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It’s Gator Hatchin’ Time in the Glades

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Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist A few weeks ago I took a walk through several different areas of the Everglades, and there was a very distinct and serene quiet, a sound of silence that was not there in early summer. During the months of May thru July, I could hear the unmistakeable bellowing of male alligators trying to entice the females. Some of these boys have traveled great distances to find a mate. Now, all is calm. Courtship rituals are complete, and females are tending to their nests, waiting for the young to hatch. The males have moved on, ... Read More »

Rescuing Skipper: A Dolphin Explorer Tale

About an hour after the Dolphin Explorer’s Bob Erickson and Meredith Barnard spotted Halfway and Skipper in Little Marco Pass, the cavalry arrived, complete with a net boat captained by Larry Fulford, a commercial fisherman with more than 30 years experience with dolphin capture and release efforts.

By Noelle H. Lowery [email protected] Finding one specific dolphin in the waters around Marco Island is akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. At least that is what I thought on the morning of Sept. 4 when I set out with researchers from Sea Excursion’s 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project to find one female baby dolphin whose tail had somehow become entangled with a foot of wire leader from a fishing rig. These same researchers were the ones who spotted the baby dolphin — Skipper — and her entanglement in early August while aboard one of their Dolphin ... Read More »

Estuaries Day at Rookery Bay

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By Coastal Breeze News Staff Looking for a free, family-friendly activity on Saturday, Sept. 27? Then head to Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve for a day of free staff-narrated boat tours, introductory 30-minute kayaking trips, paddle boarding on Henderson Creek and marine critter touch tanks and other live animal presentations. The event runs 10 AM-3 PM. Following a short hiatus in operation which began Sept. 15, this event — Rookery Bay’s Grand Reopening Estuaries Day — is part of an annual celebration of the 28 national estuarine research reserves. The day’s activities aim to recognize the importance of the ... Read More »

Time to Welcome Marco Island’s Baby Dolphins

You can see the body creases or "fetal folds" on this newborn dolphin. It is less than 2 weeks old. Photos by Kent You can see the body creases or and Meredith of the Dolphin Explorer

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist This is the first of three articles this fall about dolphin births, with updates on the new moms and calves. SEPTEMBER, 2014: Within the next few weeks a naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer will exclaim to passengers, “Here’s one of the first of this season, a newborn bottlenose dolphin!” It is birthing season for the bottlenose dolphins in our area. The 10,000 Island Dolphin Survey Team, on board the Dolphin Explorer, will be keeping a sharp lookout for newborns this season and has already made a list of adult females that could possibly ... Read More »

Eagle Sanctuary Property in the Spotlight Again

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By Noelle H. Lowery [email protected] On Monday, Sept. 8, the Marco Island City Council will be asked to sign a letter of support for the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation. This will be the second time in three weeks that Carl Way, chairman and founder of the volunteer, nonprofit foundation, will appear before council seeking its written support for the Marco Eagle Sanctuary at 665 Tigertail Court, which also is known as Tract K. When Way first appeared before City Council during its regular Aug. 18 meeting, he explained that he was asking for the letter of support as part of ... Read More »

Rookery Bay Studying Mangrove Die-off

A reference point within the die-off area is marked with white rope.

By Coastal Breeze News Staff Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have partnered to conduct a long-term study of the 225-acre mangrove die-off area near Goodland known as Fruit Creek Farm. USGS awarded funding to this project for a minimum of three years to assess the hydrologic restoration, which now is partially underway. Since 2000, Rookery Bay Reserve has partnered with the Coastal Resources Group, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the city of Marco Island to conduct the initial assessment of the area’s hydrology and produce a ... Read More »

Restaurateurs Clean Up the Beach

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By Nancy Richie More than 60 volunteers enthusiastically embraced Sunday morning, Aug. 10, to clean up the Marco Island beach. By 9 AM, volunteers from CJ’s on the Bay led by Executive Chef Laura Own and a handful from Chop239 led by Deanna and Marco Porto walked the beach from theSouth Beach and Tigertail Beach accesses, meeting in the middle at the Marriott Resort to celebrate the beautiful morning over lunch and cold drinks. This group removed dozens of bags of trash — plastic straws, broken toys, single shoes, dryer sheets, plastic and glass bottles, pieces of rope and fishing ... Read More »

Sensational Sharks: Important Part of the Marine Environment

Bull sharks. SUBMITTED PHOTO

PROTECTING & PRESERVING Nancy Richie [email protected] If you haven’t heard, its Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week — a week of pseudo-science and, sometimes hilarious, propaganda. Since 1988 — yes for 26 years and making it one of the longest running cable television series — this annual week of television programs on the Discovery Channel has evolved from educational programs that raised awareness of shark population decline and the importance they have in the oceans’ ecosystems to fictitious stories and ludicrous accounts of mega sharks in the waters throughout the world. Entertainment has trumped science, which does not bode well for ... Read More »

What Birds Eat… The Beak Can Tell the Tale

Wood storks use “tactolocation” to find food
and can close their beak in 1/20th of a second!

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Have you ever seen a reddish egret dance along the shoreline to snag a meal? How about a great blue heron sitting trance-like on a mangrove branch just one foot above the water to catch a fish? Or an osprey swooping into the water feet first to grasp its prey? There is such a variety of bird life in the Marco area, and they capture their next meals in several different manners. One physical feature can tell you something very unique about their diets. Take a look at the shape of the bird’s beak. ... Read More »

The Horses are Off — Seahorses, That Is

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Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist “Mama, come quick!” a young girl cries. “There’s a tiny horse on the beach!” As mama and others run to the scene, sure enough there is a horse in the Marco Island sand. It is only a few inches long and sure looks like our equine friends but without legs. It is a seahorse. Seahorses are very small marine fish. Like other fish they breathe through gills. They float in an upright position and have pectoral fins to maneuver and dorsal fins to maintain balance. Most importantly, they are masters of camouflage. Just like ... Read More »

Florida Bird Migration: It’s All About the Tilt

White Pelicans migrate form north to south when temperatures become cooler. They are in our area during our winter. Below: Swallow Tailed Kites migrate from South America when that continent becomes cooler. They are in our area now until the fall. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Swallow Tailed Kites are here in South Florida right now, but the White Pelicans and other migratory bird species are not. Hmmm….it seems odd that they all do not frequent our area at the same time. Why would that happen? Don’t they all come from the north to winter in our area? Don’t they all come at the same time? The answer is a resounding NO, and it revolves primarily around one factor: the tilt of the earth. Let’s refresh with some basic science classes to figure this out. The earth is in an ... Read More »

Art in Nature

Box turtle. PHOTO BY JEAN HALL

PROTECTING & PRESERVING Nancy Richie [email protected] A not so well known turtle roams Marco Island. It’s not the glamorous Loggerhead Sea Turtle or the well-known Gopher Tortoise. It is very commonly seen in the beachfront dunes and near wetlands and pond areas of the island such as Barfield Bay, in Hideaway Beach conservation areas and along Spinnaker Drive. The Florida Painted Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) is a small turtle that is not only a small wonder but a treasure for the island. Its striking array of a yellow pattern on its shell is art in nature; some have said ... Read More »

National Parks Big Biz in SW Florida

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Submitted A new National Park Service report shows that more than 2.5 million visitors to the national parks in South Florida spent $206 million last year in surrounding communities. That spending supported roughly 2,700 jobs in the region. Locally at Big Cypress National Preserve, the impact encompassed just over 1 million visitors, spending an estimated $76 million in Southwest Florida communities and creating approximately 997 jobs. Combined 2013 report figures include those for Biscayne, Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, as well as Big Cypress. The total for the four parks is up slightly from the previous year, while visitor ... Read More »

Caves of the Yucatan Peninsula and Florida

Bob and Cathy explore an underground  cavern in Mexico. SUBMITTED PHOTO

STEPPING STONES  Bob McConville  Master Naturalist In early June of this year, my wife, Cathy, and I took the opportunity to visit the Yucatan Peninsula area of Mexico. The marine life and geology of this region are positively fascinating. In addition to snorkeling with whale sharks — the largest fish on the planet — we ventured inland to Mexico’s jungles to learn more about the ecology. What we found was absolutely surprising. This portion of the peninsula sits right where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea. The closest land mass is Cuba, and just north of that is ... Read More »

Save Room for Tortoises

Adult tortoises. PHOTO BY JEAN HALL

PROTECTING & PRESERVING  Nancy Richie  [email protected] For a small, developed, semi-tropical island, Marco Island has a diversity of habitats which equates to abundance of wildlife species. Sandy beaches with wide, lush vegetated dunes, sea grass beds in nearshore shallow waters, tidal mudflats, mangrove wetlands, upland scrub oak and palmetto, tropical hardwood hammock, patchy slash pine stands and even open undeveloped, grassy properties — all provide a variety of opportunities for wildlife to survive and sustain a side-by-side existence with the suburban activity. Surmised from many inquiries, interactions with residents, increased numbers of volunteers, large membership in wildlife groups, roadside stops by ... Read More »

Managing Black Bears in Florida

PHOTOS COURTESY OF FWC

By Noelle H. Lowery [email protected] Most Southwest Floridians are well aware of the wide variety of wildlife that lives amongst them. Alligators, panthers and manatees, oh my! Not to mention, the vast array of lizards, birds, squirrels, bob cats and raccoons scurrying on land and the wide assortment of fish swimming under water. The largest of the furry creatures — the Florida Black Bear — has been the focus of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for the last month. The FWC launched its new Florida Black Bear Management Plan, introducing Southwest Floridians to it through three public ... Read More »

‘Experience Nature’ with Tyler MacDonald

Tyler only uses two cameras. This camera for outdoor shots and another for underwater shots.

Submitted The Marco Island Historical Museum is delighted to host “Experience Nature” a photographic exhibit from Tyler MacDonald, which runs July 1-Aug. 30. Marco’s own MacDonald will be exhibiting some of his latest photography at. At just 18 years old, MacDonald has already won numerous awards and national recognition for his work including second-place in the National Wildlife Federation’s annual photo contest. His passion for wildlife photography is evident in each and every photograph. Taking risks and spending hours waiting to capture the perfect image, MacDonald has encountered many venomous snakes, sat in trees and been suspended above water to ... Read More »

Native Beauty on Display

The starting point at the MIHM native plant walk.

By Melinda Gray [email protected] During the hustle and bustle of an average day, I wonder how often we notice just how amazing Southwest Florida is. I find when I take time to notice the natural beauty of my surroundings, I truly appreciate living here. The native animal and plant life that surrounds us is a fascinating mixture of beauty and strength. Mother Nature is wild, and taming her takes a special touch. The Marco Island Historical Museum (MIHM) has accepted her challenge, and has been busy cultivating an impressive exhibit featuring native plant life available around-the-clock for the enjoyment and ... Read More »

MIA Inaugural Summer Camp with an Environmental Twist

Dr. Richard Murphy (left), director of education for the Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Oceans Futures Society, gives students an outdoor lesson near Tigertail Beach.

By Noelle H. Lowery  [email protected] The first-ever Ambassadors of the Environment Camp in Florida was a rousing success for the joint partnership between Marco Island Academy and Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society. It was a journey that began five years ago when MIA Founder and Chair Jane Watt discovered the Ambassadors of the Environment Program through the Ocean Futures Society and its director, Dr. Richard Murphy. Currently, the active, hands-on outdoor education program has locations in California, French Polynesia, Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, Hawaii, and Turks and Caicos. Many of the programs are affiliated with the Ritz-Carlton or a cruise ... Read More »

Red Tide ‘Not Present’ — For Now

These ominous blood-red tides are caused by a large accumulation of algae in coastal waters and are especially common along the coast of Florida. While disconcerting, only some are harmful to marine life: these are known as HABs, harmful algal blooms, and can even pose a risk to humans.

By Melinda Gray [email protected] This time last year, Marco Island and other Southwest Florida coastal communities were reeling from the negative effects of a prolonged red tide bloom. Reports of the bloom began in December 2012 with Marco Island presenting “very low” to “low” concentrations of red tide, and by mid-February 2013, those concentrations crept up to “medium” status. The 2013-2014 season has been a very different story. Currently, the Collier County Natural Resources Department is reporting that Karenia brevis, or K. brevis — the naturally-occurring dinoflagellate that causes “Florida red tide” — is “not present” in samples of water ... Read More »