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Stepping Stones

Florida Reefs: Old and New

A sea turtle makes its way across a reef this past summer. Photo by Bob McConville

Stepping Stones Bob McConville A short while ago I wrote an article about the decline of the coral reef system in the Florida Keys. Included were some pictures that actually showed a section of a reef and how dramatic the change occurred over a 20-year period. It was not good. The brightly colored corals of yesterday are now gray and brown. Unfortunately, this is not just a local problem. The vitality of coral reefs and their sensitive ecosystems worldwide are in trouble. Stable levels of sunlight, the proper amount of salt content (salinity), warmth and cleanliness all combined and allowed ... Read More »

Is “Natural Selection” in Jeopardy?

The green iguana is a reptile, but closely related to amphibians. As a species, amphibians are
disappearing from the face of the Earth at an alarming rate. Could this one be next? Photo by Bob McConville

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist     Since the earliest times of life on Earth, animals, plants and minerals have been changing. Even today, as our planet makes “adjustments,” everything here must do the same. Days are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, the rotation of the Earth is slowing, factors such as El Nino and La Nina will affect weather patterns, and waters levels are rising, again. Some creatures will easily survive and adapt to these changes, while others will not. The ones that do continue to flourish depend on their abilities to migrate, mutate ... Read More »

Crocodiles in South Florida

Photos by Bob McConville

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Quite often when I’m talking about dolphins on my tours someone will ask the question regarding alligator sightings. I am always happy to respond that gators primarily stay in fresh water or brackish water habitats, and then I mention that brackish and saltwater areas of South Florida are home to many crocodiles and that this area is one of the few where gators and crocs share the same habitat. Lots of visitors are unaware that we do have crocs here, but it is true. Found in Central and South America and specific areas of Mexico, ... Read More »

Are the Keys’ Reefs Dying?

In less than 20 years, major changes have taken place in the Florida Keys reef structure.
1992 - Head coral barely alive, and Elkhorn coral almost completely decimated.

Stepping Stones Bob McConville “Live corals on the east side of the Florida Keys are mysteriously dying and algae are taking over that eco-niche. Studies and mapping suggest that a number of natural factors, combined with the effects of human activity, may contribute to the corals’ demise.” – Gene Shinn, U.S. Geological Survey It is well documented that there is a widespread loss of corals on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys, both close to shore as well as offshore. They are being replaced with an algae which is known flourish in high concentrations of certain nitrates and phosphates. ... Read More »

A High Tech Answer to Turtle Egg Poaching

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Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist          Just a few weeks ago a Florida man was caught stealing more than 100 eggs from an adult female loggerhead sea turtle while she was in the process of laying them. This guy could face a maximum term of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for hisactions. A California couple was sentenced to six months in prison when they were caught smuggling more than 900 olive ridley turtle eggs into our country from Mexico in May. A Georgia man went to jail for 21 months when he was ... Read More »

This Place Is For The Birds!

Photos by Bob McConville
A Least Tern rests on Tigertail Beach, pretty well camouflaged among the sand and shells.

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist   Join Bob on July 20th at 7 PM for more details about some of our area birds. This talk will take place at the Marco Island Historical Society’s Auditorium. On May 12th Bob gave a presentation about our birdlife and it was so well received that Part 2 was requested. Admission is free for all MIHS members and MIA students and teachers. A $5 donation is requested of all others. Look!!! Up in the sky…again!!! I contributed an article in early May and discussed some of the birds we see here, namely the ... Read More »

A Dolphin Update

Mom Sintas keeps guard over her new calf, J. Fireball, last November.

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist      Everybody loves dolphins. Most people taking nature trips in South Florida want to see one of two things…dolphins or alligators. We’ll forget about the ‘gators today and talk about the other favorite in our area for a mid-year update. On board the Dolphin Explorer you not only get to see dolphins, but you have a chance to watch a team of citizen scientists document the activity of these mammals for research purposes. Each one has a name and their daily behavior is recorded in a database. With more than 10 years of ... Read More »

A Great Migration in the Water

Submitted Photo
Leatherback sea turtles can reach 6 feet in length, weigh up to 2,000 pounds and dive more than 4,000 feet below the surface.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Last month I wrote about one of the great land migrations that takes place on our planet. It wasn’t so much about the long distance of the pattern, but more about the sheer number of animals that participate in this annual trek across Africa’s Serengeti Plain. There are constant comings and goings throughout the year on land and in the air, but what about the sea? Yes, there are tremendous numbers of marine creatures that follow patterns as well. Since we are in turtle nesting season here in our area I thought it might be ... Read More »

Great Migration of the World

A least tern flies over its nest on Tigertail Beach. Its cousin, the Arctic tern, will migrate up to 44,000 miles each year! Photo by Bob McConville

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Planet Earth is on the move! Every day, somewhere around the globe, some type of animal is on a migration route. Whether the need be food, water, warmth or finding a mate, there is a constant pattern of motion on our planet. Let’s talk about the migration of the largest number of land animals. This event takes place on the continent of Africa. In the springtime nearly two million wildebeest, zebra, gazelle and impala follow an annual pattern in their search for fresh grazing lands. The trail taken by these animals is now very predictable, ... Read More »

Mangroves…Florida’s “Walking Trees”

Photos by Bob McConville
Mangrove trees in the background, a great egret prepares to land in search of a meal.

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist  Take a boat ride through Rookery Bay and you will see them. Head the other direction towards Florida Bay and, undoubtedly, they are prominent. Just walk to Tigertail Lagoon here on Marco and they can’t be missed. Mangrove trees are everywhere! Worldwide there are more than 50 species of mangrove trees. Here in Florida three species call our state home. They are the red mangrove, black mangrove and the white one. Of these three the red is probably most well known. They are some of Florida’s true natives, thriving in salty environments. All need ... Read More »

Birds Among the Mangroves

A year-round Florida resident, this Limpkin was recently seen feeding along Collier Boulevard.

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Master Naturalist Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane! It’s a visitor from another planet! Wait a minute…it’s a bird. As some of our winter, feathered friends have left the Marco Island area, others are arriving to join our year-round residents. The white pelicans that were seen in the Tigertail Lagoon and Marsh Trail are back up north. Boasting the second largest wingspan of any North American bird, these graceful flyers have returned to their northernmost states and Canada for their summer breeding season. The peregrine falcon, which stops in the Marco ... Read More »

White Tailed Deer Around Marco Island

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STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist You are on a boat and in the distance you notice something swimming across the bay. It could very well be a pelican just relaxing on the surface or maybe a dolphin coming up for air. But the silhouette against the sun is unique. You grab your binoculars, filled with curiosity about what is there. As you focus on the animal you realize that you are seeing something rare, something never seen by most visitors to our area. A white-tailed deer is swimming from one island to another! It would not be a surprise for ... Read More »

Tis the Season…Two Aquatic Friends Return

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STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist On Wednesday, April 13th at 7 PM join Bob McConville at the Rose Auditorium for a discussion about the sea turtles and manatees found in our area. Meet special guest, Master Naturalist Nancy Anderson, a manatee specialist. MIHS members and MIA students are free. A $5 donation is requested for all others. Ah, the first day of spring! Thoughts of warmer weather have many of us planning adventurous days at the beach or on the water. Our eyes will scan the surface, looking for anything that might arise from below. All of a sudden there’s ... Read More »

Pythons and Gators and Crocs, Oh My!

This 13-foot Burmese python is very visible in an open field, but well disguised when it reaches habitat shrubbery and trees.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist   Join Bob on March 8th at 7 PM at the Marco Island Historical Society’s (MIHS) Rose Auditorium for a presentation about the 2016 Python Challenge results and an update on area dolphin activity. Also, there will be a baby gator and baby crocodile on hand so you can compare the differences of the two species. All area school students and MIHS members are free, and a $5 donation would be appreciated from others. January’s event sold out – so come early to get a good seat!   Burmese pythons, alligators and crocodiles…Believe it or ... Read More »

Marco’s Magnificent Estuaries

A green heron hides among the mangroves to surprise an unsuspecting fish.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Ah, the beauty of those small islands surrounding Marco! Everyone wants to visit them, to see what hides among the roots and branches. Whether you get out by boat, kayak, an ecotour or paddleboard, they are a treasure to behold. The wide array of animals and plants in this area requires some very special adaptations from nature. The Gulf of Mexico lines our western border while fresh water flows from the inland regions to form a very magical combination. This is called an “estuary.” There are quite a few bays and lagoons in our area ... Read More »

The Original Snowbirds…White Pelicans

White pelicans are gregarious and will work together to gather fish.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist It is estimated that humans have been in the Florida region for more than 14,000 years. Naples became a destination point just over 100 years ago and Marco Island was a mosquito-infested area until development escalated in the 1950s. Long before northern tourists began visiting our beaches to seek refuge from the winter cold there was a different type of “snowbird”…the white pelican. This giant of the skies breeds primarily in the interior regions of North America and makes its way to Florida, Central America and South America for relief from the colder climate. They ... Read More »

Discovering Your Way: How We Learn From Nature

Lee Memorial Hospital staff participates in a leadership exercise. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Humans…the dominant species on the planet. We have evolved to a point that we don’t have to rely on other animals for our own wellbeing. We’ve gone from being hunters to farmers to producers of artificial substitutes for food. We’ve domesticated other species to provide nourishment for ourselves. Our social structure now demands that we depend on each other to maintain a sense of community, a balance among ourselves. Skills and instincts that we once had are now less valued. There is a hierarchy of managers, middle managers and laborers now, and the relationships among ... Read More »

Winter in the Big Cypress Swamp

Green heron hides among the mangroves waiting for its next meal.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Ah, the harsh winter climate of South Florida! So blustery, so cold that I had to wear long pants twice last January! I don’t know how people can stand it! Actually our climate provides a safe haven for many of our northern visitors to escape the cold and snow. These humans will take advantage of the excellent beach conditions, boating opportunities and great eco-attractions to keep themselves entertained over the next four months. Some will also take the short trip, less than thirty minutes, and learn about the fascinating areas just west of the Everglades. ... Read More »

A Thankful Year in Review

It was a banner year for  baby dolphin births in our area; Mom Giza shows off her newborn, Freedom. Giza also became a
grandmother this year. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The realist adjusts the sails. ~ Wm. Ward   What a fantastic year this has been! I would like to thank the Coastal Breeze News for allowing me to be a part of their team. It has been an honor and I am humbled. I would like, even more, to thank those who read my contributions to this paper. Your positive feedback and constructive criticism have made me a better person (although I like the compliments more than the criticism). One of my ... Read More »

Losing Florida Wildlife

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STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Recently I submitted a column concerning the loss of many species around the planet and the idea, by some scientists, that we are experiencing the beginning of the next mass extinction. Several readers responded and asked that I address the loss of some Florida species, rather than just a generalization of global statistics. (This is good that I get such feedback, now I know someone other than my wife reads these articles.) Human expansion seems to be the main concern regarding some Florida animals, but climate change also plays a major part in the migratory ... Read More »