2020 was a challenging year for everyone as COVID-19 ruled our lives. Let’s reflect on what we were able to get done last year under difficult circumstances. Like the Marines, we “learned to improvise, overcome and adapt.”
Clean Waterways Act, SB 712 was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on June 30th to protect Florida’s water quality. It addressed the serious source of pollution contributing to algae bloom in our waterways including septic tanks, waste water treatment facilities, storm water runoffs and agriculture.
Water Quality – Marco’s impaired waterways are included on a list maintained by the State known as “the 303(d) list,” a list of impaired waters required by Federal Law. The city is anxiously awaiting Dr. Harper’s report on Marco’s water quality along with his recommendations.
Conservation Collier referendum received 77% voter support. The conservation program lacked funding after the original tax expired in 2013. The Conservation Collier referendum would hope to re–start land acquisition for conservation.
Red Tide – Before year-end, red tide delivered masses of dead fish on Marco’s canals and beaches leaving the horrible stench of decay.
Beach Closures – Marco Island’s beaches were closed on March 19th due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Welcome back – Beach closure was lifted in Collier County on May 9th and Marco’s beaches saw an assault of day trippers from Miami/Dade (where beaches where still closed). The once pristine beach became one big repository of trash!
Burrowing Owl – The Owl Watch Program went digital for the 2020 nesting season using the NestStory software to track burrows and owls. The season recorded 404 sites; over 3,000 burrow checks and an estimated 2,000+ hours of owl activity. Burrowing Safe Harbor Incentive Program was implemented this year which provides a monetary incentive to residents of Marco Island if they put a starter owl burrow in their yard. Fourteen residents have qualified for the program and will be awarded $250 each by the City.
Gopher Tortoises Survey, a conservation and stewardship program, received additional funding. Brittany Piersma, lead survey biologist for Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE), has counted 298 gopher tortoises so far and surveyed 80 properties.
Sea Turtle Season 2020 started with two sea turtle monitors from the Collier County Sea Turtle Protection Program. In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal inundated many nests. Bad News: For the second year Marco recorded the highest hatchling disorientation in Collier County, which is five times the countywide average of 3% of hatched nest disorientation (16% vs. 3%). Code Enforcement also reported 47 cases of Sea Turtle Lighting violations brought before the Code magistrate.
Black Skimmer Nesting Colony at Sand Dollar Island – In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal wiped out the nesting colony of 600+ black skimmers. Upside: Black Skimmers came back and re-nested.
Black Skimmer Chicks Die–Off – In July & August, two-thirds of the skimmer chicks displayed swollen joints and were unable to walk or fly and most eventually died. Mystery illness was identified by FWC as bacterial dermatitis, tendinitis and osteomyelitis caused by 5 bacteria: Enterococcus faecalis, staphylococcus aureus; serratia marcescens, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. According to DiNuovo, lead biologist for the project, “it may be in the water or it is coming back in the food they were eating.” He calls for more testing on the surrounding water bodies to determine the source.
Manatee Rescue – from mid-August to early November, over 11 manatees had been caught by low tide and stranded at the Tigertail lagoon. In July, a manatee calf was stranded under a boat dock – all with happy endings.
Tigertail Lagoon: Discussions on the “restoration” of Tigertail Lagoon started in 2019 with a study by Humiston & Moore and commissioned by the Hideaway Beach Association (HBA) in order to come up with a management plan for the lagoon. A second study was again commissioned by HBA in 2020. HBA will need the input from numerous regulatory agencies along with a funding source.
Piping Plovers – Sand Dollar Island is an important wintering habitat for the piping plovers. One identified female Piping Plover banded in Michigan in 2010 has been wintering on Sand Dollar Island since 2013. It was again sighted back in Marco on December 6, 2020. She is ten years old and the talk of the conservation world. Piping Plovers are protected as a threatened species by both State and Federal agencies.
Concerns for 2021: With the proposal to dredge Tigertail lagoon and “deposit” the sand on the nesting areas of sea turtles, black skimmers and least terns – what will happen to the nesting areas? The wintering habitat of the piping plover will also be at risk.