Coastal Breeze News » Protect and Preserve Thu, 28 Aug 2014 15:35:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sensational Sharks: Important Part of the Marine Environment Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:51:12 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

If you haven’t heard, its Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week — a week of pseudo-science and, sometimes hilarious, propaganda.

Since 1988 — yes for 26 years and making it one of the longest running cable television series — this annual week of television programs on the Discovery Channel has evolved from educational programs that raised awareness of shark population decline and the importance they have in the oceans’ ecosystems to fictitious stories and ludicrous accounts of mega sharks in the waters throughout the world. Entertainment has trumped science, which does not bode well for the sharks’ conservation. The bloodletting episodes during Shark Week and bloody, distorted remains typically seen hanging on display after a “big catch,” hardly represent a living shark, an animal that has amazing, graceful and powerful swimming and survival capabilities.

Sharks collectively are among the most common large vertebrates, but there is relatively little known about these fast-moving, far-ranging fish. They are difficult to study, but as scientists push deeper and deeper into the oceans, more valuable information is and will be unveiled. Locally, sharks in the nearshore waters of Marco Island are very common and range in size, types and habitat needs. All play a very important role in a healthy marine ecosystem. Though, if you have been watching Shark Week over the past few years, you may think each time you step into saltwater you could lose a limb, but here is some perspective: Since 1882, (yes, circa 1882) the International Shark Attack File has recorded 687 unprovoked shark attacks with 11 fatalities in Florida. Collier County has contributed only 7 attacks; no fatalities.

Here are just a few local species of sharks to be on the lookout for:

Bull Shark: (Carcharhinus leucus) Southwest Florida, particularly the 10,000 Islands, is home to a very large population and a nursery ground for this species. Pale to dark grey on its back (dorsal) and white below, the fins of the young are black-tipped but fade in older sharks. The snout is very short; shorter than width of mouth. Size can be as heavy as 500 pounds and 11.5 feet in length. A very aggressive shark while feeding in nearshore waters near sandbars and in estuaries.

Great Hammerhead: (Sphyrna mokarran) No one can mistake this species, considered to be one of the most advanced shark species and very dangerous to humans, with its flat, wide head, a nearly straight anterior margin of the head with a deep indention in the center and its eyes located at the ends of the broad head giving it a 360 degrees ability to see. They feed on rays, fish and other sharks and tend to not be cautious or afraid to approach people. It can reach 20 feet in length.

Bonnethead: (Sphyrna tiburo) With a rounder head and only reaching 3.5 feet in length, this species of “hammerhead” is commonly along the nearshore waters traveling in schools of 5 to 15 individuals feeding on small fish, shrimp, mollusks and crabs. Fishermen frequently catch this species. They should be released alive.

Black Tip: (Carcharhinus limbatus) This fast moving shark in nearshore and offshore waters is often seen leaping and spinning out of the water. It is a dark gray or can be dusky bronze depending on its environment with its snout as long as the width of its mouth. Its dorsal, pectoral and lower caudal fins are black-tipped, though its anal fin is white. It can reach 9-10 feet in length.

Tiger Shark: (Galeocerdo cuvieri) Another very large shark that can exceed 18 feet and weigh up to 2,000 pounds, it is bluish/greenish gray to black above and dirty yellow to white below with the back having a mottled appearance as a juvenile and coloration forming bars or stripes in large sharks, hence its name. The caudal, or tail, fin is very long and pointed.

Nurse Shark: (Ginglymostoma cirratum) A sluggish shark, commonly seen lying motionless on the sea bottom near reefs or sand bars, it is medium to dark brown on top and lighter on the bottom; juveniles are spotted. It has long tapering nasal barbels, and the first dorsal fin originates back over the pelvic fin area. It can grow large, up to 8 feet and 350 pounds, but is not aggressive, though one should always show caution.

Conservation of sharks is very important to the health of the marine ecosystems. Sharks are top predators in the Gulf of Mexico (and all other oceans) and tend to have lower population numbers than other fish. They have slower growth rates, mature later in the life cycle and have less offspring. Overfishing can decimate a population quickly, and it could take generations to recover.

Due to these factors and to protect the marine ecosystems, there are regulations to shark fish. A saltwater fishing license is required in the state of Florida to recreationally (and commercially) fish for sharks. There are size and number limit requirements for different species. All Florida fishing regulations can be found at

If you are fishing and catch a shark, handle with care while removing the hook and do release the shark alive. There is no need to kill a shark just for the fun.


For more information on wildlife on Marco Island, contact Nancy J. Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or


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Art in Nature Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:37:15 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

A not so well known turtle roams Marco Island. It’s not the glamorous Loggerhead Sea Turtle or the well-known Gopher Tortoise. It is very commonly seen in the beachfront dunes and near wetlands and pond areas of the island such as Barfield Bay, in Hideaway Beach conservation areas and along Spinnaker Drive.

The Florida Painted Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) is a small turtle that is not only a small wonder but a treasure for the island. Its striking array of a yellow pattern on its shell is art in nature; some have said the yellow patterns on the shells remind them of the lightning we commonly experience in southwest Florida. It is like a batik pattern.

The Florida Painted Box Turtle’s characteristic and original array of yellow lines on the carapace (upper shell) is one of a kind. And each turtle has a one-of-a-kind pattern. These turtles are not large; full grown they are 4-8 inches in length. Their shell, or plastron, is highly domed with a slight keel, differing than other “land” turtles on Marco Island, such as the Loggerhead sea turtle, Gopher tortoise, red-eared slider or mud turtle.

These interesting terrestrial turtles can live to 40-50 years of age. Uniquely, they have a hinged bottom shell (plastron) that closes tight for protection from the elements and predators. They eat mostly small insects and low-growing vegetation and are considered omnivores. They live in vegetative cover and need a fresh water source nearby so it is not surprising they find the beach dunes near Tigertail Beach lagoon and along the beach suitable habitat. If it is hot, they will dig in the soil and burrow in the mud to keep cool. Typically, their range is only about a 750 foot area.

Florida Painted Box Turtles will lay one to eight eggs between May through July in south Florida, burying them in just inches of soil near a water source. Once hatched, the tiny turtle hatchlings are easy prey to insects, lizards, snakes and birds. If a hatchling survives, statistically one of the eight hatched, they are slow growing and need cover and a water source to survive. It takes approximately four years to mature and produce young. The population on Marco Island is documented and scarce. They are slow to mature and produce but once established can live for many years.

It is legal to have a maximum of two with a license Florida box turtles as a pets. But please take note: it is not legal to take one from the wild. Collecting box turtles or any turtles, is not only illegal, but negatively affect their populations, as they are slow to mature and produce to sustain a natural healthy population. If interested in having a pet box turtle, please purchase from a licensed vendor. This type of pet will require decades of dedication and knowledge of what they eat and habitat to ensure a healthy life.

If out walking on the beach or in the Spinnaker Drive area, don’t be surprised to see a Florida Painted Box Turtle strolling by. Let it go on its way as you note its original pattern of yellow arrays on its shell. It is an example of art in nature, something the Marco Island beach and environment known for historically as documented by the Calusa Indians.


For more information on wildlife on Marco Island, contact Nancy J. Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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Save Room for Tortoises Fri, 11 Jul 2014 20:41:13 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING 
Nancy Richie

Juvenile tortoise. PHOTO BY NANCY RICHIE

Juvenile tortoise. PHOTO BY NANCY RICHIE

For a small, developed, semi-tropical island, Marco Island has a diversity of habitats which equates to abundance of wildlife species. Sandy beaches with wide, lush vegetated dunes, sea grass beds in nearshore shallow waters, tidal mudflats, mangrove wetlands, upland scrub oak and palmetto, tropical hardwood hammock, patchy slash pine stands and even open undeveloped, grassy properties — all provide a variety of opportunities for wildlife to survive and sustain a side-by-side existence with the suburban activity.

Surmised from many inquiries, interactions with residents, increased numbers of volunteers, large membership in wildlife groups, roadside stops by too-many-to-count photographers at burrowing owl areas around the island, and the overwhelming attendance at wildlife presentations and in contests over the past few years, interest and awareness in the local wildlife has greatly increased. Though, unfortunately, this interest and awareness has only equated to positive action to protect and provide habitat for wildlife with only a handful of people.

Due to habitat loss from development, a species rapidly declining throughout the state of Florida is the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). This upland, indigenous tortoise is listed by the state as a “threatened” species, which provides stringent regulations to protect it, its burrows and habitat. It is considered a “key stone” species in Florida, as its burrow provides shelter to close to 360 other species, making it the “backbone” of Florida’s, fragile and rare, upland ecosystem.

Here, on Marco Island, the gopher tortoise currently has a robust population. Found mostly in the “estates” area of the island, which provides hilly, well-drained soils, upland scrub oak and palmetto habitat and space to roam — all which they require for burrowing, eating, hatching their young and sunning — the Marco Island gopher tortoises are in need of protection and conservation. They also are found in smaller numbers in areas along and around Granada, Sheffield and Spinnaker Drives and in Stevens Landing, Key Marco and Hideaway Beach developments. The population has been studied a couple times in recent history, originally by Florida Gulf Coast University masters program student Julie Ross, who is continuing research of the genetics of this island population to conclude if this could be a subspecies due to its isolation on the island.

Then, last year, during the final phase of the city’s septic system replacement project, all tortoises were trapped and removed from the project area of the right-of-way, relocated temporarily on the upland properties. More than 100 tortoises were documented, weighed, measured and sampled for genetic analysis too.

In general, the suburban Marco Island tortoises — though living in higher densities, more burrows and tortoises per acre than what naturally has been studied in wildlife preserves and sanctuaries — were found to be very healthy with a variety of ages/sizes which indicates a sustainable population. Though, it is understood that this state of harmony is delicate.

Just in the past month, five, very large, very old, tortoise have been hit and killed along the roads of these neighborhoods. Daily, offers are made on the undeveloped properties that have five to ten to more than a dozen burrows. Soon these properties will be developed, leaving no room for the tortoises. State regulations require a permit to trap the tortoises and remove the burrows on any property prior to any development. There are varying mitigation fees required, and a biologist/environmental consultant that has been state licensed as a “gopher tortoise agent” is required at all times in this process. Tortoises can be kept on the property if space is preserved; if not, they are trapped and removed to an approved receiving site that is approximately 100 miles away. Though this removal saves tortoises from being buried alive, they are removed from Marco Island’s unique ecosystem and disrupt the current sustainability of the island tortoise population.

This island population, though healthy now, will decline in the next few years, as development continues and no proactive conservation is considered and acted upon. Habitat needed for burrowing and feeding will disappear; more cars on the roadways will increase rates of mortality due to vehicle hits; and less people choosing to keep them on their property to cohabitate peacefully and instead removing them from the island will all contribute collectively to the decline and unfortunately an unsustainable population.

Wouldn’t you hate to see the day that someone says, “Remember when there were gopher tortoises on Marco Island?” It doesn’t have to happen. As the island moves forward to complete development, single-family, multi-family, commercial and public properties all should be considered as possible niches for habitat creation for the tortoises. Setback and areas that are open on properties can be spaces for this burrowing, peaceful animal. Landscape, using native, low growing plants — broad leaf grasses, coco plum, succulents and cactus — can be incorporated in yards and parks. Landscapes can be maintained right up to the burrow area. The balance of wildlife and landscape in a yard is what makes this island unique and thrive. Consider the enjoyment of having a tortoise in your yard.

Save room on the island for gopher tortoises. The largest tortoises, measuring in lengths of 10-16 inches, are aged to be 60 years old. Artifacts found on the island connect the tortoise to the Calusa Indians and pioneers. These enchanting tortoises carry a history of this island and bring good will and karma for past and present residents.

For more information on gopher tortoises, please contact Nancy J. Richie, environmental specialist for the city of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or Also, go to and search “gopher tortoise.” 

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Celebrate Our Nation’s Birthday by Respecting Our Beach Fri, 27 Jun 2014 15:01:29 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

One of the best holidays in our country is the 4th of July! Our nation — turning 238 years old — knows how to put on a party, right? It is a day to reflect why our nation is so great, how we are the luckiest citizens on earth, and be thankful for all those that have and do ensure that the United States remains the “land of the free.”

It has always been such a big, happy, fun-filled holiday for my family growing up in California in a small town and then raising my own family on Marco Island. Most everyone around here heads to the beach by car or boat, ready to eat burgers and hot dogs, potato salad and ice cream most of the afternoon, while family and friends relax.

Most folks will hear as the day’s background sounds: waves lapping, horseshoes ringing throw after throw, loud splashes and laughter from the Gulf, and perhaps in late afternoon, the thunder start to roll. My daughters, since they were babies, now both in their 20s, have enjoyed the Resident’s Beach party and fireworks that fill the sky over this island. That light show is such a spectacular sight after a day of boating and beaching with family and friends. Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam, this year’s event at the beach will no doubt be a great celebration as ever, but let’s make it even better by respecting our beach.

We are very fortunate to have such a beautiful beach that most of us visit every day. It’s not a surprise that more and more visitors are discovering the fact that Marco Island’s beach is, well, perfection. One can walk for literally miles, pick up dozens of types of shells, see dolphin and manatee yards away as they cruise by nearshore, view wildlife such as shorebirds up close, take a warm water swim, be adventurous on a jet ski or parasail and witness a jaw-dropping sunset on any given day. One could just pull up a chair and read a book too. It’s just paradise in every sense.

It has been an effort over the last few years to keep up with the trash that ultimately results from more people visiting the beach. It’s not apparent at first, but all those bits and pieces of plastic wrappers, straws, bottle caps and cigarette butts do add up — so much so, the local Volunteer Beach Stewards easily collect a bag of trash on their daily walks and during monthly beach clean ups, and dozens of bags can be filled in a couple hours. Each week, hundreds of plastic straws are collected by these volunteers; counting straws is not something a beach walker wants to do while strolling or shelling.

Unfortunately, one of the trashiest days on Marco Island’s beach is always July 5 — from too-many-to-count beverage bottles and cans to food and its single-use plastic and styrofoam containers and wrappers to broken chairs and tents, plastic toys and even entire grills. The firework debris also is spread across the sand. These patriotic beachgoers come for the day, celebrate and leave…empty handed. Perhaps they think “someone else” will take care of the mess. Why is this?

That “someone” else is us. Let’s celebrate our nations’ birthday by respecting our beach. It’s easy. Whatever you pack to take on the boat or to the beach stay away from plastic and single-use containers. Use reusable containers, and make sure you bring it home. Bring your own trash bags to make sure you can pack everything back home. When you walk down the beach, pick up any trash you see. Then dispose of it properly, recycling all that is appropriate. This will keep trash and plastic off the beach and out of the Gulf of Mexico. It is estimated that every piece of plastic that makes it to the ocean survives for 50 years floating around, harmful to sea life and naturally, in turn, our lives.

Interested in getting more involved to conserve and protect Marco Island’s beautiful beach? On our nation’s birthday, respect our beach by giving yourself a gift, a gift to conserve and protect our beach. Here are a few easy ideas:

  1. Participate in a monthly beach clean up: The city of Marco Island’s Beach Advisory Committee organizes monthly beach clean ups with local businesses and groups. All public are welcome to join in. Other groups on the island also have clean ups, such as Friends of Tigertail and Kiwanis. Contact the city of Marco Island for more information on upcoming dates at 239-389-5003 or go to
  2. Become a Volunteer Beach Steward: Volunteer Stewards are local ombudsmen for the beach. They answer questions on shorebirds, sea turtles, shells and much more. They remind beach goers that no glass, bikes and dogs are allowed on the Marco Island beach. If interested in protecting Marco Island’s beach, please call the city of Marco Island at 239-389-5003.
  3. Become a Collier County Shorebird Steward: During the spring months, Least Terns, Black Skimmers and Wilson Plovers nest and hatch tiny chicks on the beaches. Shorebird Stewards educate and provide viewing opportunities to all who are interested. It is an experience you will never forget. For more information, please contact
  4. Join or support organizations that protect the beach, the Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife: Locally, the Friends of Tigertail proactively educate the public and monitor and improve the Tigertail Beach area habitat. To be a member, volunteer or to participate in one of their many activities and presentations, please go to Other local groups, all which have many opportunities for volunteering that support our local beaches and wildlife, are Friends of Rookery Bay (, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida ( and the Audubon of the Western Everglades (Collier Audubon) (

Happy 4th of July! Let’s wish our nation a very happy birthday by respecting our beautiful beach!


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or


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Take a Hike: Sand Dollar Island is Waiting for You to Explore Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:31:17 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Black Skimmer with newly hatched chick. PHOTO BY JEAN HALL

Black Skimmer with newly hatched chick. PHOTO BY JEAN HALL

Take a hike and explore one of the most beautiful ecosystems in southwest Florida, walking from Tigertail Beach Park parking lot on the new boardwalk, through the tunnel of mangroves, around the southern end of the Tigertail Lagoon, then heading north to the very tip of Sand Dollar Island “spit” that curls around toward Hideaway Beach, and then tracing your steps back. It takes almost three hours at a moderate pace; longer if you stop a few times taking in the abundance of wildlife that you can’t help but encounter.

Once out on the “spit,” the area has an official state designation — the “Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area” — but locals know and refer to it as Sand Dollar Island. It was an island, an ephermal sandbar, paralleling the beach off north Marco Island. The sandbar was a popular destination for boaters in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and really was covered in sand dollars by the buckets full, hence its name.

Around 1999, due to currents, storms, sand deposits and erosion cycles typical of inlet pass system dynamics, the Big Marco Pass filled in, and Sand Dollar Island’s southern end connected with the main beach of Marco Island in front of the South Seas condominiums beach. It has remained permanently affixed since, with its shoreline changing through the season, the dune area growing, areas fluxing with erosion and accretion of sand. This connected island, Sand Dollar Island, now a “spit”, has added miles of beach to Marco Island for beach walkers to explore, photographers to focus and shell seekers to wander. There are a handful of regulars that know this secret jewel of Marco Island inside and out. Take a hike, see what is so special “out there.”

Walking along the shoreline, dozens of species of shells can be found from the common scallop, fighting conchs and pen shells to lettered olives, moon snails and lightening whelk. (When collecting shells, please check inside the shell for the mollusk animal; if it’s an empty shell, keep it; if occupied, please leave it on the beach.) Of course, sand dollars are found too — sometimes too many to count. Due to erosion of the shoreline, a few dead, leafless mangroves and sea grapes are found. Now decorated with shells and messages from beach walkers, they have become autograph trees for memories. About a mile up the “spit,” due to erosion, a pathway leads off the shoreline into red mangroves, making one feel they are in a remote paradise taking an adventurous walk, and then all of a sudden the path ends on a wide expanse of beach sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and Tigertail Lagoon. Bird life is abundant in both bodies of water and on the sandy beach. You have reached the heart of the Critical Wildlife Area.

The beginning of May, the first two sea turtle nests were found and protected, thanks to our sea turtle lady Mary Nelson and one of her new volunteers, Ray. The 100 or so hatchlings that will emerge from each of these nests in about 60 days will always call Sand Dollar Island home. It’s their natal beach. The hatchlings that survive will come back one day and create their own nests of sea turtle eggs here on Sand Dollar Island. The Sand Dollar Island “spit” was habitat for more than one-third of the Marco Island sea turtle nests last season.

Aerial photo by Humiston & Moore Engineering Inc. taken September 2013.

Aerial photo by Humiston & Moore Engineering Inc. taken September 2013.

In the large expanses of sand between the lagoon and Gulf from April through August, Least Terns and Black Skimmers nest. These shorebirds nest in large congregations, making lots of noise. Due to loss of habitat of sandy open beaches with some amount of vegetation that is not disturbed by upland development, there are fewer beaches along the coasts of the Southeast that satisfy their nesting requirements, but our Sand Dollar Island is perfect. There are large areas of sand, some vegetation for protection, plenty of bait fish in the lagoon and Gulf, and it is relatively quiet. These attributes have attracted more and more Least Terns and Black Skimmers in the past few years. This year looks to be very productive too.

Making just a scrape in the sand for a nest, the eggs are tiny and well camouflaged so very easy to overlook. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation biologists post the nesting areas each spring to protect the fragile nests, eggs and chicks. When walking, don’t stir up the birds (called flushing). They need to stay calm and on their eggs until they hatch and then to protect and feed chicks until they can survive on their own. If the birds are flushed and the fragile eggs and chicks are exposed, they are easily preyed upon by other shorebirds, crows and ghost crabs, and can bake in the sun in minutes. Please be sure to stay as far as possible from the posted area when walking by. When in this area, you may be greeted by a friendly Shorebird Steward — local residents who volunteer for a few hours on the beach near the posted shorebird nesting areas — who provide information on the birds and opportunities to view the birds and chicks through a scope.

Continuing past the shorebird areas to the very northern tip of the “spit,” you will find you can almost walk to Hideaway Beach as the tip curls around and seems to be accreting more sand, stretching the shoreline closer and closer to Hideaway Beach. Look in the waters for dolphins and manatees who commonly swim by in these waters. This area is a very popular boater destination — the historical site of “Coconut Island.” Some Saturday afternoons, there could be dozens of boats beached on the tip and anchored behind Sand Dollar Island enjoying the clear, warm waters. No dogs are allowed on Marco Island’s beaches, and this includes all of Sand Dollar Island. Please keep dogs onboard your boat and help conserve and protect this important, fragile and diverse ecosystem we know as Sand Dollar Island.

Take a hike and explore the rich ecosystem of Sand Dollar Island! Remember to only leave your footsteps in the sand. Don’t leave trash or beach equipment. Take it home! If interested in more information about Marco Island’s beautiful beach and wildlife or would like to volunteer as a Collier County Shorebird Steward, please contact Nancy Richie, the city of Marco Island’s environmental specialist at or 239-389-5003.


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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Sea Turtle Season: Let’s All Do Our Part Fri, 02 May 2014 14:51:50 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Sea turtle nest posted on South Beach. photoS by NANCY RICHIE

Sea turtle nest posted on South Beach. PHOTOS by NANCY RICHIE

Sunday, April 20, was the fourth anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Though the oil and secondary impacts to this environmental disaster never reached the shores of Marco Island, it affected the sea turtles and shorebird populations throughout the Gulf. That summer, there was record number of volunteers willing to step up and volunteer to help marine wildlife and protect our beaches. Those numbers have dwindled over the last few years as the memory and anxiety of oil on our beaches faded. Why does it take a disaster to remind us what is important to us? It’s our beach, our backyard; let’s all do our part to keep it healthy…every year!

Protected loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) will soon return to our beaches. Adult female sea turtles will begin nesting on our beaches between May and August. Sixty days after the nests are created, the hatchlings will emerge and begin the trek to the Gulf of Mexico, usually between July and October. The next six months — May through October – are a crucial time of year for your part in conservation of this important marine population on the Marco Island beaches. Let’s all do our part to make this a successful year for our sea turtles!

In the 2013 nesting season, there were 93 nests on Marco Island beaches with 72 of these hatching. Approximately 6,486 hatchlings from the Marco beaches successfully made it to the Gulf of Mexico. This was the most productive season in about a decade. Good news for the health of the Gulf, but with only one out of 1,000 hatchlings making it to maturity, every hatchling counts to sustain this species’ population.

The natural glow of the moon and stars in the night sky direct the sea turtles back to the Gulf of Mexico. Artificial lights, such as lights shining through windows facing the Gulf, balcony ceiling and wall lights, up-lighting on landscape, pole lights in pool and parking areas, flashlights, lanterns and flash photography or mobile phone illumination, confuse sea turtles and interfere with their natural instincts. Too often this results in discouraging the females from nesting. She emerges from the Gulf ready to lay her eggs, but is confused or disorientated by the artificial lights, which results in her crawling back to the Gulf without nesting or dropping her eggs as she leaves — a “false crawl.” Last season, our beach had approximately 166 “false crawls.” This is 166 times a female sea turtle crawled out of the Gulf, up on the Marco Island beach, but turned around, not laying her eggs due to lighting, trash, chairs or equipment left on the beach, noise or too many people on the beach. This is a number that could be lower!

Artificial lights also can cause the death of hatchlings due to disorientation. They will travel inland toward the brighter, artificial lights, using the energy they need to swim into the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of sea turtle hatchlings die each year in Florida due to artificial lights shining on the beach. Unfortunately, last season there were three disorientations — these to urban glow. Overall, lighting compliance was good last year on the Marco Island beaches, but we can all do better. Thank you beachfront properties and beachgoers alike for your cooperation, but all of us on this barrier island need to turn off all lights that are unnecessary. With your help and compliance, disorientations can be a “zero” occurrence on Marco Island.

A hatchling makes it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico on Sand Dollar Island. PHOTO by Khristina Shope

A hatchling makes it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico on Sand Dollar Island. PHOTO by Khristina Shope

Sea turtles and people can easily coexist if we all take action to preserve and share our common habitat — Marco Island’s beautiful beach! To ensure our beaches are dark, property managers, beach vendors, and/or residents are encouraged to please step out on the beach at 9 PM, view the building or vendor area to determine what lights need shading or turned off. If you can see the direct light or your shadow on the beach, the light is too bright. Below are easy steps to take for sea turtle nesting and hatching season protection and conservation:

• All lights visible to the beach after 9 PM should be turned off, shielded or otherwise modified, redirected or adjusted to shine away from the beach between the dates of May 1 and October 31.This includes windows, balcony walls and ceiling lights, landscape and parking area lights that are visible and are in the “line of sight” to the beach.

• Outside lights that cannot be turned off for safety reasons can be temporarily shielded with foil, hoods or painted with black heat resistant oven paint on the beach-facing side.

• Long Wavelength Amber LED (light-emitting diode) lights are less attractive to sea turtles and prevent disorientations. They are excellent replacements for yellow and white lights and highly recommended for all beachfront lighting that is necessary to leave on after 9 PM.

• Close blinds and curtains by 9 PM to shield bright interior lights that normally shine onto the beach.

• Outside wall and ceiling balcony lights should be off by 9 PM.

• The sea turtles need a beach free of any barriers that would prevent nesting. Beach furniture, toys, tents, any other equipment and all garbage should be removed from the beach EVERY night. If you see trash, pick it up and remove it from the beach.

• Keep your distance. If you witness a turtle crawling out of the ocean or digging a nest, remain quiet and at a distance and never stop a turtle that is returning to the water. Movements and noises can easily frighten a female sea turtle and prevent nesting. Using flash photography or a mobile phone camera can scare the nesting turtle and prevent her from nesting. Keep 100 feet away and stay quiet. Just enjoy the moment.

• After 9 PM, it is unlawful to use flashlights, flash photography, lantern, cell phone illumination or other sources of light on the beach. Never point a light source at sea turtle or illuminate a sea turtle nest. No fires or torches on the beach.

• Holes or trenches dug on the beach by beach-goers need to be filled in at the end of each day or by 9 PM. Adult sea turtles can get caught or disorientate and hatchlings get trapped in the holes or trenches, never making it to the Gulf. The holes are also safety hazards for beach goers, sea turtle monitors and emergency response staff. Please fill in all holes when leaving the beach!

• Sea turtle nests are monitored and posted on the beach with stakes, flagging and signage. It is unlawful to enter the posted nest area or impact the posted nest area in any manner. A minimum of a 25-foot perimeter of no activity within should be given to the protected nest area.

• To report dead or injured sea turtles or disoriented hatchlings, please put these numbers in your phone contact list now and then you can immediately call: Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or Marco Island Sea Turtle Monitor, Mary Nelson (our “Turtle Lady”) at 239-289-9736.

If you need additional information or have any questions and/or comments, please contact me at 239-389-5003 (office), 239-825-0579 (mobile) or

Thank you all in advance for your commitment and effort in making it possible for this dwindling, threatened species to coexist with us on our beautiful beach. Let’s all do our part, and keep the Marco Island beach dark!


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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Florida’s Easter Bunny: Marsh Rabbits Wed, 23 Apr 2014 18:23:27 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

The weather is a bit warmer. Humidity is not too high. Fresh breezes make the Gulf a little choppy, and the island is quieter. It’s spring, and that time of year when many, especially those younger than 10 years old, may be keeping an eye out for the Easter Bunny, who may be hiding eggs around their house or yard — or perhaps hiding 20,000 eggs at Mackle Park on April 19 at the annual city of Marco Island’s Spring Jubilee!

Though the Easter Bunny may visit just once a year, there is a bunny, the Florida Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris paludicola), that hops and hides year-round on Marco Island. This native species of rabbit is found in the coastal areas of the Southeastern United States, living near and in marshes, wetlands and fresh and brackish bodies of water. The Florida species ranges throughout peninsular Florida from south of the panhandle to the Upper Keys with an area north of Miami on the East coast where they are not found. The Lower Keys have their own subspecies, the Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit (S. p. hefneri), which is endangered. This endangered bunny was named after none other than Hugh Hefner himself. You figure that out!

Marsh Rabbits here in South Florida are found in undeveloped areas of native habitat and in small nooks and crannies of neighborhoods and parks where water and thick vegetative cover are present. On Marco Island, Marsh Rabbits can be spotted nibbling grasses on the roadsides just as the sun rises or sets along State Road 92 and in the Sheffield/Granada and Estates areas. Heading to Everglades City and beyond, it has always been fun to count the number of rabbits in the Everglades as the sun rises along mowed edges of the Tamiami Trail.

The Florida Marsh Rabbits found in peninsular Florida tend to be darker in coloration than the rabbits in Northern Florida, the panhandle and up into Georgia. Marco Island and the Everglades’ Marsh Rabbits are darker black and redder on their dorsal side, or back, with cinnamon to rufous colors on their nape, feet and legs. Their ear tufts are black with ochre in the inside. The reddish colors do get duller and the black sometimes gray in spring and summer months. Of course, in South Florida, there is an exception (isn’t there always something unusual happening down here) to coloration. There are Marsh Rabbits that are “melanistic” — the rabbit is completely black, and their color doesn’t change seasonally.

Much smaller than the eastern Cottontail and not to be confused with the much larger Swamp Rabbit (found from Alabama through Texas), the Marsh Rabbit is identified with smaller legs and ears, and the underneath of their much smaller tail is never white but a dullish gray-brown. Adults reach only about 2.5 lbs. They are strictly herbivores, eating grasses, bulbs and aquatic vegetation. They do drop hard and soft pellets. Strangely, they will quickly eat the soft pellets (cecal pellets) and re-digest. This diet behavior, called coprophagy, allows them to gain more nutrients from the hard to digest vegetation.

The Marsh Rabbit does hop, but is the only rabbit that walks like a cat on all fours, moving each leg separately and placing each foot down alternately. This gait helps them through tall grass and the dense vegetation like cattails that they live and hide in. Their short hind legs also have less fur than other species of rabbit and very long toe nails. Another specific characteristic for this rabbit is their toes have a larger spread and are easily identified when tracking. These less-furry legs, long-nailed and wide-spread toes aid in swimming.

The Florida Marsh Rabbit is an impressive swimmer and much better adapted in water than the larger Swamp Rabbit. To escape a predator, the Marsh Rabbit will leap into the water and swim, hiding completely under the surface — body submerged, ears laid flat, with just its eye and nose on the surface. If spotted, it will swim away quickly to hide in the muddy water again or find floating vegetation to burrow down. In South Florida, dense freshwater and brackish marshes, cypress swamp, mangrove forests and flooded agricultural fields are favorite places to dwell. They do need high ground nearby for protection and food sources though, so the mowed roadsides are easy places to spot them. They build small nests in cattails and rushes made of grasses and leaves lined with fur, and have been known to take other small animals burrows in logs or stumps.

Many predators seek them out — owls, hawks, coyotes, bobcats, panthers, alligators and snakes, yes, including the invasive python. The males, or bucks, are busy bunnies in South Florida. Breeding is year round with adult females, or a doe, carrying up to six litters of two to four young, or kits (short for kittens), which equates to producing up to 24 kits a year. This production rate ensures a balance of enough food for natural predators and a sustainable population of rabbits, but scientists have found that deadly and invasive pythons are wiping out populations of small mammals in the Everglades, particularly Marsh Rabbits, foxes, and raccoons. This one invasive species can and is completely unbalancing a vast natural system.

Spring is a time of rebirth, renewal and hope. Driving at sunrise or sunset, look for these little reddish bunnies along the roadway. Seeing a Florida Marsh Rabbit represents spring, as it is one that has survived and a sign of hope for a sustainable and balanced ecosystem in South Florida. Let the Florida Marsh Rabbits hop us into spring!

For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

]]> 0 Something’s Got to Give Wed, 09 Apr 2014 15:58:32 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Another cart load of garbage leaves the beach.

Another cart load of garbage leaves the beach.

Something’s got to give. Soon. The Marco Island beach is raked daily and large debris is removed by Collier County. Volunteer Beach Stewards walk the beach daily picking up at least one bag of trash – sometimes two or more. The City’s Beach Advisory Committee partners with the Marco Island Civic Association, Publix and local businesses and groups for monthly beach clean-ups which remove dozens of bags of trash in only a few hours. Friends of Tigertail, Inc. has quarterly clean-ups that hundreds participate in removing carts full of trash and debris. This equates to hundreds of people cleaning our beaches removing tons of trash and debris and still more and more trash is found.

Why do beach goers come to our beautiful beach and leave trash? Why do they ride bikes on the beach, bring dogs, drink out of glass containers (and leave them in the sand or sink them in the surf), leave straws and plastic cups in the sand at the hotels, dig deep, large holes and leave them for a safety hazard? Why do they harass the wildlife by walking and running through resting shorebirds, throwing shells at birds, feeding them and taking live shells? A question on the minds of these hundreds of people trying to protect and conserve the Marco Island beach is, if all these people come here to enjoy the #1 Island in the USA according to, why would they want to trash and abuse the beach? Do they do this type of behavior where they live, too? Something’s got to give soon, since this is just the beginning of the crowds to be expected due to the TripAdvisor publicity and the development occurring in East Naples and the County Road 951 corridor. All these folks are headed Marco Island’s way and will be flooding our beach.

Here’s a list of somewhat interesting, and mostly disgusting, items found regularly on our beach: dryer sheets, soda and beer cans, fishing line, remains of sky lanterns and fireworks, mesh bags, plastic containers of sunscreen, fruit rinds from drinks, dozens of plastic straws (daily), styrofoam take-out containers, glass pieces and bottles, plastic cups, bottles and caps, miscellaneous clothing, flip flops (unmatched), broken plastic toys, countless cigarette butts, sun and eye glasses, and paper and plastic wrappers by the hundreds. Strange, but true, items such as an eye patch, dismembered shark fin and many soiled diapers have been found on the beach, left for “someone else” to remove. Why would a beach-goer leave any of this behind? Again, do they do this where they come from?

For many years, Marco Island’s beach was our secret. It has been said that Sanibel has the shelling (we all know Marco Island’s beach has more and more diverse shells); Naples has the sand (we all know our crescent beach is spectacular); Ft. Myers Beach has the recreation (we all know our vendors are the best, plus beach walkers have the beauty of Sand Dollar “spit”); and Estero and Pine Island Sound area has the wildlife (we all know Marco Island is teeming with wildlife and vistas with no impacts from the Caloosahatchee River freshwater discharges).

Being #1 is a two-edged sword; the secret is out now. Marco Island is unveiled and travelers now know what we knew all along about Marco Island’s beach. We need to step up and protect and preserve its beauty and quality.

Five years ago, and many, many years prior, the beach was relatively quiet and only busy in the peak season of February and spring break periods. The crowds would congregate at South Beach and the hotels. Stretches of beach would be open. Last weekend, the entire length of the beach was full, from Cape Marco to mid Sand Dollar Island “spit.” Due to the only seasonal popularity of the past, a concern is that the police department has not given the beach priority. In the past few years, many locals, and the hotels, have noted that our beach now is a “day trip” for east coast Floridians and a year-round destination – not just “season.” It’s time now to step up the outreach and have some real enforcement of the beach rules: no trash, no glass, no dogs, no bikes, no holes and no harassment of wildlife.

The Volunteer Beach Stewards Program began two years ago after at least five years of the Beach Advisory Committee recommending to the city that a beach patrol and more enforcement of the city’s Beach Ordinance was necessary to address the increasingly trashy behavior on the beach. The committee researched beachfront communities in Florida and how they protect and patrol their beaches. It was discovered that Marco Island is one of the very few communities that did not have regular patrols or management plans for the beach. In fact, it was the only Florida community the size of Marco Island that did not have community outreach or regular enforcement of regulations on its beach. With this committee’s input, the Volunteer Beach Steward Program began and now has a couple dozen trained volunteers that regularly walk the beach and talk to people about the simple rules of the beach: no glass containers, no dogs, no bikes, no live shelling, dispose of trash properly, fill holes when leaving the beach, and share the beach with wildlife.

Oh, and these volunteers pick up lots of bags of trash. These tolerant and patient volunteers have been on the frontline keeping our beach beautiful as the tipping point is upon us. The program is improving the quality of the beach one conversation at a time and one piece of trash removed at a time. Florida’s American Planning Association (APA) recognized and awarded the City of Marco Island for this “grass roots” program that is making a difference in conservation and protection of natural resources in the state. In turn, the University of Miami has asked for the format of the program to initiate a pilot program of ethics on beaches in Miami. This outreach is a (sandy) step in the right direction, but enforcement is desperately needed to control the trash, glass, bikes, dogs, holes and harassment of wildlife that is common now and comes with the large crowds.

The next time you visit the beach, do your part to keep Marco beautiful, please:

• Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps, even fruit rinds from drinks, attract predators of nesting shorebirds and sea turtles, such as raccoons and crows. Litter degrades the beach quality and can entangle birds, sea turtles and other wildlife. Please be responsible and take all your trash with you when you leave the beach.

• No glass containers.

• Take a walk – no bikes on the beach.

• If you dig a hole, please fill it when you leave. Holes are safety hazards to beach walkers, emergency response and wildlife.

• No dogs on the beach – leashed or unleashed, by walking or by boat. This includes all of Sand Dollar Island “spit” and Hideaway Beach.

Something’s got to give. Soon. And it’s us – let’s do our part to keep our beach beautiful, safe and healthy for humans and wildlife, alike.

If you are interested in participating in a beach clean-up, being a Volunteer Beach Steward, or would like more information about Marco Island’s beach and wildlife, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island at 239-389-5003 or email at Please do you part, let’s keep our beach beautiful!


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or


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Great, Big, Beautiful Birds Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:04:29 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie



They are tall, elegant and intensely avian. Like magnificently feathered ballerinas, Great Blue Heron, Great White Heron and the Great Egret magically grace many Southwest Florida habitats: the beach, back bay, mudflat and mangroves. And if a regular fisherman, one of these water birds hanging around the dock begging for bait is not uncommon. (Note: Please do not feed wildlife!)

These three large species of wading birds are very similar. The most obvious is their stature. They are all so big; they certainly have earned their title of “grea.” That is about as simple as it gets, though.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was first described by Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century in his volume “Systemea Naturae,” 1758, and illustrated by John James Audubon in the second edition of “Birds of America,” 1827 (Plate 161). With a head-to-tail length up to 54 inches, a height up to 54 inches, wingspan up to 79 inches and weight reaching close to eight pounds, the Great Blue is the largest heron in North America. The very long, pointed sharp bill is grayish yellow and lower legs gray — all turning an orange color briefly in breeding season. Its body is slate gray with rusty red upper legs. Below the pale head and almost all white face is a gray neck with a black and white streaking down the front. Black plumes running from atop the eyes to the back of the head give this bird a dramatic, serious look. The plumes at the base of the neck and along its back are long and “dressy,” getting more decorative in breeding season. When in full breeding plumage, this great, big, beautiful bird is spectacular.



Here is where it is not so simple. In the past, the “white morph” (meaning the total lack of pigment in the plumage) of the Great Blue Heron was thought to be a completely separate species, and commonly called the Great White Heron (Ardea herodias occidentalis). It is the same large size and shares the same behaviors and habitats, but this “white morph,” the Great White Heron, is now considered a subspecies. Still, there is support from ornithologists that it could be its own species, due to its different bill morphology and head plume lengths as compared to those of the Great Blue. Regardless of this dispute of taxonomy, it is fortunate that the Great White Heron — sub species or truly its own species — is only found in South Florida and the Caribbean for our enjoyment.

One more big, beautiful bird that earns the great title is the Great Egret. Don’t confuse this with the subspecies, “white morph” Great White Heron, though. All white plumage, the Great Egret (Ardea alba) is large but smaller and sleeker in stature than the herons, with a very bright yellow-orange bill and black legs. (So, if you see black legs on a big white bird, it is a Great Egret, not the Great White Heron…simple, right?!) From head to tail, it can be 41 inches with a height up to 39 inches. Weighing less than half of what the herons do, the wingspan is still impressive and can reach 67 inches. When in breeding plumage, the Great Egret looks spectacular. The plume hunters of the 18th century almost annihilated this species while collecting these feathers for ladies’ hat adornments. This unnecessary carnage brought about the first conservation movements in this country, and laws to protect birds were passed that still are in affect today. Consequently, in 1953, the National Audubon Society was formed to prevent the killing of birds for plumes and chose, very fittingly, the Great Egret as its symbol.



Look for all three of these great, big, beautiful birds in and around Marco Island. Commonly seen flying overhead gracefully or standing in a yard, they can also be seen singularly standing along water bodies, like statues, then slowly stalking and wading through the water for their next meal of small fish, crayfish or crustacean. Using their large pointed bills as spears, they jab their prey and are all excellent hunters. While they hunt alone, they do roost and nest in colonies in isolated mangrove islands, such as the ABC Islands in the Marco River, away from predators of their eggs and young, such as raccoons. At sunrise or sunset, to see them in flight as they leave and return to their rookery is quite an amazing sight and one, hopefully, which South Florida will always have.

For more information on shore and wading birds and their habitats in south Florida, please contact Nancy Richie at 239-389-5003 or


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or


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Just look, don’t touch! Wed, 12 Mar 2014 01:48:16 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

The Saddleback Caterpillar can be found throughout the eastern United States. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

The Saddleback Caterpillar can be found throughout the eastern United States. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Beware! Lurking in many South Florida backyards is a small critter that will offer a terrible surprise if touched. The half to one inch long, stout-bodied brown caterpillar has a conspicuous green back with brown oval outlined in white. It’s unique coloring may entice a closer look by touching or holding it– but don’t! It is a stinging caterpillar known as the Saddleback Caterpillar.

The brown oval marking on the center of its back looks like a saddle on a bright green saddle blanket, hence the silly name. Archaria stimulea (Saddleback Caterpillar) is the larvae growth phase of what will become the slug moth. It is a brown moth that is not so interesting in color and causes no harm. But in the larvae stage as a caterpillar, to protect itself from predators such as other insects, lizards and birds, it’s a hazard to all gardeners.

The Saddleback Caterpillar, though relatively a minor pest to landscape, is a significant medical pest when encountered. The body of A. stimulea has four fleshy horns that contain numerous hollow spines. They are all capable of breaking and embedding when contacting a surface such as the exposed skin of a gardener. The spines contain the venom. If touched, or only lightly brushed against, the venom can cause simple skin irritation to violent reactions in its victims. Adhering to the leaves of its host plant, this tricky caterpillar will arch its back, ensuring all four horns contact whatever is unfortunately nearby.

This caterpillar is found in large numbers in North America, east of the Mississippi River from New York to Florida. Its range is so large since it can live on many host plants that are in our yards, along sidewalks and in our parks. In Florida, they are found on Brazilian pepper, Viburnum, coral vine, Tabebuia, spicebush, pecan, mahogany, dogwood, crape myrtle, and on many species of palms (Sago, coconut, fishtail, Areca, Christmas, queen, pygmy date, to name a few!). Do any of these sound familiar?

The Pink Tabebuia is one of many host plants for the venomous caterpillars.

The Pink Tabebuia is one of many host plants for the venomous caterpillars.

While working in your yard around these many plants that could have the Saddleback hiding out, use protective clothing and gloves – DEET is not effective as a preventative. If you do have the unfortunate experience of the venomous sting, it will be felt immediately. The skin will turn red and blisters may form. Pain can last up to five or more hours. To treat, stay calm and remove the caterpillar from the skin if it is still in contact. Using tweezers, remove the largest spines and also use Scotch tape or Duct tape to stick on skin and peel off numerous times to remove as many small spines as possible. Wash skin with soap and water and dry completely. If pain, redness, headache, fever or any other extreme reaction occurs, seek medical attention immediately.

To control this pest, if in small numbers, hand removal of the eggs is suggested. Larger infestations have been successfully treated with a biological treatment: Bacillus thuringiensis or a chemical treatment of diflubenzuron. To treat your yard with these products, check with the local garden center and always apply as the label directions describe.

For such a small, fascinating looking creature, knowledge of its whereabouts in the landscape and great care should be taken around it. For more information on this caterpillar and other pests in south Florida, please visit the University of Florida’s extension website at


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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Positive Interactions with Wildlife Fri, 21 Feb 2014 19:51:02 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Jack Markel says hello to his feathered neighbors.

Jack Markel says hello to his feathered neighbors.

To balance out the alarming and sad stories of wildlife that have occurred recently in and around Marco Island — the pilot whale tragedy along the southwest coast of Florida, ultimately ending just south of Marco Island on Kice Island with 25 dead whales; the news of the Marco Eagle Sanctuary bald eagle pair nesting interrupted; and the shooting of a wild boar on Marco Island’s beach — a few positive wildlife interactions with people on Marco Island have occurred and need to be noted. It is safe to say that one of the major reasons we all live here is to enjoy the environment and the wildlife that inhabit our unique island. We all love to live and recreate here, but a conscious effort to be more in tune with the native wildlife and how to live with it, not create conflict, is a cultural shift that needs to happen if Southwest Florida is going to sustain with all the near-future development.

Here is the story of Jack and Barbara Markel and their burrowing owls. Over the holidays, new construction of a home and seawall was permitted. The property was inhabited by a pair of burrowing owls for the past couple years, and had produced three chicks just last nesting season. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued a burrow removal permit for this property so the development could begin. This permit — as allowed by Florida Statutes to remove the burrow basically allows for the digging up of the burrow and the subsequent displacement of the two remaining adult burrowing owls — was issued outside of the owls’ nesting season when there are no eggs or chicks present.

The day of the burrow removal is always a tough one. It is not technical; just a shovel in hand to dig and collapse the burrow. If the owls are present, a biologist ensures they are not in the burrow tunnel or nest cavity when the destruction begins. The owls will watch and do behave alarmed when the burrows are removed. In this case, the pair of adult owls flew across the street to a house and perched on its eaves near the front door. Once the burrows were removed, material, equipment and vehicles arrived to begin seawall construction. It is very typical for the displaced owls to “pop up” on a nearby property with a new burrow. Sometimes the new burrow will be found on the same street or one or two streets away from their original burrow site, so the area is monitored for a new burrow.

Over the next couple weeks, no new burrows were noted in this neighborhood. Many of the neighbors were on the lookout. The Markels, at the home across the street from the original burrow, were watching the two burrowing owls daily, as they perched on the eave by their front door. The Markels were concerned that they owls needed a burrow. Owning the undeveloped property next to their home, they had their grandsons, who were visiting over the holidays, create “starter burrows” to entice the owl pair to dig a burrow and hopefully nest on their property — a great place for their new burrow.

The Markels’ grandson, 11-year-old Colin Feldt from Texas, enthusiastically followed the easy steps to create a “starter burrow.” He picked an open, treeless area of the property away from shrubs, drainage area and street. Using a small shovel, Colin started a burrow entrance by simply digging 8-12 inches at a 45 degree angle. He mounded fresh, white sand at the entrance and placed a T-perch at the side of the entrance. The disturbed sand and perch nearby quickly received the owl pair’s attention, and within a few weeks, the owls took ownership of the “starter burrow” and started digging it further themselves.

To date, the owl pair is now using this completed burrow permanently and will most likely produce chicks in the next month or so, as it is nesting season. The Markels and others in the neighborhood are enjoying their new next door neighbors; the new owl burrow is literally only 50 feet from the original burrow that had to be removed for the new house construction. Jack Markel stated, “I hope they stay for a very long time.”

The success of the Markels’ “starter burrow” is a hopeful indication that the Marco Island burrowing owl population can sustain the development of our small island. This displacement situation that does not negatively affect the owl population now can happen as long as there are undeveloped properties and open spaces in yards and parks on Marco Island. As development increases and build-out of all the open, undeveloped sites completes, the owl population will lose nesting habitat and ultimately decline.

We all can help. If you have an open area in your yard, please consider a “starter burrow” and help sustain the Marco Island burrowing owl population. If interested in creating a burrowing owl “starter burrow” on your property, please contact Nancy Richie, environmental specialist for the city of Marco Island at 239-389-5003 or An informational brochure and free T-perch are available.


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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2014 Christmas Bird Count Sun, 09 Feb 2014 01:11:41 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Photos by Jean Hall

Photos by Jean Hall

Each winter, the National Audubon Society holds their annual nationwide Christmas Bird Count. This is 114th year that thousands of volunteers armed with binoculars, field guides and bird lists from all over the country get out in their neighborhoods, local parks and natural areas to document each and every bird they see and hear in about eight hours. It is “citizen science” at its best, giving an overall assessment — good or bad — of bird populations that enhance biologists’ studies of bird populations, migration routes and the health of our world’s ecosystems. This count contributes to the longest running wildlife assessment recorded in the world, and helps support and guide conservation actions locally and globally.

Way down here in Southwest Florida for the past 14 years, the local annual Ten Thousand Islands Christmas Bird Count doesn’t exactly happen on Christmas, but typically just a few days after the new year. Jim Krakowski organizes 13 teams, a total of 42 people, which set out to canvas their areas for bird species and numbers. The volunteers go by foot, canoe, boats, an airboat, swamp buggies and cars covering diverse areas and habitats, such as Marco Island, Addison Bay, Fiddlers Creek, Cape Romano, Tamiami Trail East agricultural field areas, Curcie/Antenna ponds, Collier-Seminole State Park, Panther Preserve, Ten Thousand Islands National Reserve, Bad Luck Prairie and the Faka Union Canal. These areas are called “circles.” The 13 “circles” canvassed in Southwest Florida by these teams are recorded with the 2,300 “circles” across the country, contributing data for overall bird population trends.

This is the seventh year I have participated with biologists Karyn Allman and Sally Stein on the Marco Island team. We were out very early on the morning of Jan. 3. The weather was cold but not as cold as past years. It was 59 F degrees at dawn, and only reached 61 F by the afternoon. The sun came out for just an hour, and the northwest wind was blowing a constant 10-15 mph. By late afternoon, after canvassing the Island Golf Course, Mackle Park, Marco Island Cemetery, Indian Hill, Otter Mound, Stevens Landing, Key Marco, Calusa Marina, Barfield Bay and many residential streets, 52 different species of birds were observed with approximately 1,104 birds counted.

Not a banner year but not an entirely disappointing year for the bird count occurred. In Southwest Florida, 135 different species of birds were documented (2011 holds the record of 152 species) with at total of 18,225 birds counted, though this is the fourth lowest count in 14 years. The record count for this area was in 2008 when 34,490 birds were documented.

Still, there were four new birds recorded. One Canada Goose was observed at the Marco Island Country Club lake; eight Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were counted in the Ten Thousand Island National Reserve marsh; three Snowy Plovers; and two Piping Plovers were counted amongst the hundreds of shorebirds gathered near Caxambas Pass on the sandbars.

Reoccurring but rarer birds — some not observed since 2006 — were one Black Scoter, nine Horned Grebe and 25 Cedar Waxwings. Not as rare but a treat to see were a dozen Gold Finch that were enjoying the large trees at the Marco Island Cemetery.

Of the 13 different teams, each team saw species that no other team recorded. Of course, the team on Marco Island noted the Florida Burrowing Owl, Muscovy Duck, Mallard Ducks and Magnificent Frigates soaring above. Out in the agricultural fields off of Tamiami Trail East, team leader Monica Higgins, recorded a Snail Kite, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Brown-headed Cowbird.

The three most numerous birds observed and counted in Southwest Florida were Tree Swallows (4,010; not one counted on Marco Island), White Ibis (1,518; 106 on Marco Island) and Turkey Vulture (1,050; 41 on Marco Island). The most prevalent bird counted on Marco Island was the Black Vulture — 311 of them! Every team saw Blue Heron and Turkey Vulture in their “circles”.

If you are interested in participating in next year’s Christmas Bird Count in southwest Florida, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, city of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or If you would like to participate in another region, please go to to find a contact for specific regions across the nation. It’s a great way to kick off a new year by enjoying the great outdoors and contributing the planet’s bird population trends through the years.


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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Taking a Turn with Gulls and Terns Wed, 29 Jan 2014 15:02:22 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Gulls and terns together on the beach. PHOTO BY BEV ANDERSON

Gulls and terns together on the beach. PHOTO BY BEV ANDERSON

As you walk along the beach, you may think you are just seeing and hearing lots of “seagulls” on the Marco Island beach, but there are many diverse and unique species of gull-like birds on the beach. Take a closer look, and you may be surprised by the diversity of bird species using the beach to rest, feed and even nest.

Gulls, commonly known as “seagulls” (though many nest and breed inland), are a common beach bird on the Marco Island beach that we are all familiar with both visually and by sound. Gulls have large bodies and typically thick, curved bills. Many species take two to four years to reach full adult breeding plumage, so it is difficult to identify species as juveniles. Seen in large flocks, historically, they have been fed by beachgoers. If they have been fed, they will mob people and “beg” for food or bait, so many think this bird as a nuisance. Gulls do not need to be fed, though. They forage and scavenge in the tidal zone and are not a nuisance unless fed by people. They are part of a healthy beachside ecosystem.

Terns are very similar — at a glance — to “seagulls,” but are distinguished by a smaller head with crown feathers, pointier wing plumage, a pointed bill shape and most have a forked tail. Also, their feeding technique makes it easy to determine if it is a tern rather than a gull. Terns will plunge-dive into the water for their fishy meal. They are not as human-friendly as some of the common gulls, but do congregate in large flocks to rest. Some species nest on the Marco Island beach. If disturbed, they will fly away.

It takes gulls two, three and some four years to reach full adult plumage. Prior to that plumage, it is difficult to identify juvenile species, unless looked at very carefully. Here are some quick identifying tips for gull species — IF they are in full adult plumage — on Marco Island’s beach:

• Laughing Gull: The black hood, or completely black head, is easily identifiable. The bright orange-red bill is not as stout as other gulls. The laughing call it makes is commonly heard on the beach or at a marina, and is one of a kind!

• Ring-billed Gull: This is one of the most common gulls seen on the beach in flocks, in pairs or single looking for handouts and always where food is plentiful. Look at the bill — a black ring encircles its yellow bill near the tip. Legs are yellow.

• Herring Gull: Also plentiful in numbers, this gull has pink legs and a large yellow bill. They are larger than a Ring-billed Gull.

Depending on the species, terns are here year round on the beaches. Here are some quick tips to help identify terns commonly seen along Marco Island’s beach:

• Caspian Tern: This is the largest tern on the beach (average length 21 inches, height 50 inches) with a black cap and a very thick, large coral-red bill that has a slight black or pigmented tip, and its tail is less forked, more like a “U” than a deep “V” shape in flight.

• Royal Tern: Close in size to a Caspian Tern (average length 20 inches/height 41 inches) with a distinctive black cap with a thinner, longer, pointed orange-red bill and deeply forked “V” shaped tail.

• Sandwich Tern: Smaller, but the not the smallest (average length 15 inches and height 34 inches) of terns, this is one of the easiest to identify just by looking at the bill. The black bill is pointed and slender tipped in yellow — as if it dipped its bill in mustard of a “sandwich.” The tail is deeply forked but shorter than a Royal Tern.

• Least Tern: This is the smallest tern and most aggressive on the Marco Island beach. This tern nests in great numbers between April and August of each year. If you have ever been dive-bombed on the beach by a small gray-bodied bird with black cap, you have encountered a Least Tern protecting its well-camouflaged nest on the sandy beach. This is the only tern species that nests here on Marco Island’s beach.

The smaller Sandwich Tern with yellow-tipped black bill with the largest tern species on Marco Island, the Caspian Tern. PHOTO BY BEVERLY ANDERSONL

The smaller Sandwich Tern with yellow-tipped black bill with the largest tern species on Marco Island, the Caspian Tern. PHOTO BY BEVERLY ANDERSONL

Next time you take a beach walk and see gull-like birds along the shoreline or in larger resting flocks on the beach, take a closer look and see how many unique species of gulls and terns you can identify. The more number of diverse species that use the beach, the healthier the ecosystem is functioning.

Please always remember to give birds on the beach their space; walk around resting flocks, do not chase or feed. Keep our beach healthy and clean by removing all trash and food scraps when you leave the beach. Be a Beach Hero — help keep our beaches healthy and safe for people and wildlife!


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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2014 New Year’s Resolutions Fri, 17 Jan 2014 03:51:59 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Live fighting conch.

Live fighting conch.

As the New Year rolls in, looking forward is a natural inclination. Reflecting on the past year’s experiences helps to improve knowledge, behavior and life in general. Many of us distill these lessons to make a list of resolutions for the new year. Sometimes resolutions are hard to stick to if they are too grandiose or complicated.

Making resolutions that are a small step in the right direction or something that is easy to insert into your regular way of life are always the most successful. Resolutions that have a collective effort may be the most effective way to look positively to the future and improve in 2014. As more and more people visit the Marco Island beach, it needs our collective effort to protect it.

Over the past 12 months, the city of Marco Island’s Volunteer Beach Stewards have reported their observations and outreach from their weekly — sometimes daily — beach walks. The resounding issue is trash: trash in all shapes, sizes and components. Plastic is one of the biggest discarded debris found: plastic wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic caps, plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic on diapers, plastic line and nets, plastic shoes, plastic toys, plastic zip ties. The list is endless. This plastic, depending on the form it is in, can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

Surprisingly, the issue of very large holes left on the beach is being reported in high numbers too. Some of the beach goers must toil all day to dig some of the holes found on the beach. These holes can be very deceptive to see from beach level and create a real safety hazard to the beach raker operation, beach walkers and environmental, recreational and emergency response vehicles. During sea turtle nesting season, they also can cause an impact to nesting and hatching sea turtles by trapping the turtles in their treks to and from the Gulf of Mexico.

There are still reports of dogs on the beach — both leashed and unleashed. Within the city of Marco Island’s incorporated limits, which includes all of Marco Island’s beach from Cape Marco, South Beach to South Seas condominiums, Hideaway Beach and also the Tigertail beach and lagoon areas, very northern tip of Sand Dollar “spit,” no dogs are allowed unless they are working and accompanying a person with impairments. In Collier County, dogs on leashes can visit the unbridged islands of the county, such as Keewadin, but within the city, no dogs are allowed for health and safety issues as well as protection of wildlife such as nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.

Using the 2013 52 weekly reports from the Volunteer Beach Stewards as the guide to improve and protect our beach, here are just six easy resolutions for all of us to keep in 2014 that will keep Marco Island’s beach beautiful and healthy:

1. Leave Only Your Footprints: A day at the beach means to most setting up chairs, towels, coolers and umbrellas, getting out toys, fishing equipment and having a meal or two with cold drinks all day. Please remember to pack everything up you bring and remove it off the beach when your visit is done. Food scraps attract crows, raccoons and fire ants. Beach goers and boaters should take home the plastic waste and recycle or dispose of it properly, not dump it in the Gulf waters or leave it on the beach. (An even better resolution would be avoiding plastic use as much as possible, choosing more biodegradable product containers and material for use.) Pick up and dispose of any trash you see left by others. Please leave the beach cleaner than you found it.

2. No Glass on the Beach: All glass — including bottles, containers, glasses — is prohibited on the beach. Glass left on the beach can get buried and broken and become a hazard for humans and wildlife. Please use recyclable plastic containers, and take everything with you when leaving the beach.

A deep hole dug and left on the beach. PHOTO BY MARY NELSON

A deep hole dug and left on the beach. PHOTO BY MARY NELSON

3. Dig A Hole? Please Fill It When You Leave: Digging and playing in the sand is fun to do, but when it’s time to pack up after a day of sun and fun, fill in the hole and smooth out your beach site. This will ensure no hazards are on the beach where wildlife can get trapped or a person could unexpectedly trip or fall due to the hole.

4. Share the Beach with Wildlife: Marco Island’s beaches are thriving with wildlife that varies in species throughout the seasons. If you see a flock of birds, please walk around and do not disturb them. Do not feed the birds or any other wildlife. Not only will the birds become a nuisance — expecting handouts all the time — breads and scraps actually will harm and may kill the birds. Enjoy wildlife from a distance. Having a variety of species of wildlife makes beach trips and walks interesting and keeps the ecosystem healthy.

5. No Dogs on the Beach: Please remember no dogs are allowed on the Marco Island beaches for health and safety reasons and to protect vulnerable wildlife.

6. No Live Shelling: Sea shells are very important to the beach’s ecosystem. Please check all shells to see if they are empty before taking them. The shell may have a living creature in it. If not sure, please leave the shell where you found it.

If you see or find an injured bird, please call the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Wildlife Center at 239-262-2273. To report a dead, sick or injured sea turtle, manatee, dolphin or if you see anyone disturbing these animals, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC) or #FWC or *FWC on your mobile phone. You can also text

For more information on how to keep the Marco Island beaches beautiful, on becoming a Volunteer Beach Steward or if you have any inquiries or comments, please go to or contact the City of Marco Island at 239-389-5003.


For more information on any of the projects or to provide comments, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

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2013’s Excellent Environmental Endeavors Wed, 01 Jan 2014 20:01:48 +0000 PROTECTING &PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

Mike Gee and Chris Sparacino with FWC Wildlife Officer control nuisance python by Nancy Richie.

Mike Gee and Chris Sparacino with FWC Wildlife Officer control nuisance python by Nancy Richie.

This past year, Marco Island’s environment had exciting conservation efforts and thrived despite increased construction and tourism and limited funding. It’s a precarious balance of people and the environment on this small barrier island in the Ten Thousand Islands, but with the community’s awareness and support, the wildlife and its habitat is holding its own. Looking back in 2013, here are a handful of projects that improved and maintained our environment:

• Volunteer Beach Stewards:

Launched in 2012, this award-winning program has continued to improve steadily in both numbers and messages to protect the Marco Island beach. In 2013, the City of Marco Island’s Volunteer Beach Steward Program was recognized by Florida’s Chapter of the America Planning Association (APA) as a stellar grass-roots community initiative program. Thirty trained volunteers regularly walk the beach to provide information to beachgoers, report issues to the city (such as prohibited dogs, bicycles, holes and glass on the beach) and tirelessly pick up trash. They have, on a daily basis, improved our beach culture and environment for us and the precious wildlife. Their efforts have produced increase police patrols on the beach to improve public safety and assistance with injured wildlife and rescues. A win-win for people and wildlife.

• Monthly Beach Clean Ups:

 Tiny Fighting Conchs –Sand Dollar “spit” by Nancy Richie.

Tiny Fighting Conchs –Sand Dollar “spit” by Nancy Richie.

Not a new concept, and fortunately one that anyone can participate in, the 2013 City of Marco Island’s Beach Advisory Committee provided the opportunity for local groups, clubs and businesses to volunteer and clean up the beach each month. Publix provided bags, gloves and bottled water each event with Marco Island Civic Association (MICA) on hand with their beach vehicle to assist with supplies, removal of the trash, debris and tired participants. Local businesses and clubs, such as, Mutual of Omaha Band, Rick’s Hair Salon, CJ’s on the Bay, Marco Island’s Woman’s Club, and MICA, sup-ported the effort to keep our beach clean. What a difference they have made to the beach and at the same time had a great time. Interested in participating? Please call me at 239-389-5003.

• Straws on the Beach:

Well, one thing leads to another. During the 2013 Beach Advisory Committee’s monthly Beach Clean Ups, participants picked up, literally, thousands of large plastic straws off the beach. The black, large drink straws, laying on the sand or buried by the beach raker, covered the beach. When sea turtles would dig their nests, straws were seen in the deeper sand by the sea turtle monitor. With a proposal to amend the Beach Ordinance, the City’s Planning Board challenged the hotels and restaurants that provided these straws in drinks on the beach to clean up their act or straws would be banned — for good. In three months, straws were found in much lower numbers and hotels changed their standards and held staff accountable to pick up the plastic straws off the beach to ensure “only footprints are left on the beach.”

• Sea Turtle Nesting:

The nesting and hatching season of 2013 brought the highest number of nests — 93 — in over a decade of monitoring sea turtle nesting. With two major beach construction projects — South Beach Renourishment and the Hideaway Beach North Beach Renourishment — occurring in spring and the early part of the summer, Mary Nelson our dedicated and expert “Sea Turtle Lady,” was busier than ever ensuring each nest was protected and hatched. Her efforts paid off with 72 nests hatching.

• Shorebird Nesting:

Least Terns, Black Skimmers and Wilson Plovers nest on the Marco Island beaches between April and September each year. The Sand Dollar Island “spit” (formally designated as the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area, or CWA) was a hotspot for large numbers of each of these three shorebird species which nested successfully. Volunteer Shorebird Stewards (local residents trained by Audubon to educate beach goers and monitor the nesting birds) were on the beach, armed with bird watching scopes and information on these shorebirds. More than 3,000 people were educated, improving the chance of survival for the shorebirds. Want to help? Go to

• Burrowing Owls:

With 120 Burrowing Owl nest sites, no neighborhood on Marco Island is left out from having a burrow site. The year had the highest number of pairs nesting and producing young — 75 in 2013, producing approximately 216 owl chicks. Volunteers out monitoring and maintaining the burrow areas increased exponentially, which undoubtedly improved awareness and protection of our charismatic island bird.

Gopher Tortoise by Matt Finn.

Gopher Tortoise by Matt Finn.

• Septic Tank Replacement Program (STRP) and Gopher Tortoises:

After seven years and 14 districts, the city completed the STRP. The entire island now has access to sewer, and the septic tanks are eliminated. The final district was in the “Estates” section of the island — the hilly, upland area surrounding Indian Hill. This area is the habitat of the state-listed threatened species, the Gopher Tortoise. Installing the sewer infrastructure in the right-of-way area, the city with an approved Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) permit removed and relocated more than 100 tortoises. Over the six months of construction, no tortoises were harmed or removed from the island, conserving and protecting this unique population.

• Artificial Reef Program:

2013 brought the city of Marco Island $500,000 in grant funding from the BP Gulf Seafood and Tourism Promotional Fund to create two artificial reefs offshore Marco Island. The reefs are for creating habitat for offshore fisheries which in turn creates opportunities for recreational fishing and diving. The city of Naples and Collier County Government received similar funding. Working together, the three governmental entities will create six new artificial reefs along the Collier County shoreline. Marco Island’s reefs will be approximately 16 and 27 miles offshore of the island. Constructed of natural coral rocks and clean concrete, such as culverts donated from FDOT and light poles from LCEC, each reef will be minimum of 500 cubic tons and ¼ by ¼ mile in size. Permitting through the US Army Corps of Engineers is almost complete, and deployment of the material and construction of the reefs is planned for the spring of 2014. The reef program plans construction of additional reefs in the future. For more information or to donate material or funds, go to Give enough, and you can name the reef.

• Fruit Farm Creek Mangrove Restoration:

Only Phase one of two of this Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR) project has been completed due to funding, but Robin Lewis, consultant for RBNERR, reports mangroves have started growing in the Steven’s Landing area, and it’s just a matter of time for the area to reestablish as a healthy ecosystem. Once funding is complete, Phase II will incorporate a channel cut on the south side of State Road 92 to improve hydrology, which will allow mangroves to reestablish in this area, also. For more information, go to

• Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL):

The city of Marco Island’s Beautification Advisory Committee is always promoting the “right plant in the right place” and water conservation. This goes hand-in-hand with the concept of FFL. In 2013, the BAC planted Jane Hitler Park and the Calusa Park sign area with plants that meet this standard. The BAC also ensured the top 100 cul-de-sacs were cleaned up. Their annual Public Forum is a popular event with water conservation and FFL information to improve the island’s landscape for aesthetics and wildlife. Please attend in 2014; it is scheduled for Feb. 11, from 1-4 PM at the Community Meeting Room (51 Bald Eagle Drive). For more information, go to

• Marine Mammal Rescues:

Manatee at Caxambas Pass by Nancy Richie.

Manatee at Caxambas Pass by Nancy Richie.

Red Tide, eutrophication of the toxic micro algae Karenia brevis, lingered in southwest Florida waters for more than six months in early 2013. A record number of manatee deaths in Florida occurred due to this harmful algae bloom. Several stressed manatee were in the island’s canals, but were rescued and eventually released by Mote Marine after recovery. In late summer, when tides change quickly, on different occasions, a dolphin and several manatees were caught in the shallow waters of Tigertail Lagoon. All were successfully rescued to swim away freely unharmed — thanks to many who reported and cared for the stranded animals until the tide turned. If you come across a hurt or injured animal, please call the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC).

• Pythons and Iguanas:

As the Everglades and south Florida continue to see more invasive species creep into the environment, so does Marco Island. Green iguanas continue to be trapped and removed to ensure the native animals thrive. A large python was a huge (yes, huge) surprise at the waste water treatment plant on Mainsail Drive last spring. It was nesting in a pump box: 14 feet long, more than 100 pounds and gravid with 80 eggs. Caught and removed by city staff and FWC, pythons are a continuing nuisance in our environment.

This is just a short list of environmental endeavors on Marco Island in the past year. With the amount of volunteers and residents supporting the environment, 2014 looks to be just as successful. Get out and volunteer! Make 2014 a Happy New Year for our environment!


For more information on any of the projects or to provide comments, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or


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