At a December Zoom presentation, Adam DiNuovo, Biologist for Audubon, Florida and lead researcher for the Black Skimmer Banding Program in Marco Island, praised the valuable contributions of the shorebird stewards and volunteers for both the summer and winter programs.
DiNuovo added that “there is just too much to do and not enough manpower for the professional biologists to do the work, so they rely on well–trained volunteers from all walks of life to help build these data sets to help us find statistical significance to whatever we are trying to do.” The involvement of trained volunteers in gathering data as well as monitoring wildlife are the backbone of biological research all over the world.
Florida has a coastline that stretches nearly 1,200 statute miles—13 million people living on or near the coast, another 50 million visitors to the beaches each year. Shorebirds and seabirds have very few places left to go without encountering many human–related threats.
In Marco Island, the typical scene is Brittany Piersma, Shorebird Steward for Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) on the beach on the weekdays and weekends interacting with the public. In the winter of 2019, Piersma interacted with 1,350 beachgoers, rescued 17 birds and read 526 bird bands. In 2020 during COVID-19, public interaction was limited, but Brittany managed to register 294 banded birds and rescued 25 birds so far this winter.
According to DiNuovo, in the 5 and a half years he’s been banding Black Skimmers in Marco, he has seen the knowledge of the birds by the average resident raised significantly, and this could not have happened without the volunteers.
DiNuovo shared “that in the summer the nesting situation is very delicate. In a split second, an unleashed dog can cause irreparable damage to a nesting colony. For the last several years, nesting Least Terns abandoned Sand Dollar Island due to the presence of aggressive predators like the Fish Crows.”
However, now Least Terms are nesting successfully on Second Chance Critical Wildlife Area, a shoal south of the Dome Homes. In 2015, Second Chance had about 60-80 pairs and they fledged one chick. Once approved as a Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) in 2016, their productivity increased. In 2020, 140 pairs fledged 110 chicks. This CWA is monitored by volunteers from Team Ocean and patrolled by FWC.
The stars of the show are the Black Skimmers nesting on Sand Dollar island during the summer. They do very well most years and most people know about these birds and they love the fact that they are nesting on Marco.
Coolest Citizen Science Project is the Black Skimmer Banding Project lead by Adam DiNuovo. This is an all-volunteer project including Adam. In 2017, DiNuovo banded a skimmer chick with a green plastic band bearing C48. In 2020, C48 returned to the colony and had a chick of her own.
The Owl Watch Program in Marco is a very successful citizen science project that is coordinated with AWE. In 2000, Nancy Richie had 4 pairs of burrowing owls on the island with a handful of volunteers. Today, Owl Watch Marco has 80 volunteers with 255 pairs of burrowing owls. Without volunteers collecting productivity data would be impossible to do and Marco Island residents are very protective of their owls.
Gopher Tortoise Counting Project is a very new citizen science program in Marco coordinated by AWE in partnership with Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee. Brittany Piersma has surveyed 80 properties and counted 595 burrows which estimate 298 gopher tortoises. The approval of more property owners to sign up for the “counting project” is needed and the project could use more volunteers. If interested, please email email@example.com.
20 years ago, citizen science was not a big thing, but now it is a critical part of conservation with 99% volunteers helping their professional partners with their projects. Dinuovo encourages the public to be interested, sign up for a virtual shorebird seminar, take a shorebird ID class, volunteer and be part of the exciting world of conservation.