Coastal Breeze News » Protect and Preserve http://www.coastalbreezenews.com Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:22:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Something’s Got to Give http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/04/09/somethings-got-to-give/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/04/09/somethings-got-to-give/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 15:58:32 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=37820 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

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 TripAdvisor.com, 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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com. 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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com.

 


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Great, Big, Beautiful Birds http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/03/28/great-big-beautiful-birds/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/03/28/great-big-beautiful-birds/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:04:29 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=37651 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

GREAT BLUE HERON BREEDING PAIR

GREAT BLUE HERON BREEDING PAIR

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.

GREAT EGRET BREEDING PLUMMAGE

GREAT EGRET BREEDING PLUMMAGE

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.

GREAT EGRET BREEDING PAIR

GREAT EGRET BREEDING PAIR

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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com.

 

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

 


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Just look, don’t touch! http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/03/11/just-look-dont-touch/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/03/11/just-look-dont-touch/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 01:48:16 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=37143 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

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 http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/.

 

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


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Positive Interactions with Wildlife http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/02/21/positive-interactions-with-wildlife/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/02/21/positive-interactions-with-wildlife/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 19:51:02 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=36756 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com. 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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com.


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2014 Christmas Bird Count http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/02/08/2014-christmas-bird-count/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/02/08/2014-christmas-bird-count/#comments Sun, 09 Feb 2014 01:11:41 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=36415 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com. If you would like to participate in another region, please go to http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count 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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com.


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Taking a Turn with Gulls and Terns http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/01/29/taking-a-turn-with-gulls-and-terns/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/01/29/taking-a-turn-with-gulls-and-terns/#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 15:02:22 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=36022 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com.


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2014 New Year’s Resolutions http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/01/16/2014-new-years-resolutions/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/01/16/2014-new-years-resolutions/#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 03:51:59 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=35792 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

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 tip@MyFWC.com.

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 www.cityofmarcoisland.com 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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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2013’s Excellent Environmental Endeavors http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/01/01/2013s-excellent-environmental-endeavors/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2014/01/01/2013s-excellent-environmental-endeavors/#comments Wed, 01 Jan 2014 20:01:48 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=35473 PROTECTING &PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

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 www.flshorebirdalliance.org.

• 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 http://www.cfcollier.org/artificial-reef-fund. 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 www.marcomangroves.com.

• 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 www.cityofmarcoisland.com.

• 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 nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

 


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Giving back to wildlife, our way of life http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/12/23/giving-back-to-wildlife-our-way-of-life/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/12/23/giving-back-to-wildlife-our-way-of-life/#comments Mon, 23 Dec 2013 15:37:26 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=35583 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

Roseate Spoonbill at Tigertail Beach. photo by Tony Smith

Roseate Spoonbill at Tigertail Beach. photo by Tony Smith

As the rest of the country is shoveling snow, commuting dangerously on icy roadways and bundling up in scarves and coats, we are walking the sunny Marco Island crescent beach in flip-flops or even barefoot, gift shopping in shorts and t-shirts and asking for an iced peppermint latte to cool off. What a wonderful time of year!

Most of us, if not all of us, live and visit here for the beauty and wildlife life that is just out our backdoors. From boating, fishing, beachcombing, tennis, golf to just our easy way of living with the doors and windows open, the wildlife we encounter and surrounds us improves our lives. Why not give back? It’s easy.

A wonderful way to protect and preserve this tropical paradise lifestyle on Marco Island is to give family and friends memberships to the local organizations that work countless hours to ensure our wildlife and ecosystems are sustained and protected for us to enjoy. Here are just a few organizations that benefit Marco Island and the surrounding areas:

• Naples Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (www.naplesfnps.org): Their mission is “To promote preservation, conservation and restoration of the native plants and the native plant communities of Florida.” Monthly meetings with presentations at the Naples Botanical Garden and field trips throughout Collier County are planned for the 2014 season. In February, the annual banquet features a presentation by renowned author Dr. Douglas Tallamy. Memberships for individuals are $35 and for families $50.

• Friends of Tigertail Beach Inc. (www.friendsoftigertail.com): This Marco Island non-profit organization of volunteers is “dedicated to serving this community through educational programs and citizen support efforts while actively preserving and protecting the natural systems of Tigertail Beach on Marco Island.” With quarterly beach clean ups, monthly meetings with wildlife presentations and five-star events, such as “Breakfast With the Birds” and “Discover Tigertail”, there is always a way to get involved with Marco Island’s jewel — Tigertail Beach. Memberships for a year are $20 and for three years $50.

• Friends of Rookery Bay (www.rookerybay.org): A volunteer citizen support organization that was established in 1987, the Friends of Rookery Bay assist the Florida Department of Environmental Protection with management of the 110,000 acres of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve which surrounds Marco Island. They contribute by assisting managers and scientists with informed coastal decisions through an integrated program of stewardship, education and research. Members assist at the Learning Center with guided trail and kayak tours, in the Palmetto Patch Nature Store and plan and participate in exciting fundraising events such as art exhibits, wildlife festivals and presentations. There are opportunities to work in the field too, from tagging sharks and planting vegetation to feeding and caring for the animals in the Learning Center. Memberships are $35 for individuals and $75 for families.

• The Conservancy of Southwest Florida Inc. (www.conservancy.org): A leader in conservation and preservation, the Conservancy’s mission is “to protect southwest Florida’s unique, natural environment and quality of life…now and forever.” There seem to be endless opportunities for volunteers at the Conservancy that will fit anyone’s lifestyle and comfort zone. Possibilities, to name a few, are: Concierge Corps, Guest Services, Critter Carriers, Cruise Corps, Docents, Dock Masters, Eco Tour Guides, Animal Care Givers, Special Events Team or Nature Store Associates. You don’t have to be a member to volunteer, but membership supports the “heartbeat” of their programs. Basic memberships start at $65.

• Friends of Fakahatchee (www.orchidswamp.org): Fakahatchee Strand is “home of the elusive Ghost Orchid” and many other unique species of orchids only to this swamp. Being the deepest slough in the Everglades, it is the largest cypress strand in the world — and just down the road from Marco Island. The Friends of Fakahatchee “provides financial and volunteer support to preserve the unique ecology and cultural heritage of the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and to educate the public about its importance.” When visiting or volunteering onsite, members report wildlife sightings of black bear, spoonbills, alligators, great horned owl and many songbirds this time of year. Guided Swamp Walks, Ghost Rider Tram Tours and a Christmas Cruise are all part of the events planned this season. Individual memberships are $20, and family memberships are $30.

Enjoy the gorgeous weather and visit each of these organizations, or while lounging on the beach, click on their websites. Give a membership and make your gift giving last an entire year. You may want to join yourself.

 

For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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Talking Turkey http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/12/04/talking-turkey/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/12/04/talking-turkey/#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 19:28:55 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=35003 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

Male Turkey, a “gobbler.” PHOTO COURTESY OF FWC

Male Turkey, a “gobbler.” PHOTO COURTESY OF FWC

The day after the third Thursday of November every year, many of us who celebrate Thanksgiving look forward to eating leftovers that include tasty turkey sandwiches. Many find this the best part of the holiday! Unless an avid sportsman is in your family, the turkey that filled your home with the heartwarming aroma while roasting all morning, came from a commercial turkey farm. As we sit down with family and friends, giving thanks for all the gifts in our lives, there are about seven million wild turkeys in the United States giving thanks that they are still roaming around in the woodlands.

Almost the national symbol, there are five subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriams and Goulds turkeys. The populations are sustainable due to management programs that brought a 700,000 population in the 1930’s up to a 7 million population today. 5.1 to 5.3 million of all these subspecies of turkeys are the Eastern Turkey, whose range covers most of the eastern United States, stretching into the Midwest. The Eastern turkey population is also found south into the panhandle and northern Florida counties.

Florida is the only state that has its own unique species of turkey. The Florida Turkey, well known as the Osceola Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo oseola), is found here in Florida. This beautiful, wild turkey was named by W.E.D Scott in 1890 for the famous Seminole Chief Osceola. It is estimated there are about 80,000 to 100,000 in the population.

It was skipped over for the national symbol, but Collier County chose the Osceola Turkey as the perfect symbol for the County seal on July 9, 1923 at its very first board meeting. They chose this magnificent native bird due to the abundance, its beauty and how early settlers depended on it as a food source. While it is not found on Marco Island, in can be found inland in Collier County. Look for these large birds in open fields near woodlands or in unused farm fields. The Falling Waters community, on the corner of State Road 41 and County Road 951, has had frequent sightings of turkeys trotting on their trails.

Turkeys are the largest of all game birds in the United States and have many unique characteristics and body appendages with unique names. Males, known as gobblers, generally weigh 16 to 27 pounds with the largest documented at 37 pounds.

Females, known as hens, are smaller, averaging eight to ten pounds. Wild turkeys have 5,000 to 6,000 feathers that cover their bodies in tracks. The males are always more colorful than females. Males can have multicolored feathers, and even iridescent shades are found in the Osceola. They use the colors to attract mates, show dominance and warn predators, especially when their large tail is fanned out in an almost complete circle. A juvenile male, a “jake,” will not have a complete tail circle. An adult male, a “torn,” will have the full circle of tail feathers.

The drab, mostly brown hens do not have the showy tail feathers and can easily hide in the vegetation and be camouflaged while sitting on eggs or hiding her brood. They have featherless necks and heads, as do the males.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ORANGE COUNTY AU DUBON Female Turkey, a “hen.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF ORANGE COUNTY AU DUBON Female Turkey, a “hen.”

During mating season, the males’ head color can be red, white or blue and changes instantly. Modified feathers that are tufts of filaments grow from the chest area, and on the males will grow to an average length of ten inches. This growth is referred to as the turkey’s beard. 10 to 20 percent of the females have beards, but much shorter – typically two or three inches in length. The longest beard on a male recorded was 18 inches.

Nubs found on all newly hatched turkeys are found on the legs but in a few weeks they disappear on the hens and continue to grow on the gobblers’ stout and strong legs. These spurs are used for fighting and dominance display. Both sexes also have carbuncles and snoods. A carbuncle is a fleshy growth on top of their head. The snood gets long enough to hang over the side of the bill. The gobblers’ snood gets quite long, and it can be inflated and flexed.

Florida has the perfect and plentiful habitat for Osceola turkeys. They need open, well vegetated areas to feed during the day and forests with trees to roost at night. This varied habitat is essential to provide food and cover for their survival. They are found in the piney flatwoods, oak and palmetto forests and in and near cypress swamps. They feed on seeds, grasses, insects and small vertebrates found in the fields.

Courtship, mating and nesting occurs as early as January and completed by May. The female will nest on the ground, in vegetative cover, using a shallow dirt depression as a nest. 10 to 12 eggs will be deposited over two weeks, typically one egg a day. The female will incubate the eggs for approximately 28 days, turning them all the while and making sounds to them. Within 24 hours of hatching, the hen will “imprint” the newly hatched turkey, called a poult. This imprinting is vitally important for survival to her brood (group of poults). The poult must recognize the different calls and sounds of the hen for safety. Only half the poults will survive to adulthood due to the many predators sharing their habitat. Rats, snakes, raccoons, foxes, owls and hawks are all hunters of both the eggs and young poults. A call or gobble from the hen can lead the poults to cover as they grow and mature in the open fields and woods.

Enjoy your leftovers and turkey sandwiches! Maybe pack them up for a picnic and take a hike – you may come across a magnificent Osceola Turkey!

 

For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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‘Tis the Season…For Stone Claws http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/11/20/tis-the-seasonfor-stone-claws/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/11/20/tis-the-seasonfor-stone-claws/#comments Wed, 20 Nov 2013 16:19:01 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=34782 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

Stone crabs are fished commercially, but an individual may have up to five traps, if properly licensed. PHOTOS PROVIDED BY MYFWC.COM

Stone crabs are fished commercially, but an individual may have up to five traps, if properly licensed. PHOTOS PROVIDED BY MYFWC.COM

Check the calendar! You might have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or “season” marked. In our house, the calendar marks October 15 through May 15 every year. This means it’s time to crack some claws and enjoy a tasty meal of the South Florida delicacy – the stone crab. This season got off to a rocky (or should it be called “stony?!) start with some pricing conflicts in Everglades City, the hub of Florida’s commercial stone crab fisheries. But all seems to have adjusted and the catch keeps coming in. Lucky us! Let’s eat!

Florida actually has two species and one “hybrid” of stone crab: the Florida stone crab (Menippe mercenaria), which is found in Southwest Florida from the Florida Keys to about Cedar Key and also along South and North Carolina coasts in the Atlantic Ocean; the gulf stone crab (Mennippe adina), found in northern Gulf of Mexico along the Florida panhandle through Texas; and the “hybrid” stone crab, where the two species interbreed can are found along northern Florida, into the Georgia coast, in the Atlantic Ocean and along the northern panhandle in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both species are harvested, but the local one, the Florida stone crab, once simply a by-catch from Spiny Lobster harvesting in the Keys, has been a stand-alone fishery since the 1960’s, bringing in millions of dollars to the state. It comprises 99 percent of all stone crab landings in the United States.

Found in estuarine and nearshore habitats, the crabs hide in crevices in and beneath rock, shell, sponges and tunicates. Seagrass beds and rocky substrates up to depths of 200 feet are where thrive. They are ecologically important, with their burrows and hiding crevices providing a diversity of marine life species shelter, food and protection. They are also a food source for larger marine species in this ecosystem.

Claws must be at least 2 and 3/4 inches to be taken.

Claws must be at least 2 and 3/4 inches to be taken.

Adult Florida Stone Crabs are tan, sometimes gray, in color with black spots on their smooth or oval carapace, or body. The large claws have distinctive black tips – large “crusher claws.” The legs are dark brown with very distinctive white bands. The juveniles are darker and can be deep purple to black with white flecks on the carapace. These are often found in Tigertail Lagoon and are easily confused with “mud” crabs, but the white bands on the legs are the tell-tale characteristic that they are Florida stone crabs. The Tigertail Lagoon and the Rookery Bay estuary around Marco Island are very important habitat for larvae and juvenile Florida stone crab. These areas are the “nursery” grounds for this important species in the ecosystem and state fishery.

They are opportunistic carnivores, using their large, powerful claws, ripping and tearing up prey such as oysters, clams, barnacles, anemones, worms and even other species of crabs. In turn, shark, dolphin, large fish and sea turtle enjoy eating them!

Unlike other crab and lobster species, where the entire animal is taken, only the claw is harvested from this crab making it a very sustainable fishery. Claws must be measured from the elbow to the tip of the claw and be 2 ¾ inches (see diagram). If it is this size or larger, the claw can be taken without injury to the crab. The declawing of the claw is easily performed by snapping off the crab’s arm at the base or connection of the arm to the body. The harvester should firmly hold the two arms of the crab and with a straight downward movement snap the arm off, not tearing or pulling out any muscle or tissue from the body of the crab, at the joint where the leg meets the body.

Snapping it downward, not pulling off and out, does not harm the crab. This non-harmful declawing process allows the crab, in time, to rejuvenate the leg and claw in the next molt; three molts (approximately three years) of an adult crab will grow back the taken claw to the size it was upon harvest. Claws can be taken from both male and female (if no eggs are present) stone crabs. Since the 1960’s, this practice has sustained the approximate same number of landings per season to date.

Commercially, the fishery is regulated from trap to market by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (www.myfwc.com). Recreationally, if you possess a Florida saltwater recreational fishing license, a maximum of five traps are allowed to catch your own seafood dinner in local waters. The traps, typically wood or plastic, have to have a biodegradable wood panel to minimize by-catch and retrieved manually only during daylight hours. Each trap, unless tied to a dock, must have a buoy attached with the letter “R” (for “recreational”) visible on it and the name and address of the fisherman permanently attached to the trap frame. No traps can obstruct navigation. Bait, such as mullet and fish carcasses and even pigs’ feet, is used to attract the crabs into the traps. (It is very important to note that it is a third degree felony for tampering with someone else’s traps or the content, lines or buoys.)

In the next six months, be Floridian and indulge in a Florida stone crab claw dinner at any legitimate seafood restaurant from the Keys to Everglades City to Tampa. From Marco Island, nothing is better than going by boat through the 10,000 Islands or a drive through the Everglades to the first county seat, Everglade City, for a dozen or so claws for dinner on the Barron River. Or dress it up and head to Truluck’s in Old Naples. My best stone crab dinner ever was a surprise picnic while kayaking with my husband in the Rookery Bay estuary. Fresh, easy, tasty…perfect!

For more information on Florida’s Stone Crab fishery, recreational harvest and other information, please go to the following websites: www.myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/Saltwater_Regulations_recstonecrab.htm. http://research.myfwc.com/features/category_subasp?id+5743. www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/. www.fl-seafood.com/recipes/stonecrab_recipes.htm.

 

For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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Burrowing Owls and Brown-Eyed Owls http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/11/08/burrowing-owls-and-brown-eyed-owls/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/11/08/burrowing-owls-and-brown-eyed-owls/#comments Fri, 08 Nov 2013 16:21:59 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=34539 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

Most burrowing owls have bright yellow eyes, but only a few feature the recessive brown eye gene.

Most burrowing owls have bright yellow eyes, but only a few feature the recessive brown eye gene.

Phew! It rains and rains and that grass grows and grows! Have you noticed that this past summer? Ever since the 2013 Burrowing Owl nesting season ended in late June with the chicks fledged (can fly and survive on their own), a handful of volunteers have been managing and maintaining the 117 Burrowing Owl burrow sites documented on Marco Island. What does this mean?

Well, the Marco Island Burrowing Owl population is not migratory. Much to common misconception, the owls DO live here year round. Due to the high groundwater table that affects any burrowing animal’s habitat and the back-to-normal rain amount experienced this summer, many of the owls do not use their burrows after their young fledge. They prefer to perch in eaves or sills of buildings and quiet homes, canopy trees, culverts and shady quiet places – even under the high top tables at the Old Marco Pub or in a quiet corner near a drippy facet at an Elkcam storage/warehouse site! The owls are looking for shelter, shade and, being ever opportunistic raptor hunters, an easy meal of insects, frogs and lizards that may also be finding sanctuary in the same places. This is the time of year, when the owls are not propagating or caring for their young when they are dependent on the burrows not being disturbed, so periodic maintenance can be done to the burrow sites. So, in come the volunteers!

Like a typical rainy southwest Florida season, the grass and weeds grow as the rain falls daily. The volunteers, a.k.a. the “Owl Prowl,” weed-whack the vegetation which grows so fast it can close the burrow opening. The volunteers clip and weed-whack the vegetation that grows high around the burrow areas, replace the posting stakes, re-flag and post signs at the burrow areas to ensure the owls’ burrows are protected from the lot mowers and other disturbance and are not abandoned by the owls during the rainy season. This is done with hope that the Marco Island Burrowing Owl population is sustained and can hopefully survive as the island continues to be further developed. This management is based on several Florida studies that have shown that Burrowing Owls will abandon their burrows that have greater than six inches of vegetation growth around their burrow and, like many raptors, have “high nest fidelity” (use same nest or site each season) for nesting and producing young.

The 2013 Burrowing Owl season had an increased number of burrow sites from several previous season records, which equates to a sustained population that produced approximately 215 chicks at the 75 productive burrows (mating pair of adult owls). There were also approximately ten burrow sites that had a single adult owl that did not gain a mate or produce any young this season. This successful nesting season occurred even with a few permits issued by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to remove burrows for construction of a home.

Marco Island’s Burrowing Owl population has been monitored and documented since February 2001 by Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island Environmental Specialist. Prior to cityhood, no agency was ensuring the conservation of this species on Marco Island by posting burrow sites and providing accurate information to FWC when development was imminent. The City’s conservation efforts have educated the community and ensured a sustained population to date. Many residents have become aware and even enamored with these charismatic ground owls. With the help of just a handful of hardworking volunteers, who are not shy of getting hot, dirty and covered in vegetation debris while maintaining the burrow sites in the rainy season, the Marco Island Burrowing Owl population is stable and even slightly increasing as development of the island continues.

Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia floridana) are described as having distinctive yellow eyes. This characteristic is well known and photographed often. Though, many years ago, a Marco Island Burrowing Owl was noted to have “dark” eyes. It was known as the “brown eyed” owl. When querying other biologists who monitor owl populations in the state of Florida, such as Cape Coral, Eglin Air Force Base and other smaller west coasts sites, it was not documented in those populations. Only in Brevard County was it seen a few times. It is a very unusual characteristic and atypical to characteristics of a Florida Burrowing Owl’s yellow eyes that all bird identification sources describe. The Marco Island Burrowing Owls with the “brown” eyes are not exactly brown. Using close-up photography, the “brown” coloration was proved that the iris’ were mottled and more a mosaic or “tortoise shell coloring” of yellow, brown and green colors of the iris. To date there are only two, possibly three, Marco Island Burrowing Owls documented with this unique and atypical eye color. These Burrowing Owls may carry recessive genes that produce the mosaic eye color other than bright yellow eye coloring. If two adults with these simple recessive genes mate, they could produce young with the color morph characteristic. It would be an interesting study to understand what genetically is happening with the Marco Island Burrowing Owl population.

As the fall continues to winter with less rain on the horizon for our tropical island, the Marco Island Burrowing Owls will begin to prepare for their January through June 2014 nesting season. Adult pairs of owls will begin courtship, re-dig and “decorate” their burrow sites and once the female owl nests and lays eggs in the burrow, the male will take up his post as sentinel until the chicks hatch and emerge from the burrows. Marco Island is fortunate to have a such a close-up view of the Burrowing Owl and its life cycle. When you are out and about on the island and see orange flagging around a burrow site, take a look at these charismatic “ground owls,” you may just want to become an “Owl Prowl” volunteer!

For more information on the Marco Island Burrowing Owls or if interesting in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com. Please give a hoot!

 

For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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Alligators all Around Us http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/10/25/alligators-all-around-us/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/10/25/alligators-all-around-us/#comments Fri, 25 Oct 2013 14:11:24 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=34213 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

“Only gators get out of the swamp alive! Chomp Chomp!”

The alligator is a treasured animal of the Everglades. PHOTOS BY JEAN HALL

The alligator is a treasured animal of the Everglades. PHOTOS BY JEAN HALL

Anyone who is a University of Florida alumni or fan knows this chant to be true. You’ll hear it at a UF Gator football team in the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium a.k.a. “The Swamp!” But in the natural world, this is true too. Alligators live in all 67 counties of Florida. They are a fundamental part of the wetland, swamp, river and lake ecosystems that comprise the water world of Florida. Alligators are the apex, or top, predators for these ecosystems, keeping the animal populations in balance, and in dry seasons, creating environments for aquatic animals to survive.

Preferring fresh water in slow moving water systems like swamps and marshes, alligators are commonly seen sunning and swimming along the drainage ditches in South Florida, too. What child growing up on Marco Island has not tried to count all the alligators along State Road 41 from Marco Island to Everglade City?! They can also be found in brackish to salt water for short periods of time, though without salt glands, their tolerance is low. Occasionally, there will be one spotted in the Marco River and even the canals of Marco Island. A few times, one has been removed from the beachfront. This is more common after heavy rains and in warmer waters like this past summer season. Alligators were reported in several canals this past August and September. It is not uncommon.

Alligators are fascinating, historic creatures that can be enjoyed as part of the natural beauty of South Florida. They play an important role in the Everglades ecosystem. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) estimates there are approximately 1.3 million gators in Florida based on the 6.7 million acres of suitable habitat. (Note: This number does not include the University of Florida Gator fans!) With the population of people growing yearly and more living and recreating on or near the water, conflicts between alligators and humans happen and will most likely increase. A majority of the complaints are from people just simply not wanting an alligator in the vicinity. Through outreach programs, FWC does educate people on how to live with alligators, but this agency also issues about 7,000 nuisance alligator permits to remove and kill alligators every year.

Beware of what hides beneath the surface!

Beware of what hides beneath the surface!

A few precautions on our part can help us co-exist safely:

• Alligators four feet in length or less generally are not large enough to be dangerous (unless handled). But, if you believe it does pose a threat to people, pets, or property, call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286). Please be aware – nuisance alligators are removed and killed; they are not relocated.

• Never Feed Alligators – Feeding these reptiles is both dangerous and illegal. Feeding an alligator makes them associate people with food. Losing their natural wariness of humans creates a danger for people and will cause a too familiar alligator to be removed and killed.

• Keep Your Distance – Alligators may look like they are sleeping or lethargic but they move suddenly and fast and you are in their habitat. They are not well adapted on land but can lunge a few feet at a time. Observe and take photos from a safe, protected distance.

• Never Disturb Nests or Small Alligators – Leave them alone. It is against Florida State law to handle, possess or kill alligators. Even handling small alligators can result in injury.

Keep Pets and Children Away From Alligators – Small humans and pets attract alligators when swimming or nearshore in waters that may contain alligators. Be aware of your surroundings and waterside habitat you are in when with small children and pets.

• Do Not Swim in Known Alligator Habitats – Alligator bites happen the most in water and most likely are a result of an accidental collision of the swimmer and an alligator. Gators feed typically at dawn and dusk, but if surprised or harassed will attack.

• Make Some Noise – If you are bit by an alligator, make as much noise and fight back by hitting, kicking the body and poking its eyes. They may let go and retreat. Call 911 immediately!

For more information on alligators and living with them in Florida, go to www.MyFWC.com. To report nuisance alligators call 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286).

 

For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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Our Canals Need Care & Conservation http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/10/09/our-canals-need-care-conservation/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/10/09/our-canals-need-care-conservation/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 13:27:40 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=33948 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com

A web of animals and plants live together in harmony in our canals, as long as we keep them clean. SUBMITTED PHOTO

A web of animals and plants live together in harmony in our canals, as long as we keep them clean. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Marco Island has 100 miles of man-made canals. Historically, it was an approximate 6,000 acre mangrove island until the Deltona Corporation dredged it and filled it, using vertical, cement paneled seawalls to contain and stabilize the fill. Thus, creating the labyrinth of 100 miles of waterway canals in an approximately four square mile area. This construction created the 8,311 single-family residential properties (excluding Hideaway Beach and Key Marco) that we call home. Of these 8,311 properties, 5,723 are located on the canals, or waterfront. To date, 4,634 of those properties are developed. Basically, for those waterfront residents, a third of their backyard is water.

It is a great way to live, seeing the water, watching the wildlife, boaters, and tidal changes. To ensure the high quality of life on our island continues, Marco Island has made strides in protecting the quality of the canal waters by removing septic tanks, improving storm water outfalls, insisting on best management practices of contractors who work in and around the canals and promoting and requiring Florida Friendly Landscaping. It’s principals that dictate the use of native plants and less chemicals and water. As a community, we all collectively need to do our part to not tip the balance of our canals and the ecosystem that supports the reason why we love to live here. The 100 miles of canals need care and conservation.

It’s important to remember, whatever is on the ground will ultimately end up in the canal water. Runoff, referred to as storm water runoff, is rain water that falls and moves along the streets, driveways, lawns and swales, picking up anything in its pathway – sediments, trash, fertilizer, pesticides and oils – as it moves to the lowest point, typically the storm water drain, which leads to the canal system. Anything from dripping cars or lawn equipment to the overuse of fertilizer and pesticides, oils and detergents, eroding soils, grass clippings – all of it – will travel in the moving water and runoff into the canals. The more rain, the more runoff, and the more the pollution flows into the canals.

Over the past few years, Marco Island has improved the over 1,500 storm water outfalls throughout the island by installing treatment systems referred to as “storm inlet skimmer boxes.” The skimmer boxes have two steps to treat or “clean” storm water runoff before the water flows into the canal system. Within the skimmer box, encircling the grate is a hydrocarbon filter. The boom-like filter catches larger debris, grass clippings, leaves, twigs, and trash of all types as well as absorbing fertilizer, pesticide and organic particles. When a small rain shower or slow moving storm occurs, the storm water runoff has low to medium in flow; the water has to travel through the boom-like filter before entering the drain. If a deluge occurs, the storm water flow is high, the water will travel through and cascade over the boom prior to entering the drain. Once in the drain, the second step to treating or “cleaning” the runoff water is the graduated sieve. This is a series of screens that progressively filter the water through smaller grates or filters, collecting nutrients and silt that still remains in the runoff water. Water may sit in the graduated sieve system until the storm water flow is high enough to move the water through the progressive screening system, then to the out fall and to the canal waters. Cleaning and treating this runoff is important. If too much pollution tips the balance of the delicate canal ecosystems, our backyards will be affected and stop providing a high quality of aquatic life we expect to see on Marco Island.

This storm water system helps to keep man made material from entering the canals. What is living in the canals that keeps the natural ecosystem balanced? Of course, the sun is the energy source, which there is plenty of, and best of all, it’s free. But plants, insects, invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals create an intricate food web that keeps the canals healthy. In the Marco Island canals, several types of algae, both green and brown, are easily seen growing on anything submerged in the water that receives sunlight. These are the base of the canal food web. Occasionally, especially in the summer months, free-floating red, green or brown algae accumulate and drift throughout the canals. This plant life is consumed by small organisms, sometimes too small to be seen, as they absorb nutrients and help to filter the pollutants carried into the canal from runoff. Green algae that grows on the canal bottom often gets stirred up by storms, tides and boats and can float on the surface as a “mat.” Small insects, crab and fish will feed and use the algae as shelter. There are also diverse types of microalgae species in the water column. When too much pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphate from fertilizers enter the canals, it can overwhelm the food web, causing eutrophication and an algae bloom result. This, in turn, causes low dissolved oxygen and an unbalanced nitrogen cycle. Not only is the canal surface unsightly, discolored and often odorous, but it can also cause invertebrate and fish die-offs. If it is a toxic micro algae, it could affect human and marine mammals too, as in the case of a “red tide” bloom of the species Karenia breve.

At low tide, on the seawalls, dock piles and ladders, oysters, barnacles and other mollusks can be seen attached to these surfaces. Thorny starfish and sea slugs are seen sporadically among the mollusks. These animals are filter feeders, taking particles out of the water column for food. Doing this also helps water clarity and quality. Swimming under the docks and near the shell-encrusted seawalls are fish that nibble on smaller prey such as pinfish, needlefish, mangrove snapper, sheepshead, and grouper. Mullet can be seen leaping in large schools on any given day, as well as jack fish and hardhead catfish. Snook are also very common along the sea walls. Shining a light at night over the water attracts shrimp, comb jellies, and sea hares which then attract snook for easy catching.

Many types of crabs depend on this watery habitat also. Free swimming and beautiful, blue crabs can be seen on the surface, swimming or riding the tide. They may attract a gobbling tarpon to feast on them for breakfast. Spider, arrow and gray marsh crabs are much smaller and do not swim, but are in great numbers on the seawalls and piles at lower tides. If rip rap, or rock that is placed along the base of a seawall for erosion control, is present, even stone crab may be hiding down there.

Southern stingrays and spotted eagle rays are also seen gliding through the waterways. Feeding pods of dolphin that herd mullet to the dead ends of the canal to catch are spectacular to watch. And fortunately, many manatees live in the Marco Island canals year round, giving birth to the next generation in the quieter canals. An occasional alligator is seen, so beware!

All of this beauty is happening just feet away from most of our backdoors. Why would anyone want to jeopardize their own backyard?

To do your part in the care and conservation the Marco Island waterway canals, please:

• Always ensure best management practices are in place when seawall, dock, riprap, or dredging is being conducted on your property

• Incorporate Florida Friendly Landscaping in your yard to use less chemicals and water

• Do not fertilize in the rainy season (May through September)

• When using fertilizer or pesticide follow the label and don’t over use

• Never dump vegetation debris or waste into the canal waterways

• Always pick up pet waste and dispose in waste management trash receptacles

• Maintain vehicles and other equipment with motors to avoid fluid leaks

• Maintain boat motors and prevent oil and gas leaks in and over canals

• Never pump out in surface waters; use local, free, pump out stations for boat bathrooms

• If you see floating trash, help out and remove it then dispose of it properly

• Use less plastic; bring reusable bags to shop at the grocery store

For more information on the Marco Island waterway canals, visit www.cityofmarcoisland.com or contact Nancy Richie at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com.

 

For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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The Myth of the “Black Panther” http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/09/27/the-myth-of-the-black-panther/ http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2013/09/27/the-myth-of-the-black-panther/#comments Fri, 27 Sep 2013 14:39:53 +0000 http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/?p=33815 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie
NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.co

Panther Crossing signs are placed in known areas of known Florida Panther territory. Panthers can travel up to 20 miles in a day and regularly patrol their territories. Signs like this help make motorists aware and to follow the speed limits. Does this sign mean Florida Panthers are black?

Panther Crossing signs are placed in known areas of known Florida Panther territory. Panthers can travel up to 20 miles in a day and regularly patrol their territories. Signs like this help make motorists aware and to follow the speed limits. Does this sign mean Florida Panthers are black?

Over the years, there have been reports from hotel concierges, tourists and even some “old timers” of first-person accounts of “black panthers” lurking around the Marco Island beach dunes during the day. One tourist wrote a two-page letter in outrage that there was a “black panther” just a few feet away from children playing in the sand at the Hilton beach. Recently, a few true believers swear there was a “black panther” out on Sand Dollar “spit.” One of the best arguments heard is the “panther crossing” sign shows the outline of a panther in black, thus proving there are “black panthers.”

It is hard to convince some that Florida Panthers are not black, small or commonly seen on the beach in the middle of the day. Florida Panthers (Puma concolor coryi) are ALL tawny or light brown in color with creamy white undersides. There are small distinct patches of black coloring on the face, paws, legs and tip of a very long tail, but not enough to mistake this big cat as even partially black in color.

Panther kittens are camouflaged, born with black spots on a tawny pelt – never a solid black pelt – and the spots only last for two months in order to hide them in the den until they are old enough to come out.

Florida Panthers are definitely not small. Females are 70 to 100 pounds and are five to seven feet in length; males are 130 to 170 pounds and six to eight feet in length. That is quite a bit larger than, say, a domestic house cat… or even a bobcat. Not to mention that they are characteristically shy and very elusive. There has never been a documented sighting of a Panther on a busy beach. They would not be nearby in the dunes while children play in the sand or sitting behind a beach vendor’s hut rubbing on legs and enjoying the shade.

Since the 1960’s it has not been scientifically accurate to call a big cat a “black panther.” There is no species. Even in zoos, the cats that are called “black panthers” are actually the black phase, or melanistic phase, of jaguars or leopards. Bobcats also actually have a melanistic phase but it is highly unusual. To date, there has never been a black or melanistic phase of panther, mountain lion or cougar in the wild or captivity. There are simply no “black panthers.”

Rumors have it there are “black panthers” on the beach. This is a domestic feral cat in the Marco Island beach dune area. There are is no such thing as a “black panther” species.

Rumors have it there are “black panthers” on the beach. This is a domestic feral cat in the Marco Island beach dune area. There are is no such thing as a “black panther” species.

While there are no “black panthers,” there are 20 subspecies of Puma concolor. The subspecies are commonly called: mountain lions, pumas, cougars, catamounts and panthers. Puma concolor coryi, the Florida Panther, has physical and genetic features that are distinctly different as well as being a small, isolated geographically, relic species of Puma. For example the Florida Panthers are distinct from Texas cougars in weight, skull shape and the color and texture of the fur. Texas cougars are 25-30% heavier and the Florida Panther. Historically, these subspecies did overlap geographically and breed in order to provide genetic variability necessary to sustain a healthy population.

So, there really are no “black panthers” on the beach, but this is not to say Florida Panthers, the authentic Florida Panthers, have not been on the Marco Island beach. They have! Large paw prints, collar radio-tracking data and even 2 AM sightings have documented Florida Panthers actually do lope down the beach in the wee hours of the early morning. Perhaps they are hunting those “black panthers!?” In reality, their main diet is deer, raccoon, wild hog, armadillo and even an occasional alligator. I’m sure if there is a domestic cat around, they would make that a meal too. Male Florida Panthers need up to 200 square miles as territory and will travel up to 20 miles a day to protect its territory from other males as well as to hunt. Marco Island’s beach, and possibly the whole Island, must be within one of the males’ territory. Keep in mind, there are no incidents to date of attacks on humans by Florida Panthers. In fact, all who have had the pleasure of seeing a Florida Panther are considered quite lucky to get a glimpse of these shy, elusive big cats.

In 1981, radio-instrumentation and monitoring the Florida Panthers by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began to gather information on preferred habitat, range, behavior, and population. Collars on the big cats provide information on where the Florida Panthers are, for how long, monitor births and, ultimately, death rates. In 1995, it was discovered that only 20 to 30 Florida Panthers remained in the wild and kitten mortality was high due to geographic isolation causing loss of natural genetic exchange. A population that small is not sustainable. In effort to save the Florida Panther from extinction, eight female Texas cougars were introduced to south Florida to restore the genetic viability. It worked. Data shows the population tripled in just ten years. Today, it is estimated that there are 100 to 160 Florida Panthers in the wild. All are in Dade, Monroe, Collier, Hendry and Lee Counties, with a few males documented in central Florida. The offspring of the Texan cougars are considered Florida Panthers as they have inherited the distinct morphological and genetic differences that can be differentiated from other Puma species.

So, next time you notice a cat-like animal on the beach in the middle of the day, it most likely is a feral cat sunning itself on one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet and hopefully keeping the rat population down!

 

For more information on local locations to see wildlife, or interest in volunteering, please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland.com


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