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Sea Turtle Research in the Ten Thousand Islands

Greg Curry, left, and 
Dr. Jeff Schmid release a loggerhead sea turtle from their capture net. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Most Marco residents know that Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters on Southwest Florida’s coast, but few are aware that this outdoor classroom and living laboratory hosts hundreds of research projects undertaken by DEP staff, graduate research fellows, and visiting scientists from around the world to answer scientific questions about the wildlife, plants and habitats. The results of these projects contribute to the reserve’s overall understanding of local trends and often help guide future management and restoration efforts. One local scientist studying in the reserve is Dr. Jeff ... Read More »

Stone Crabs … Interesting Facts

Bob displays a male stone 
crab for guests to view onboard the Dolphin Explorer. PHOTO BY CAPT. MICHAEL TATEO

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturali Yum! There they are, precooked, and on a plate right in front of me. Just a bit cooler than room temperature, with a side of drawn butter, as well as a mild mustard sauce, I can already taste them and I’m three feet from the table. Those delicious stone crab claws are back in season! Hundreds upon hundreds of crab traps were placed in position in the backwaters and just offshore during the first two weeks of October all around the Marco Island area. Traps were baited and commercial crabbers waited for the magic date ... Read More »

October a Fun and Busy Month for Calusa Garden Club

Nancy Richie surrounded by Tommie Barfield Junior Gardeners. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Special to the Coastal Breeze Garden Club’s Junior Gardeners Learn About Tortoises This school year, 25 Tommie Barfield Elementary students are participating in the Calusa Garden Club’s Junior Gardener Program. The first Junior Gardener meeting featured retired City of Marco Island Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie presenting a program on tortoises. After the program, the students applied their new knowledge to creating fanciful tortoises to take home. The Junior Gardeners enjoyed learning about and creating tortoises to take home. The boys agreed, though, that what they really look forward to are the “digging-in-the-dirt” activities. Garden Club Members Tour Marco Island Florida ... Read More »

Snorkeling With Manta Rays… At Night…In Hawaii

The magnificent manta ray. SUBMITTED PHOTO

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalis It was a warm September evening and the sun had just set on Keauhou Bay. Captain Kirk Herring carefully guided our boat, Hula Kai, into position and two of our guides, Brent and Megan, sprang into action. A floating, plastic plank equipped with underwater lights was quickly in place behind the vessel. Wetsuits on and already breathing through our snorkels, my wife Cathy and I waited for the command. The lights along the plank were illuminated below the water and we were told to proceed. We smiled at each other, entered the water and made ... Read More »

A Rare Encounter With a Rare Fish…

A smalltooth sawfish, classified as endangered in 2003. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve staff were conducting a nonbreeding bird route survey recently in the Ten Thousand Islands near Cape Romano, and were very excited to observe a 30-inch smalltooth sawfish. At this size, the sawfish would be considered “young-of-the-year” and was most certainly pupped in Reserve waters. They were able to watch the sawfish from a distance of just a few feet as it casually swam in a small mudflat pool in just 4 inches of water, likely attracted by the large number of bait fish that were also observed. “This was ... Read More »

Falcon Fall Migrations Have Begun

The “barred” feathers on the chest and underwing, as well as the slate grey coloring around the eyes and head, make the peregrine falcon easy to recognize.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist On September 23rd at 4:21 AM, Eastern Time, the first day of fall officially arrived. Here in Florida we all look forward to cooler temperatures and less humidity. We also notice the absence of some of our summer migratory animals, and the return of many others. The first day of fall is also known as the Autumnal Equinox. This occurs when the equator is closest to the sun. It also happens in the spring, known as the Vernal Equinox. It takes place twice because the Earth tilts as it rotates around the sun, and on ... Read More »

Marine Archaeologist to Speak at Rose Auditorium

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Submitted The Marco Island Historical Society welcomes marine archaeologist Jeff Moates to Rose History Auditorium on Tuesday, October 6th at 7:00 PM. Moates’s lecture will focus on the archaeology and history of Southwest Florida’s Cuban “Fishing Ranchos.” In the late 18th and 19th centuries, groups of Cuban and Spanish Indian fishermen established a number of “Fishing Ranchos” along the Gulf coast where they processed and sold their catch. Using historical and archaeological evidence, Moates will explain who these enterprising entrepreneurs were, where they came from and how they survived, even thrived, in a primitive land long after the Spanish had ... Read More »

National Estuaries Day

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By Erin and Amelia Perchalski Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve celebrated National Estuaries Day on Saturday, September 26 by offering many unique, free experiences. Boat tours of the bay were given throughout the day, along with opening up the research lab. Many vendors filled the Environmental Learning Center with displays from Collier Mosquito Control District, Florida State Parks, the Audubon Society, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Marco Sportfishing Club, Marco Shell Club and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, just to name a few. Kids and adults alike enjoyed the touch tank, filled with living sea creatures, and many ... Read More »

Friends of Tigertail International Beach Cleanup

Keeping our beaches clean is vital. Friends of Tigertail helps keep the beach healthy and beautiful. SUBMITTED BY JASMINE PARCELLES

By Samantha Husted On September 19, Friends of Tigertail Beach (FOT) held their annual International Beach Cleanup event. The cleanup was held in conjunction with the International Coastal Cleanup that took place around the world. Volunteers, with gloves and trash bags in hand, combed Tigertail in search of litter, debris and other harmful materials. Data cards were given to participants in order to document their findings. The results were then sent to the National Ocean Conservancy and were recorded. Over 75 people showed up this year and 15 bags of trash, weighing in at a staggering 200 pounds, were collected. ... Read More »

Enjoy Your Estuary

Rookery Bay, designated in 1978, was established on Shell Island Road  in 1984. In 1996, headquarters moved to Tower Road, but the Shell Island Road location, seen here, is still in use as a field station and hub for ecotours. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Marco Island is surrounded by natural beauty. Here, freshwater from land meets saltwater from the sea and forms a unique habitat known as an estuary. This special environment is vital to coastal communities like Marco because it provides shelter for fish and shellfish, recreational opportunities for people, and an economic engine that drives the local economy through tourism and real estate. The value of these natural resources to the local community was recognized in 1978, when the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve was established. A grassroots effort began with concerned citizens purchasing a few thousand ... Read More »

A Dolphin Rescue: One Year Later

September 4, 2015: Mom Halfway (notch halfway up her fin) leads Skipper in the Marco River on the anniversary of Skipper’s rescue. The tag is now gone from Skipper’s fin, leaving a notch toward the top.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist September 4, 2014: The Dolphin Explorer is not open for business. The entire crew is, instead, on the water with one specific goal…find a dolphin in distress. Captain Bob Erickson is at the helm of the Dolphin Explorer with Coastal Breeze reporter Noelle Lowery and a naturalist on board. Captain Michael Tateo and Naturalist Kent Morse are on Michael’s boat. Captain Chris Desmond is on a pontoon, and I am on a separate pontoon as well. Even more boats are at the Collier Boat Ramp ready to launch, all coming together to find a needle ... Read More »

Volunteers Needed

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Submitted Rookery Bay Reserve is looking for volunteers to be aquarium life support assistants and for water quality testing. A background in Biology and Chemistry is helpful. Education majors are also wanted to assist with our 4th and 7th grade programs. National Estuaries Day is Saturday, September 26, and volunteers are needed for a variety of activities. Trail work day volunteers are needed on Tuesday, September 22 and Tuesday, October 13, both days from 8:30 AM-12:30 PM. Email the Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@rookerybay.org for more information and to register.www.rookerybay.org Read More »

A Stormy Recipe: How to Make a Hurricane

This photo of Hurricane Andrew was taken on August 23, 1992, one day before it  impacted the Florida coast to become one of South Florida’s most devastating storms in history. SUBMITTED PHOTO

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist My wife Cathy and I love to cook. We are always conjuring up new ideas for old recipes. Sometimes we find that adding just one new ingredient can make a pleasant difference, but, more often than not, it seems that the original plan is the best. Mother Nature has a recipe or two that she shares with us now and then, but she seems very consistent with her cookbook. Some concoctions are seasonal, while others can be experienced year round. Right now we are in the peak season for one of her more hearty dishes…the ... Read More »

Invaders Among Us

River otters (seen here), 
raccoons, possum, deer and other animals are on the python menu. In some areas of South Florida populations are down as much as 90%! PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Let’s take a short trip back in time. Florida has stabilized from thousands of years of climatic turmoil. Sea levels have risen close to what we know in the present day, and the weather has settled as well. It is the year 3,000 B.C. and we are native to this land. We do not farm, but depend on the land and the sea to provide our food. It is plentiful. Fish, rays, mollusks, turtles and much more sea life fulfill our dietary needs, with just a small dependence on land animals as well. As we ... Read More »

Meet Heidi Waite – Rookery Bay Intern

The two-story Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center offers visitors a hands-on learning experience.

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Southwest Florida has an amazing coastal environment. From pine flatwoods to salt marsh, mudflat to nearshore waters, the diversity of plants and animals here is spectacular. While it is impossible to experience it all in person in a short time, a visit to the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center’s two-story exhibit hall can provide a glimpse of the unique habitats found within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve’s 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters. It also offers visitors a look at the world of research and restoration ongoing within the Reserve, a step back ... Read More »

Sea Turtle Species in Our Area

This lone Loggerhead hatchling is just moments old, about 2 inches long, and full of steam to get to the water. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist It’s August and we’re right in the thick of things. They are coming and going, mostly by night, on Florida’s beaches, and rarely does the public get to see them. They disturb the sand and we can’t walk in that spot for two months. Many people look for them, but mostly in vain. Do they really exist? They must! We see evidence of their presence, but rarely do we see “them.” Numerous volunteers scour the Collier County shorelines every morning for tracks and then mark where “they” have been. What are these creatures? Why are ... Read More »

Fire… a Necessary Function of Nature

Mobile wildlife such as deer, bear and bobcat can flee a wildfire quickly. Nesting birds such as eagles, herons, egrets and storks could be more at risk. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

As I watch the evening news, I see that another wildfire is burning out of control somewhere across the United States. Reports proclaim that it is 40% contained, and then 60% under control. Attention is drawn to the number of structures that are at risk, then saved, because of the quick action taken by mankind’s actions. It’s good that homes are spared Mother Nature’s wrath, but is this stoppage of a natural event what was intended overall? Here in South Florida, throughout the past few weeks, I’ve left my home in the morning and I can smell smoke in the ... Read More »

150 Pound Tarpon Caught In The Marco River

Matt Stark, left, and Captain Ted Naftal display a 150 lb Tarpon  caught in the Marco River. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist On June 25, 2015 a trio of guests from Randolph, NJ joined Captain Ted Naftal on board the Miss Nancy II for a day on the waters around Marco Island. Brother and sister Matt and Mattie Stark were joined by their grandfather Jim Grecco, with hopes of catching something good for dinner. Little did they know what was in store for them. Not too far from the Rose Marina basin and working the sand bars and mangrove treelines, Mattie had a catfish for bait on her line. Using 40 lb test line, she felt a ... Read More »

Sharks Among Us

White shark (Carcharodon carcharias). FILE PHOTOS

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist It’s hard to believe that 2015 is already halfway complete. Sitting here contemplating the first 6 months of the year and then the last 12 months total, I realized that it has been 1 full year since I was right where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea and that’s where my wife and I were swimming….with Whale Sharks! About the size of a small school bus, it was quite an experience to be in the migratory route of these plankton eating giants. It got me thinking about the Gulf Stream current, other migrating ... Read More »

FWC Discusses Strategic Priorities For Panther Conservation

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Submitted The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at its meeting June 23 in Sarasota discussed a draft position paper outlining strategic priorities for panther conservation. The Commissioners agreed that the Florida panther is a conservation success story but acknowledged that with this success comes new challenges. The draft paper presented at the meeting calls for focusing strong conservation efforts on the panther’s core range in south Florida, effective ways to address human-panther conflicts, and building support among private landowners whose properties provide essential panther habitat. “This position paper does not call for a change to the panther’s protected ... Read More »