residence here, where manmade changes must coexist with nature rather than obliterating it. Since the formation of the Inter Island Association for Conservation in 1937, people have been deeply inspired to protect and care for the amazing natural beauty and wildlife of our islands. Collectively, through SCCF’s roots in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and our partnership through the incorporation of the City of Sanibel, we have preserved nearly 70 percent of Sanibel. Formed in 1967, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) was founded with the core mission of preserving Sanibel’s unique interior freshwater system. In 2021, we have an incredible opportunity to inch closer to completing that goal by acquiring 12-plus acres through the Periwinkle Wetlands Campaign.

Interior wetlands at the Erick Lindblad Preserve

“We are very excited to come closer to completing the goals established by our founders,” said CEO Ryan Orgera. “It’s a great way for longtime islanders, newcomers, and visitors to support the land preservation principle that defines a longstanding legacy on our islands.”

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Periwinkle Wetlands


he stakeholders who formed SCCF originally were part of a memorial committee established just after J.N. “Ding” Darling’s death in 1962. Their mandate was to obtain and dedicate public lands on Sanibel as a wildlife sanctuary in memory of the Pulitzer Prizewinning cartoonist and Captiva winter resident. After achieving that goal, the group decided to start their own foundation with the initial focus and objective of establishing a land trust. They sought to keep real estate development in check by acquiring environmentally sensitive lands on Sanibel and Captiva to minimize ecological damage. In time, that strategy was also employed on surrounding islands, including North Captiva, York, and Coconut.



RD Adjacent SCCF Preserve



Purdy Dr




Martha's Ln



nt es ce rv j a e se AdF Pr CC

PERIWINKLE WETLANDS CAMPAIGN IN A NUTSHELL WHERE: 12-plus-acre property borders 525 feet of the Periwinkle Way shared use path between Purdy Drive and Martha’s Lane. Its extensive wetlands, home to an abundance of wildlife species, extends inland 1,800 feet towards the Sanibel Slough. CAMPAIGN GOAL: $2.4 million SCCF negotiated a discounted sales price of $2 million for the land. Consistent with earlier SCCF land campaigns, the fundraising goal includes additional funding to offset a portion of the initial restoration/rewilding costs and ongoing habitat management. DEADLINE: This campaign is time sensitive. The price to preserve the land will increase if we can’t close by October 31, 2021. BOARD LEADERSHIP: The SCCF Board of Trustees is 100-percent supportive of this effort, with every Trustee making an early lead gift to jump-start fundraising efforts. GIFT OPTIONS: While outright gifts of cash and securities will be essential to close, multi-year gift pledges for up to three years can be made, with final payments due on or before October 31, 2023. All gifts and fulfilled pledge payments will be tax-deductible. HOW TO DONATE: Please contact CEO Ryan Orgera (, 239-834-9550) and Development Director Cheryl Giattini (, 239-822-6121)


The primary targets of SCCF’s early land purchases were the wetlands along the Sanibel Slough. Through relentless dedication by highly motivated volunteers and staff, SCCF acquired 500 parcels along the slough over 40 years. By the early 2000s, more than 90 percent of the Sanibel Slough was under conservation. Now, we have the best chance in years to finish what our founders started. Few inhabited barrier islands in the world have an interior freshwater system where wetlands drain into a river, such as the Sanibel Slough. The slough was likely created 1,000 to 1,500 years ago as ridges formed and fed water to low-lying swales, creating the island’s interior wetland system. As the City of Sanibel’s Director of Natural Resources for seven years before joining SCCF as Environmental Policy Director in 2020, James Evans considers the Periwinkle Wetlands acquisition to be imperative in safeguarding one of the island’s most unique and important resources. “Sanibel's interior wetland system provides critical habitat for more than 40 species, including wading birds, alligators, bobcats, otters, freshwater turtles, and the endemic Sanibel rice rat,” he said. “Protecting the interior wetland system is crucial to protecting wildlife habitat, Sanibel's freshwater supply, and water quality within the Sanibel Slough.” COMPLETING A WILDLIFE CORRIDOR

Longtime islanders will feel a return to the roots of SCCF as land acquisition campaigns were a signature feature of our efforts for decades of success, when more than 1,800 acres of preserves were established. It’s been a decade since our last campaign—the $5.3 million Bailey Homestead acquisition in 2010-2011. The Periwinkle Wetlands parcel is the missing link that fully connects an amazing 320-acre wildlife corridor in the heart of Sanibel. It provides the final piece in the conservation success story that includes the 85-acre C.R. Johnston Preserve off Casa Ybel Road; the 167-acre Frannie’s Preserve east of Tarpon Bay Road; the 16-acre Blue Skies Preserve by Sanibel Highlands; and the 38-acre Periwinkle Preserve across from the Sanibel Community Church. The Periwinkle Wetlands will also complete an astonishing 1.6 miles of contiguous frontage along the Sanibel Slough. If not preserved, the parcel could be developed with 13 homes. SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz said the land is essential for wildlife. “We consider these 320 acres to be our top land for wildlife habitat. It’s the largest, most secluded tract of uninterrupted terrain on Sanibel,” he said. “Around 90 percent of that land is totally dedicated to wildlife. By design, there is extremely limited public access.” Preserving the southernmost 2.5 acres of the land also provides the final piece of a 5.7-mile wildlife corridor running from SCCF’s Bob Wigley Preserve to the West Sanibel River Preserve along the Sanibel Slough.


Acquisition of these lands for conservation protects

With outdoor Puschel Portrait by David Meardon (to come)

them from development in perpetuity— improving water quality, enhancing the quality of life for island residents and businesses, providing recreational opportunities, and making our community more resilient to climate change — Ryan Orgera, SCCF CEO

Please join us in sharing our gratitude to Roberta and Philip Puschel. Longtime SCCF donors and volunteers, the Puschels have given a lead gift of $1 million to this campaign, earning them naming rights for the preserve.


SCCF Research Associate Mark Thompson monitors water quality within Sanibel’s freshwater system and believes preservation of land along the slough is vital to the overall health of our ecosystem. “In our studies of nutrient pollution from Sanibel, we have concluded that the optimal management practice for reducing pollution in our waterways is for our land use to simulate natural conditions as closely as possible,” said Thompson. “Having these lands stay natural instead of becoming a densely developed parcel maximizes protection against increased water pollution.” Failure to preserve the land could lead to an increase in Sanibel’s residential density, and the sellers have been approached by potential buyers eager to take advantage of current market conditions. “Developing land increases the amount of impervious surfaces, increasing runoff, and that runoff has higher amounts of pollutants due to fertilization and other pollutant sources,” said Thompson. “Vegetation in preserved lands reduces stormwater runoff and removes the harmful nutrients from any runoff. You get two ways of reducing pollution for the price of one by reducing runoff flow and reducing the concentration of runoff pollutants.”

CREATING A LEGACY: PERIWINKLE FRONTAGE REIMAGINED At the corner of Periwinkle Way and Purdy Drive, imagine nearly two acres of community green space with thriving native landscaping. Inviting and inspiring, it features a 1,000-foot shell trail connected to the shared use path. The trail meanders through a welcome area, with a water bottle filling station and interpretive panels. A lush demonstration marsh with wetlands features water-quality education panels, and a vibrant butterfly garden’s seasonal blooms attract pollinators. A contemplative, subtle sculpture garden provides space for thoughtful reflection. The intentional reimagining of this space connects all visitors to nature and celebrates our shared and historic role in protecting and nurturing Southwest Florida’s coastal ecosystems.

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A Pioneering Tool for Coastal Solutions


aunched in 2007, the SCCF Marine Lab’s River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network (RECON) has proven its value through the unique capabilities of its sensors, its depth of historical data, and its potential for guiding scientists and water managers towards solutions to water quality issues. “Nowhere else in the state is such high-resolution, high-quality, realtime data on coastal water quality available,” said Christine Angelini, director of the University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions (UF-CSS). This summer, RECON will serve as the base for a UF-CSS pilot project that will put our regional estuary in the forefront of international research into advanced monitoring of the health of coastal waters, lands, and air. “Our team of more than 25 faculty looked into estuaries across the state of Florida to serve as test beds to pilot our Comprehensive Coastal Observing Network (CompCON) and very soon honed into the Caloosahatchee River-Charlotte Harbor Estuary system because of the unique technical capabilities offered by RECON,” said Angelini.


The system that SCCF’s RECON was modeled after was developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. It quickly became a game-changer for SCCF and the region when it began 13 years ago. “Prior to a continuous water-quality observing network, monthly water samples were collected by county and state agencies for analysis,” said Environmental Policy Director James Evans. “Watermanagement decisions were based primarily on lake levels and climate predictions, not on the conditions of the estuary.” With sensors at seven sites—from the Gulf of Mexico through the estuary and into the Caloosahatchee River—RECON was established to understand the dynamic and changing conditions in the Caloosahatchee partly caused by freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee watershed and its intersection with the Gulf of Mexico. SHARING REAL-TIME DATA

The RECON sensors are much more accurate than sampling, and they offer multi-dimensional insights. SCCF’s wholeestuary network includes salinity and temperature and added dissolved oxygen, algae biomass (chlorophyll a), turbidity, and tannin concentrations. Delivered hourly, the information can be analyzed, visualized, and shared with other scientists.


The initial investment in equipment was made through a capital fundraising campaign in 2006. Subsequent grant opportunities have been pursued to replace damaged equipment due to lightning and boat strikes. NOAA grants support ongoing data management and field-maintenance costs. Since 2011, SCCF has received $400,000 from NOAA through grants to the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observation System (GCOOS). “The power of ocean-observing systems like GCOOS is that they start in local communities,” said GCOOS Executive Director Barbara Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. “Local communities can use that information to address immediate needs related to their coastal issues—everything from excess nutrients to the degradation of habitats. Then, by sharing their data for free through GCOOS, the information can reach resource managers and scientists working on regional, state, or Gulf-wide water-quality issues.” DETECTING HABs AND HYPOXIC EVENTS

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have occurred throughout the region and are detected by RECON while they are occurring. Algae blooms in the estuary most often occur in the warmer months when water

temperatures are above 90 degrees. Warm temperatures and nutrient-rich conditions combine to cause rapid cell growth and microscopic phytoplankton blooms, though it doesn’t distinguish among the wide diversity of plankton species. “Early indicators of a bloom can be targeted for sampling,” said SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt. Low-oxygen (hypoxic) events don’t support most marine life and habitats in near-bottom waters. When they are detected by RECON, they are often shortlived, lasting from a few hours to a few days. “It’s not possible to detect these types of events using monthly sampling. The Fort Myers and Beautiful Island RECON stations have documented significant hypoxic events annually,” said Milbrandt. “These events usually occur during the beginning of wet season when moderate freshwater flows lead to water column stratification and benthic (meaning the lowest level of a body of water) oxygen uptake are both increasing.” NEXT-GENERATION APPLICATIONS

Given the track record of RECON’s expanding applications, SCCF is pursuing funding for a five-year proposal for 20212026 to upgrade the system with the latest in monitoring technology.

“During the next five years, we are testing and deploying the next generation of continuous nutrient sensors which will help us understand the conditions associated with harmful algal blooms,” said Milbrandt. “We will also be looking at upgrading the rest of the RECON sensors as they are approaching the end of their operational life.” Researchers increasingly rely on these sensors for their value in finding ways to mitigate sources of disturbance and restore water quality. The CompCON project by UF-CSS is relying upon RECON and the expertise of SCCF Marine Lab scientists to fuel its groundbreaking efforts. “RECON, as well as the rich archive of historical water quality data it has produced, will power our research in two main ways. First, we aim to use RECON as the backbone for the other sensors that we will deploy in this system in our summer 2021 pilot,” said Angelini. “In essence, RECON will be used to help ground-truth and guide the missions of all of the other sensors in this coordinated, multi-sensor network.” Secondly, the reliable, real-time transmission of RECON data to servers will allow the hydrologists and oceanographers involved in CompCON to immediately transform the RECON data into information that will drive their models.

“Those models couple what is happening in the Caloosahatchee watershed to the estuary, nearshore, ocean, and atmosphere, and produce reliable forecasts of changing waterquality conditions,” said Angelini. The real-time data has offered new scientific insights and discoveries about how the estuary works in the face of natural disturbances and human activity. SCCF staff has innovatively modified RECON to target specific data, and the seven sites are maintained by two staff members.

“Nowhere else in the state is such highresolution, highquality, real-time

The SCCF RECON units consist of several components. Shown here are the ECO Fluorometer, which measures CDOM, and the WQM, which measures temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, turbidity, and water depth. Also shown is the STOR-X data logger that provides power to the sensors and records the data and the cellular modem that transmits the data to the RECON server.

ECO CDOM Fluorometer

data on coastal water quality available.” — Christine Angelini, Director, University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions

STOR-X Data Logger

Cellular Modem & Antenna WQM CTD

Mounting Cage WINTER - 2021 | 7

A discolored freshwater plume associated with Lake Okeechobee releases extending out of Blind Pass along the west end of Sanibel Island


Caloosahatchee Conditions Report:

Real-time, Data-Driven Water Quality Assessments This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Caloosahatchee Conditions Report. The weekly report provides an overview of the ecological health of the Caloosahatchee River, estuary, and associated coastal waters. It is a joint effort between SCCF, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Lee County, the cities of Sanibel and Cape Coral, and the Town of Fort Myers Beach.

Data are timely and readily accessible to state and federal agencies, universities, local municipalities, and stakeholders, making this report a valuable tool in water operations discussions and decision-making for the Caloosahatchee estuary. — Lawrence Glenn, Director, Water Resources Division, South Florida Water Management District


Water quality data is compiled Action Alerts are an important tool for connecting by SCCF Marine Lab scientists advocates with environmental issues. In 2020, about using the River, Estuary 4,000 advocates responded to our calls to action and Coastal Observing Go to and sent more than 18,680 emails to legislators Network (RECON) to sign and/or agency representatives. Our advocacy up to receive the — an array of Caloosahatchee efforts focused on water quality, land and continuous realConditions Report wildlife conservation, wetland protection, land time water-quality or Action use, and other policy issues. Alerts. monitoring stations Because of your advocacy efforts we had located within the many successes, including the passage of: Caloosahatchee and lower • SB 712 “Clean Waterways Act”: Strengthens regulation Charlotte Harbor. Ecological data— of onsite sewage, protection of springs, best such as seagrass and oyster health, management practices, and funding for water quality algal blooms, fish kills, and other projects observations—provide a regular • SB 680 “Kristen Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act”: snapshot of conditions to inform Prohibits the import, export, and sale of shark fins in water managers and policymakers. Florida The reports serve as a long-term, • SB 1414 “Fish and Wildlife Activities”: Prohibits certain detailed record that can be used invasive exotic reptiles to assess the impacts of land• Florida Forever: Funds the state’s land conservation use changes and the benefits of program ecosystem restoration. An invaluable tool for advocating We also successfully advocated for the veto of SB on behalf of the Caloosahatchee 410 “Growth Management,” a harmful bill that would and coastal communities, they have preempted local governments from regulating are emailed every Wednesday local land use. Your strong opposition to the Multi-Use to concerned citizens, water Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) managers at the U.S. Army Corps resulted in the Florida Department of Transportation of Engineers, South Florida Water not endorsing the project until further evaluation. Management District, and other Locally, more than 100 advocates attended the Eden federal, state, and local agencies, as Oak rezoning hearing to oppose it, and we had strong well as policymakers at every level support for requesting a public hearing for the Sanibel of government. Passage. Both are wetland developments. James Evans, Environmental Thank you for participating in our advocacy Policy Director campaigns! Please join our efforts in 2021 to protect our quality of life and local economy.



Enhanced Monitoring


CCF’s shorebird program began officially in 2002 with the launch of the Snowy Plover Project. In our efforts to protect and care for all coastal wildlife, the program gradually expanded to include migratory birds. In 2018, SCCF began monthly surveys of Sanibel and Captiva, counting all species of shorebirds, seabirds, wading birds, waterfowl, and birds of prey. These data will provide a

Snowy Plover with chicks valuable resource for identifying trends in shorebird populations and inform management decisions. As shorebird populations decline globally, it is critical to protect the habitat and food sources these birds rely on for survival. Preliminary data analysis of non-breeding season surveys (September-February) indicates an average of 29 different species per month detected for the 2018-19

2020 Sea Turtle Nesting Season



hree different species of sea turtle nested on our islands from April through October 2020. Loggerheads (Caretta caretta) laid 922 nests and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) laid five nests. And we were especially excited to document six leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) nests, which are rare along Florida’s west coast. All the leatherback nests were laid by the same turtle, who we call “Juniper.“ It was remarkable to see Juniper returning six times and producing 101 hatchlings on local beaches. Juniper is also the first leatherback to be satellite-tagged after nesting along the Gulf. (See how far she roams at Loggerheads are the most common species in Florida. Their shell is about three feet long and they possess a blocky head with powerful jaws that crush conchs and whelks. Greens are slightly larger with average carapace lengths around three-and-a-half feet. Because they feed on seagrass and algae, their fat is greenish, hence their common name. Leatherbacks, with ridged, leathery skin, are the largest species averaging six feet in length and weighing 500 to 1,500 pounds. Jack Brzoza, Biologist

season. There were 31 species identified in 2019-20. The 2020-21 non-breeding surveys are ongoing. Sharp-eyed beachcombers are likely to know that the most frequently observed species in the non-breeding season are brown pelicans, laughing gulls, sanderlings, willets, and blackbellied plovers.

Audrey Albrecht, Shorebird Biologist




Green Sea Turtle






(Laid by Juniper)

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Landlocked students play games on Sanibel during an after-school field trip in 2019.

The Sanibel Sea School is providing our kids access to experiences they’ve never had, even though they live so close to the water. Many have never been over the causeway. The classroom visits, as well as field trips, are really providing our kids an opportunity to learn firsthand about the absolute wonders of what we have in Southwest Florida. It’s only made possible by the Sanibel Sea School. — Debra Mathinos, Ed.D., Director of Education, The Heights Center


Sanibel Sea School: An Ocean Education for All

Coastal Watch: "Back to Our Roots"

Landlocked students explore the wrack line along San Carlos Bay in 2019.

Sanibel Sea School’s mission is “improving the ocean’s future, one person at a time.” Each day, marine science educators inspire kids through hands-on, experiential education. By helping kids foster an appreciation for the ocean, Sanibel Sea School is creating a new wave of ocean advocates who will grow up practicing conservation and helping to protect our oceans. Sanibel Sea School aims to achieve this mission close to home by working extensively in the community to ensure equal access to marine science education. Marine science educators visit Pine Manor Community Improvement Association, The Heights Foundation, and Childcare of Southwest Florida each month. During classroom visits and field trips, underserved children in these programs are introduced to the wonders of the ocean and learn marine science, while building new relationships. The goal is to connect these kids to their local environment, so they can develop a strong sense of place in and around the ocean and will practice stewardship in their own lives. This education is critical for children of all socio-economic backgrounds, so Sanibel Sea School seeks to provide these opportunities at low or no cost to participants who would otherwise not afford them.

Nicole Finnicum Director, Sanibel Sea School


Mangroves are a vital source of energy, provide nursery habitats for juvenile fish and nesting habitat for wading birds, stabilize shorelines by reducing erosion, and buffer storm surge. These iconic trees are closely linked to Southwest Florida’s marine ecosystem, yet vulnerable to coastal development. This year, Sanibel Sea School’s Coastal Watch is embarking on a new initiative to teach the value and spread awareness of mangroves on our islands. Through this educational initiative, “Back to Our Roots,” Coastal Watch is inviting residents to “adopt” their own mangrove to nurture so it can be planted at a mangrove restoration site on Sanibel or Captiva. This new initiative includes a mangrove workshop where participants gain a deeper understanding of mangrove biology and their role in Southwest Florida’s marine ecosystem. Participants 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.

Kealy McNeal, Conservation Initiative Coordinator, Coastal Watch


Beauty & Benefits

of Wetland Gardens

Visit our wetland pollinator garden at the Bailey Homestead Preserve


etland gardens are one of the most vibrant spaces in a landscape, offering many benefits to our local wildlife and natural resources. In Southwest Florida, as the winter brings drier conditions, water levels recede through spring, eventually completely drying out. Wading birds take advantage of shallow pools, which become prime feeding territory with concentrated fish and invertebrate populations. Watching an ibis prod the ground for treats is a delight those outside of Florida may rarely witness. Another pleasure of the wetland garden is the ever-changing landscape as the seasons shift between wet and dry cycles. In particular, bacopa or water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) follows the soil moisture. It grows quickly and sprawls across the ground in areas where there is enough water and dies back when the soil is too dry. It will also float when inundated with water quickly, which sometimes happens when a sudden downpour fills up shallow depressions. As the host plant for white peacock butterflies (Anartia jatrophae), the adults lay their eggs on the plant. The hatched caterpillars quickly munch bacopa leaves to energize their transformation into adult butterflies. Fast-growing annual wildflowers, such as coreopsis (Coreopsis leavenworthii), lend a splash of color and offer nectar for pollinators. From season to season, these plants will move around the garden, making each year unique from the next.

Wetland gardens also serve an important purpose in improving water quality. As water runs into these low-lying areas from the surrounding environment, the water may contain nutrients from fertilizer runoff, reclaimed irrigation, or pet waste. If that water is surrounded by plants, which need nutrients to grow, the plants extract the water’s nutrients for their own growth. This, in turn, keeps the nutrients from leaching further into groundwater or neighboring waterbodies. To create or enhance your own wetland garden, visit the Native Landscapes & Garden Center, which recently revamped a portion of the demonstration gardens into a wetland pollinator habitat with funding from a Viva Florida grant from the Florida Wildflower Foundation. The area showcases a wide variety of attractive wildflowers and wetland plants that benefit local wildlife and enhance water quality.


The area should have standing water in the summer with a lesser amount in the winter, either completely drying out or staying damp with mucky soils. Sunny or shady locations can be utilized with appropriate plants for the amount of sunlight. In general, most wildflowers bloom best with full sun or dappled shade and bright light throughout the day.

Plants Nutrients


Jenny Evans, Native Landscapes & Adult Education Director

A close-up view of a bacopa flower Photo courtesy of Karl Werner

A pollinator visiting a coreopsis flower

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This keystone reptile is likely the most important vertebrate in upland ecosystems throughout its southeastern U.S. range. The conservation and management of tortoise habitat is critical to the continued existence of many faunal and floral species. Chris Lechowicz and SCCF staff are conducting valuable work that greatly benefits not only tortoises in Southwest Florida, but also the conservation of the species range-wide. Twenty years of field studies at Sanibel is quite an accomplishment. — George L. Heinrich, Executive Director, Florida Turtle Conservation Trust

In Search Of: The Gopher Tortoise


ince 2000, SCCF has been monitoring gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) populations on five of our preserves. After final data from 2020 is analyzed, we will have 20 years of information to develop a longitudinal assessment of the threatened dry-land turtle’s population on Sanibel and Captiva. Each October, biologists in the Wildlife & Habitat Management Program survey known burrows, search for new ones, and classify each as active, inactive, or abandoned. Active burrows are clean at the mouth (opening)—with no plants or debris cluttering the entrance. There are usually visible tortoise tracks going in and out of the burrow and the soil looks freshly disturbed. Inactive burrows are usable by smaller tortoises. The mouth of the burrow has some debris and vegetation near the entrance and there may or may not be visible tracks. Abandoned burrows may be caved in and they typically have windswept debris, and growing vegetation around

the entrance, indicating it’s unlikely any tortoise is using it to enter and exit its home. The information we gather provides an estimated number of tortoises per acre on a property and shows trends of increasing or decreasing populations. Sometimes, decreasing tortoise numbers signal the need for land management activities—more frequent controlled burning or clearing upland vegetation to allow grass growth. When upland areas are restored by removing woody vegetation and replanting grass, tortoises from neighboring areas often emigrate to the restored area. When tortoises find their habitat unsuitable, they typically seek a superior location with better forage. Gopher tortoises are not considered social animals, but they will pack closely in an ideal habitat. Likewise, they are content to spread out if they have the space in an optimal habitat.


Chris Lechowicz, Wildlife & Habitat Management Director

IS THAT A GOPHER TORTOISE BURROW? Gopher tortoises prefer uplands with well-drained, sandy soils to dig their burrows. Both the threatened tortoises and their burrows are protected by state law. You can identify a gopher tortoise burrow by noting its half-moon-shaped entrance that is horizontally longer than it is tall. It’s generally about the same size as the tortoise that occupies it.

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