Coastal Breeze News » Environment Thu, 28 Aug 2014 15:35:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Restaurateurs Clean Up the Beach Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:08:18 +0000 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 line, Styrofoam food containers, a miscellaneous t-shirt and much more. An army of volunteers swept the beach clean.

A community effort as always, the city of Marco Island Beach Advisory Committee members Ralph Barnhart, Patti Miller and Debbie Roddy assisted in the effort, providing bags, gloves and bottled water that were all donated by Publix to all the volunteers. Bernardo Bezos, Marco Island Civic Association (MICA) board member, drove the MICA beach vehicle to pick up the full bags of trash and assist beach walkers.

The next monthly beach clean-up is scheduled for this Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 AM. Meet us at the Marco Island South Beach Access. Community volunteers participating in this clean-up will be the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Marco. All public is encouraged and welcome to attend. If students need to accrue volunteer hours, this is a great opportunity to earn three or four hours.

The City of Marco Island’s Beach Advisory Committee would like to remind all beach goers to help keep our beach beautiful by remembering the following easy steps:

Leave Only Your Footprints: All trash, including cigarettes and fishing line, should be disposed in property containers. Glass containers or bottles are prohibited on the beach. If you bring it to the beach, take it home with you too!

No Live Shelling: Only shells that do not contain a live organism should be taken from the beach; if unsure, leave the shell.

Share the Beach with Our Wildlife: Do not feed or disturb wildlife; avoid nesting and resting birds and sea turtles and their nesting sites. Watch and enjoy from a respectful distance.

Lights Out for Sea Turtles: To protect and conserve sea turtle nesting and hatching, no flashlights or lights from mobile devices, such as phones or cameras, are allowed on the beach after 9 PM nightly, May 1-Oct. 31. All lights that can shine on the beach must be off or shaded this time of year.

No Dogs or Pets Allowed on the Beach: Only guide dogs accompanying visually or hearing impaired persons are permissible on the Marco Island beach. No dogs are allowed on Sand Dollar Island “spit” as it is a State Critical Wildlife Area. Please keep all pets and dogs on your boat.

All Wheeled Vehicles Prohibited: No bicycles are allowed on the Marco Island beach. Strollers, wheelchairs, fishing wagons and licensed Beach Vendor vehicles are only permissible.

To report wildlife issues or concerns, such as harassment, dead or disorientated marine sea turtles or mammals, please call 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

For more information or if you or your group or business are interested in sponsoring or participating in a beach clean-up, please contact Nancy Richie, environmental specialist for the city of Marco Island at 2329-389-5003 or



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Sensational Sharks: Important Part of the Marine Environment Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:51:12 +0000 PROTECTING & PRESERVING
Nancy Richie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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What Birds Eat… The Beak Can Tell the Tale Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:48:58 +0000 Stepping Stones
Bob McConville
Master Naturalist

A tri-colored heron’s long beak makes it a great spear fisher.

A tri-colored heron’s long beak makes it a great spear fisher.

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.

Also known as the bill or the rostrum, the size and shape of many birds’ beaks can explain their diet and eating habits. Because of the individual techniques for obtaining food, the size of the next meal and source can vary greatly. For the most part, the birds on and around Marco Island can be placed into one of four categories: wading birds, shore birds, raptors and song birds.

Great Egret  lunge with their neck forward to catch fish.  PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Great Egret lunge with their neck forward to catch fish. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

WADING BIRDS: The most common wading birds in the area are the great egret, snowy egret and the great blue heron. All of these have long, thin beaks and long necks. Quite often, they will stay motionless in the water or on a branch just above the water. The neck will be tucked back far enough that it can lunge forward when a fish comes within range. They also will eat lizards, frogs insects and even rodents.

My favorite wading birds to watch while feeding are the reddish egrets. They have a very unique dance that they perform along the water’s edge. They will energetically run in shallow water seeking prey. They will throw open their wings to reduce the glare of the sun on the water to more accurately spear a fish. It is quite a sight to see.

SHORE BIRDS: Gulls, terns, willets and other such birds own this category. Their beaks and legs are much shorter than the egrets, so we can expect their diet to be different as well. Though some will fly above the water to seek food, many are content to travel the shoreline looking for aquatic invertebrates. It is not uncommon to see them rush toward the water on an outgoing wave, search for food, and then run back up the shore as the wave returns.

My favorite bird to watch in this category is the black skimmer. The lower beak is slightly longer than the upper, and the skimmer will fly along the water, mouth open and capture any small fish at the surface.

SONGBIRDS: Sparrows, warblers, thrushes and jays are the dominant birds here. Much smaller than the species mentioned above, they have a different menu because of habitat and size. Predominantly, they dine on grasshoppers, crickets, moths and the seeds of some grasses. The beak is much shorter, as well as the legs, simply because they are adequate at that size to catch this type of prey.

RAPTORS: Eagles, ospreys, hawks and falcons are the primary predators in this category. They are completely different from any bird mentioned above in that the beak is short and very sharp, and they will swoop down, grab prey with their talons, and fly the catch to another location.

Osprey will pick up their prey in the water and fly it to another location for consumption.

Osprey will pick up their prey in the water and fly it to another location for consumption.

This type of beak allows the raptor to “rip and tear” the meal for consumption. Although fish is the staple of their diet, they also will eat snakes, lizards and even other birds. Once they land with their meal, the sharp toes allow them to grasp it while shredding it to feed.

My favorite raptor is the perregrine falcon, the fastest animal on the planet. They will stalk their prey from high in the sky, dive toward the object at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour and strike in mid-air. Sometimes, the force of the impact will kill the catch immediately.

Many types of birds, many sizes and sources of prey. Just looking at the beak can often tell you what’s on that species’ menu. What lives in your backyard? What will you see while driving today? Is that a wading bird or a raptor?

Take a close look at the beak…it just might hold the answer!


Bob is the owner of Steppingstone Ecotours and a naturalist with the Dolphin Explorer’s survey team. He is a member of Leadership Marco 2014. Bob loves his wife very much!

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The Horses are Off — Seahorses, That Is Mon, 11 Aug 2014 20:35:29 +0000 Stepping Stones
Bob McConville
Master Naturalist

B3-CBN-8-8-14-6“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 some lizards, they can change colors to match the surroundings.

Throughout the planet there are about 40-50 species of this marine phenomenon. Here in Florida, there are four. The most notable in our area are the Dwarf and the Lined seahorses. The Dwarfs are 1-2 inches long while the Lined can be 4-5 inches. Some of the larger species around the globe may be 14 inches!

Those in our waters cling to the base of mangrove trees, sawgrass, corals and floating sargassum. (Also known as gulfweed, it is a genus of brown algae, usually near the surface of the water.) This is also where they locate their food sources.

They don’t have teeth, and they don’t have a stomach either. They use their snout as a pipette to suck in small shrimp, plants and plankton, and this food goes through their bodies very quickly so they eat almost continuously. They hold onto the tree roots and grasses with their tail when feeding.

They reach maturity when they grow to a certain height, not necessarily a specific age. The Lined seahorse becomes mature at about 2.25 inches, and, get this, the male is the one that gets pregnant! During courtship, they can change color and perform some very acrobatic moves. When the time is right the female places her eggs inside a pouch that the male has developed, and he incubates them, eventually giving birth after about two weeks. These males can carry hundreds of eggs at one time. Just like sea turtles, the newborn are on their own at birth.

There seems to be less sightings of these creatures as time goes by, as is the case with many marine species. Habitat loss appears to be the main cause for seahorse decimation, which stands to reason since more than half of Florida’s seagrass has been lost dating back to the 1950s.

Since they only live for one or two years, the habitat for our seahorses is of critical importance. Hopefully, it can be restored. So if you see one in the water, give a little smile and know that you are viewing something unique!


Bob is the owner of Steppingstone Ecotours and a naturalist with the Dolphin Explorer’s survey team. He is a member of Leadership Marco 2014. Bob loves his wife very much!

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Florida Bird Migration: It’s All About the Tilt Fri, 25 Jul 2014 17:19:58 +0000 Stepping Stones
Bob McConville
Master Naturalist

B10-CBN-7-25-14-6Swallow 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 orbit around the sun. We all know that. The earth is approximately 93 million miles from the sun, most of the time. Our orbit is not a perfect circle so sometimes we are 91.5 million miles from the sun, and other times, we are as far away as 94.5 million miles.

Since we are on average 93 million miles away, we can calculate that the earth travels 584 million miles around the sun in one year (C=3.1416 X 2R).

This means that we are traveling about 1.6 million miles a day thru space, or nearly 67,000 miles an hour on this orbit. I just looked out my window, but I don’t see any breeze at this speed.

We also know that the circumference of the earth at the equator is nearly 25,000 miles. So in one 24-hour day, we are spinning 1,040 miles per hour at that location, which is 0 degrees latitude. Now Marco Island is approximately at 22.9 degrees latitude, north of the equator. If we took a cross-section of the planet along that latitude, we would find that we are moving about 940 miles per hour.

So we are traveling thru space at 67,000 miles per hour, and we are spinning here on Marco Island at 940 miles per hour. I just looked out my window again, and I STILL don’t see a breeze! In addition to all of this, this earth is tilting!!! How are we even alive?

The fact of the matter is that these conditions are ideal to support life as we know it. Long, long ago the planet spun so fast that days were only four hours long. The tides were so severe because of this that water rushed in and out for hundreds of miles. As the earth’s rotation slowed, we began to form what we have today. But what about that tilt?

In addition to the gravitational pull of the sun that keeps us in a specific orbit, the locations and gravity of other planets and the moon have an effect on the the Earth’s tilt. During the first day of spring and the first day of fall, we experience an equinox. We have equal amounts of solar energy on either side of the equator. As the planet’s tilt changes, about 23.5 degrees every 91.25 days, we receive more warmth on one side of the planet than the other. In June, we have the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, when we have the most solar energy on our continent, and we have the opposite in December when we receive the least energy. This creates our four seasons.

So in a one-year rotation around the sun, we experience this full cycle. The June solstice creates the longest day of the year for us, a day when we experience the most sunlight. The planet has moved 23.5 degrees since the spring equinox. We are now swinging back the other way. Our hemisphere will remain warm until the fall equinox and will grow cooler as the southern half of the earth receives more solar energy. And then it will happen all over again. This tilt is very, very important to plant and animal life and to migration patterns.

The movement of birds from the north to the south on our continent is controlled by three — food, light and temperature. As birds further north experience a depletion of food supply, they will travel south. As the light of day becomes less and as the temperature begins to fall, other birds will also begin a southern journey. Some birds from the arctic will begin their migration as early as July. Instinctively, they just know when to head this way. Other birds will eventually join the parade. They will use the sun as a compass as well as visual landmarks. Some will use a concept called “magnetoception,” the ability to detect magnetic fields for navigation. (It’s been discovered that some animals have a “catch of prey” rate of about 50%, but when they face north that rate goes to 75-80%!).

So it’s all about the tilt because the tilt determines food supplies, light and temperature. But wait! We forgot about those Swallow Tailed Kites that come here at the hottest time of year! What’s their story?

It’s still about the tilt. These kites migrate here from the south, coming north to Florida. They feed mostly on insects and other flying buffet items. They come here from as far away as Peru and Brazil.

Refresher course! What happens in South America this time of year? You’ve got it! There is less solar energy in the southern hemisphere as the earth tilts so these birds migrate here for food, more light and warmer temps. They will stay here until the fall equinox…again when the earth tilts.


Bob is the owner of Steppingstone Ecotours as well as a Naturalist on the Dolphin Explorer. He is a member of Leadership Marco 2014 and Bob loves his wife very much!




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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National Parks Big Biz in SW Florida Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:03:31 +0000 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 spending was down by 1 percent nationally.

“This report shows that park areas are an important part of our lives in the South Florida. They provide open space for people to enjoy and help to build a strong economy,” said Superintendent Pedro Ramos.

The new report shows that national parks are significant drivers in the economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service. Parks are the primary economic engines of many gateway communities, and these nearby communities provide visitors with services that support thousands of mostly local jobs. Additional jobs are provided by building, educational and natural resource related projects that take place in parks and utilize local companies.

According to the national economic analysis, most visitor spending was for lodging, followed by food and beverages, fuel, admissions, souvenirs and other expenses. The largest job categories supported by visitor spending were for restaurants and lodging. The report shows nearly $15 billion of direct spending by 274 million visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported more than 237,000 jobs nationally, with most of them found in gateway communities. The spending had a cumulative benefit to the national economy of nearly $27 billion.

To learn more about national parks in Florida and how the National Park Service works with Florida communities to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to For more information about Big Cypress National Preserve, please visit the preserve website at

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Caves of the Yucatan Peninsula and Florida Tue, 22 Jul 2014 20:59:59 +0000 STEPPING STONES 
Bob McConville 
Master Naturalist

While riding thru the jungle we saw a small fox. Look to the far left of the photo and you'll see the fox was staring at a 10 foot boa constrictor! PHOTO BY CATHY PRICE

While riding thru the jungle we saw a small fox. Look to the far left of the photo and you’ll see the fox was staring at a 10 foot boa constrictor! PHOTO BY CATHY PRICE

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 the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida. It is closer to Marco Island than any other part of Mexico.

Having lived in Tucson, Arizona, for a few years I am aware of the mountains that separate that state and Mexico. For some reason, I expected the Yucatan to be a similar terrain, but it is not. I felt like I was in one of the more tropical areas of Florida.

In its general geology, Florida is a relatively simply structure. The rocks are primarily of sedimentary origin that consist mostly of limestone, sandstone, shales and clays with the underlying foundation rock being a very massive and thick limestone.

The conditions under which this limestone formed was primarily a clear sea with an abundance of minute organisms. The shells of these small animals as well as shells from larger sea life compressed over thousands of years to form the limestone. Needless to say that the underwater fresh water flow, Florida’s aquifer system, has exploited these porous deposits to form underground rivers, sinkholes and, believe it or not, some very extensive caves in our state.

The Yucatan Peninsula is very similar. It is a limestone base with many, many underground rivers. The sinkholes there are called cenotes (say-NO-tays), and they were the primary source of fresh water for early inhabitants. Since the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea are salt water and there are no rivers on the surface of the peninsula, these cenotes are still a key to survival.

In both Florida and the Yucatan, the limestone is very soluble in water and has formed many caves and sinkholes. Over the course of thousands of years, these caves emptied their water content. Basically, as rainwater fell over a cave and trickled through the rocks, it picked up carbon dioxide and minerals from limestone, and the calcium carbonate caused formations on the cave roof called stalactites (in Greek, this means “to drip”). As water continued to drip, the length and thickness of the calcite grew, but it took a very long time for stalactites to form as they only grew anywhere from a quarter inch to one inch every 100 years. They are still growing today.

In addition to stalactites, there are formations on the ground that emerge called stalagmites. These are formed by the water dripping from the end of a stalactite that falls to the cave floor causing the calcite to create a mound. Soon after a stalagmite will form a cone-like shape. Sometimes the two will join together to create a column.

Helpful hint: Stalactites have a “c” and are found on the cave “ceiling”; stalagmites have a “g” and are on the “ground.”

Because of the types of plants, rocks and minerals on the surface, the water that drips with these items to create the stalactites can cause a variety of colors such as milky whites, golds, reds, grays and a variety of browns.

In the Yucatan, there are thousands of sinkholes, and according to The Aquifer System Research Center, the longest underground river in the world has been discovered here. It flows more than 95 miles. The cavernous rooms found here are simply majestic.

In Florida, there are more than 20 caves with a length of one mile or more, the longest being 18 miles. You can view stalactities and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna. Like most caves of this nature, it is a series of connected rooms, and the features here will rival those seen at the famous Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns.

Limestone is the geological basis for both the jungle-like Mexican Peninsula and the multi-faceted Florida landscape — two regions so diverse yet so much the same. An underground freshwater system that provides life-giving nourishment for two completely different ecosystems, or are they?


Bob is the owner of Steppingstone Ecotours and a member of the Dolphin Explorer’s dolphin research team. He is part of Leadership Marco 2014 and Bob loves his wife very much!


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

Juvenile tortoise. PHOTO BY NANCY RICHIE

Juvenile tortoise. PHOTO BY NANCY RICHIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing Black Bears in Florida Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:17:18 +0000 By Noelle H. Lowery



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 workshops. Approved in 2012, the plan creates seven bear management units (BMUs) throughout the state.

According to FWC officials, the BMU approach will allow them to manage bears based on the characteristics of bears, people and habitat in different parts of Florida. The first steps are being taken to create the South BMU to manage the bear subpopulation in the Big Cypress National Preserve and surrounding areas.

The South BMU includes Broward, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties. Three other BMUs already have been initiated: the West Panhandle BMU in fall 2013 and, more recently, the Central and East Panhandle BMUs in spring 2014.

The idea for the two-year, $500,000 plan was sparked by growing encounters between humans and a continually expanding Black Bear population. Black bears are generally not aggressive, but approaching them can make them defensive. Adult males typically weigh 250 to 400 pounds and can be as large as 600 pounds. Extra caution is appropriate when a mother bear and her cubs are sighted.

Bear-related calls to the FWC increased from about 1,000 in 2001 to more than 6,700 in 2013 — the most ever recorded — with most people reporting bears in their yards or getting into garbage. Then there are the roadway encounters. It is not uncommon to spot a bear peeking through the scrub along Collier Boulevard while driving into Marco, and last year, 232 bears were killed by vehicles throughout Florida. In May, a mother and cub were killed after darting into traffic on I-75 in Naples.

The goal of the Florida Black Bear Management Plan is to educate the public and keep both people and bears safe. FWC officials recommend the following tips to remain safe Black Bears and to reinforce their natural fear of people:

• Never approach or surprise a bear. Keep as much distance between you and the bear as possible.

• If a bear changes its behavior because of your presence, you are too close.

• When walking dogs, keep them close and be aware of your surroundings. Dogs can trigger defensive behaviors from bears.

• Report any bear threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC.

• If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright with arms raised, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.

• Carry bear spray and learn how to use it properly, factoring in wind direction, distance to bear (20-30 ft.) and your escape route. Make sure you buy one that is specific for use on bears.

• Do not turn your back, play dead or run from a Black Bear. Back away slowly into a secure area such as a house, car or building.

• Make sure you are in a secure area and the bear has a clear escape route, then yell loudly, bang pots and pans, blow a whistle, or use an air horn or car horn to scare the bear away.

• Install a motion-activated device, such as flood lights, a water sprinkler like the Water Scarecrow or audio alarm like the Critter Gitter, to scare a bear away from a location when you are not present.

To minimize human-bear encounters it is important to keep these known bear attractants under wraps and secured: unsecured trash and recycling containers; bird and squirrel feeders with items like seed, suet and peanuts; wildlife feeders; pet food and bowls; barbecue grills and smokers; pets and small livestock, such as chickens, goats, pigs and rabbits; livestock feed like corn and grain; compost piles; beehives; fruit and nut-bearing trees and shrubs; and outdoor freezers, refrigerators or coolers.

Go to and look for “Which BMU are you?” to find out more about black bears in the South BMU. “A guide to living in bear country” is also available at by clicking on “Brochures and Other Materials,” and you can find more on bears and the bear management plan at


The Bear Facts

• Black bears are the only species of bear in Florida and once roamed the entire state.

• FWC biologists estimate at least 3,000 black bears roam Florida today, compared to as few as 300 bears in the 1970s.

• Florida bears generally have black fur with a brown muzzle and sometimes a white chest patch called a blaze.

• Adult black bears typically weigh between 150 to 400 pounds, with males often twice the size of females.

• Female bears have their first litter at about 3 1/2 years old and usually have one to three cubs every other year.

• In Florida, bear breeding season runs from June-August, with cubs born in late January or early February.

• Bears have the best sense of smell of any land mammal, seven times better than a bloodhound.

• 80 percent of a black bear’s diet comes from plants such as fruits, nuts and berries, 15 percent from insects (termites, ants and bees), and 5 percent from meat, such as opossums, armadillos and carrion.


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‘Experience Nature’ with Tyler MacDonald Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:53:28 +0000 Submitted

Tyler has mastered photography of the Everglades, receiving awards for his work. PHOTOS BY TYLER MACDONALD

Tyler has mastered photography of the Everglades, receiving awards for his work. PHOTOS BY TYLER MACDONALD

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 capture rare creatures in the wild. His work has allowed him to become a steward of the earth, teaching people to love nature one photograph at a time.

For more information on MacDonald or to see his work prior to a visit to the MIHM, visit

The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle caught on camera off of Marco’s waters.

The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle caught on camera off of Marco’s waters.

The Marco Island Historical Museum is one of the five Collier County Museums. It is located on Marco Island, just 16 miles south of Naples. The Museum explores Southwest Florida’s Calusa Indians and their vanished civilization through its displays. Temporary and traveling exhibits trace the settlement of this subtropical island paradise from its early pioneer roots as a fishing village, pineapple plantation and clam cannery, through its explosive growth and development in the 1960s.

For more information about the Marco Island Historical Museum’s artist’s exhibits or temporary exhibits, please contact the museum at 239-642-1440 or visit and

Museum opening hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9 AM-4 PM. Admission is free.

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Native Beauty on Display Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:51:07 +0000 By Melinda Gray

Enjoying a peaceful moment in the gazebo, the sounds of the small waterfall and the steady breeze make me with I had brought a book to read. PHOTOS BY MELINDA GRAY

Enjoying a peaceful moment in the gazebo, the sounds of the small waterfall and the steady breeze make me with I had brought a book to read. PHOTOS BY MELINDA GRAY

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 education of the general public.

“We wanted to give the museum some identity, to help develop the whole idea of Marco Island and get people to understand. The Native Plant walk is a part of that,” said Timothy England, museum manager. “It’s made us something like a 24-hour museum, this way, where people can wander through the garden and see the plants anytime.”

With hopes of future expansion and development, England believes that embracing nature enhances the museum as a whole. Traditional landscaping was never a direction they wanted to take.

“It’s crazy! Why fight nature? It’s not beneficial to anyone,” said England of the extra fertilizer, fertilizer runoff and maintenance such landscaping requires.

Wrapping around the outside of the MIHM main building is the stunning display of local plant life. Before heading down the path, help yourself to the informative pamphlet and follow along as you leisurely wind your way through this serene, small piece of the big picture that makes Southwest Florida so cool.

Follow the path and the pamphlet to learn about some of SWFL’s exotic plant life.

Follow the path and the pamphlet to learn about some of SWFL’s exotic plant life.

Just remember, with native plants one can expect native bugs, so apply your bug spray. Make sure, though, to also notice the colorful, exotic insects all along the way.

Before leaving, step inside the air-conditioning and catch the museum’s extensive exhibits featuring the Calusa Indians, our pioneering past and the area’s immediate story. Marco Island’s 50th birthday is right around the corner, and local history will inevitably be on the minds of those who have watched the area grow, as well as many of our curious visitors.

“The rich broad history is just amazing, and there’s so much of it,” said England, “While the rest of the United States had gone to sleep, we were still an active frontier.”

The Marco Island Historical Museum opened in 2010. Made possible through collaboration between the Marco Island Historical Society and Collier County, it is part of the Collier County Museum system. The Native Plant walk was brought to life by various volunteer groups.


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MIA Inaugural Summer Camp with an Environmental Twist Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:42:18 +0000 By Noelle H. Lowery

The students were ready for the 1st day of camp with a kayak adventure. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

The students were ready for the 1st day of camp with a kayak adventure. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

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 line.

The program is based on four fundamental principles of ecology, demonstrating how natural systems function and why a diversity of species is vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems. From these insights, students extract lessons from nature that are applicable to human communities, and with these lessons, they can ask how human communities (ecosystems) function and explore similarities and differences.

From there, the focus is on sustainability and the search for alternatives to present systems and trajectories that are more sustainable. Empowerment, inspiration and motivation are an important part of the program as well.

Ally Hayes (l-r), Annie Grace Hayes and Olivia Watt display their findings from the Coastal Beach Walk.

Ally Hayes (l-r), Annie Grace Hayes and Olivia Watt display their findings from the Coastal Beach Walk.†

Some 25 students participated in the week-long camp on Marco Island, which covered the following four topics:

• Everything Runs On Energy

• Nature Recycles Everything

• Biodiversity is Good

• Everything is Connected

The week was packed with activities designed to turn Southwest Florida’s natural environment into one huge science lab. Students kayaked through the waters around Marco, explored Tigertail Beach, studied the resident dolphin population on the Dolphin Express, toured Rookery Bay, participated in the island’s various archeological digs, and visited Big Cypress National Preserve and its various habitats and lakes. Each day ended with a trip back to MIA for lab work and journaling.

The pinnacle of the week was the construction of a compost bin at MIA and discussion and activities focused on the importance of sustainability in everyday life. Students learned from a botanist, marine biologist, ornithologist, archeologist, hydrologist, architect and other experts in various fields focused on the Southwest Florida environment.

The students headed out en masse to Big Cypress, and they came prepared with mosquito nets.

The students headed out en masse to Big Cypress, and they came prepared with mosquito nets.

Camper Olivia Watt, who will attend MIA in the fall, summed up the general consensus opinion of the program: “The Ambassadors of the Environment Camp will be a memory I hold with me forever. It was beyond an amazing opportunity where we spent almost all of our time not in a classroom, but outdoors where we could experience things firsthand. This camp made learning a pleasure instead of a chore.

“I know so much more about the Island I call home, whether it’s our history, what animals inhabit the waters, or how to incorporate green building,” she added. “Most importantly, I learned that everything is connected. I’ll never forget the week I spent in the Ambassadors Camp and the friendships I made along the way.”

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Red Tide ‘Not Present’ — For Now Fri, 27 Jun 2014 17:17:22 +0000 By Melinda Gray

A20-CBN-6-27-14-4This 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 collected throughout the county’s coastal waters. In fact, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reporting K. brevis has not been found anywhere along Florida’s coast.

As experts across the state look to the 2014-2015 season, they admit the contrast from one season to the next is just one of the many unanswered puzzles about red tide. “It is unlikely you could attribute it to any one thing,” explains Bryan Fluech, director of the Florida Sea Grant Collier County Extension. “Annual and/or seasonal changes in water temperatures, salinity, winds, nutrients levels, turbidity (how much suspended particles are in the water), rainfall, etc. can influence the severity and frequency of blooms.”

While some 70 percent of red tide blooms occur between August and February, the exact combinations of biology, chemistry and physics leading to a bloom’s inception are unclear. Further, there is disagreement between the scientific and environmental communities as to whether red tide blooms are happening more frequently, are more extreme or are fueled by the presence of fertilizers and pesticides in stormwater runoff.

According to Fluech, there are a number of organisms that can cause harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Gulf of Mexico, and K. brevis, is just one of them. “A source of confusion is that the term ‘red tide’ is often used to describe any one of a number of HAB that we can get, even though Florida red tide is attributed to this one species. Like other HAB-causing organisms, Florida red tide blooms are influenced by a number of physical (sunlight, winds, temperature), chemical (nutrient input, salinity, oxygen levels), and biological (organism’s biology/physiology) factors interacting with one another. Researchers still do not know what the ‘right combination’ of factors is that initiates K. brevis blooms,” he notes.

What is known is that red tides develop typically 10-40 miles offshore, and when conditions are favorable, K. brevis can reproduce very quickly — every 48 to 120 hours — through cell division, creating a bloom. The blooms then work their way closer to shore. They do not originate in rivers, bays and other nearshore environments like some other HABs do.

According to FWC, Florida red tide can’t tolerate lower salinities for extended periods of time. Blooms usually remain in the saltier water found in lower bays and estuaries and closer to passes, like those in the Ten Thousand Islands.

Further, says Fluech, “unlike other HABs where there is a direct link between nutrient run-off (both natural and man-made) and initiation of blooms, this is not the case for Florida red tide. However, it is still unclear whether K. brevis cells are capable of using these nutrients to maintain their growth once they have made their way inshore.”

Depending on the duration and severity of blooms, though, they can spell big trouble for anyone in their paths for two reasons. First, red tides produce a neurotoxin that inhibits breathing, and second, oxygen is sapped from water when the red tide cells die along with the marine organisms they attack.

In fish, red tide paralyzes the gills and robs them of oxygen. Slow-moving fish and bottom dwellers are most susceptible, but invertebrates such as shrimp and crabs are affected as well. While bivalve species like oysters and clams can filter red tide toxins from their systems after three to six weeks, they are still vulnerable because of the low oxygen levels in the bloom-infested water.

Marine mammals such as manatees can be particularly susceptible to red tide events as toxins can be directly inhaled or consumed with aquatic plants. Shorebirds and wading birds also have been victims of red tide toxins. People — especially those with respiratory problems, such as asthma — are affected too when the red tide toxin goes airborne.

The 2012-2013 bloom left many on land with wracking, hacking coughs and breathing problems, and a slow, suffocating death for those under the sea. Dead fish of all varieties — including Goliath Grouper — were seen floating in canals and washing up on shore. Worse yet, a record 270 manatees were found dead within the known red tide bloom boundary. Four of them were recovered from waters around Marco Island. The last time a red tide bloom caused such carnage was in 1998-1999 when 150 manatees died.

A total of 16 manatees were actually rescued in Southwest Florida during the unusually large and long red tide event. Of those rescued, 15 lived and were released in Lee County.

Whether or not, Southwest Florida will see an active red tide season when the new one starts in August remains to be seen. “I don’t think anyone can say for sure,” Fluech acknowledges. “Florida red tide blooms typically occur from August to February, but can (and have) occurred every month of the year if the right conditions are met. It is not unusual to have other kinds of blooms occur during the summer as rainfall and nutrient runoff increases. This added source of nutrient-laden fresh water can certainly trigger other HABs. The city, county, state and private groups routinely monitor our waters for multiple HABs.”

Collier County Red Tide Updates are available on the Red Tide Hotline at 239-252-2591. This is an automated recording with the most recent Red Tide information for Collier County available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit for more red tide information.

To report dead fish or red tide symptoms, please call the Collier County Natural Resources Department at 239-252-2502. To speak to a health professional regarding red tide symptoms, call the Florida Poison Information Center toll free at 1-800-222-1222.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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