“This is fabulous,” Shelli Connelly mused as she stepped through the doorway in the Community Room at City Hall Wednesday Night. “I’m so excited that this many people in the community are eager to learn about our habitat.”
A total of 164 people attended the program.
Connelly, a member of the Marco Island Beautification Advisory Committee, was the organizer for the first Marco Nature Night and she couldn’t believe the crowd.
“It’s been fabulous,” she said. “All the people who are here tonight. All of the exhibitions and presentations. Everybody was so on board for doing this. To expand everybody’s knowledge of nature on Marco. That’s the goal. We need to know more about keeping our waterways clean. We need to know more about our wildlife—which is amazing on this island. We also need to know about the things that we can plant here. One of our presentations’ tonight is about edible landscaping and some of the top things you can plant on Marco to feed you and the birds. We’ve got the climate for it, why not!”
Connelly assembled an impressive lineup of exhibitors in the lobby area, including Rookery Bay Research Reserve, The Marco Island Center for the Arts, Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary, Calusa Garden Club, Collier County Pollution Control, Audubon Western Everglades and Collier County Pollution Control.
The meeting room was filled to capacity listening to presentations from Alli Smith of Audubon Western Everglades, who spoke about our burrowing owl population, environmental specialist Sammie Gibson of Collier County Pollution Control, and Dr. Steven Brady who spoke about edible landscaping.
All three speakers were well-received by an eager audience who had questions following each presentation.
Smith reported that there are now 242 burrowing owl pairs, who raised 563 chicks. She said they don’t know where all the chicks go. One school of thought is that the chicks end up on ranches where burrowing owls are commonly found.
She also educated the crowd on burrowing owls’ diet, which consists of lizards, frogs, snakes and birds. She said they found seven bird eggs in one burrow.
She said the main threat to burrowing owls are developers.
Smith has constructed 125 starter burrows across the island. She also talked about a program that allows residents to have a starter burrow on their property—see accompanying article: “Now You Can Host Your Own Burrowing Owl Burrow.”
Smith is also into year three of a banding program that will help researchers learn more about the birds.
“We catch them in owl traps,” Smith said. “They’re a lot like little raccoon traps. They’re easy to catch. They’re very curious and they just walk right into the traps.”
Smith encourages anyone who sees a burrowing owl that has a band to please contact her at 239-643-7822 or email@example.com.
Sammie Gibson disseminated some valuable information to the audience about pollution issues in Collier County.
One of Gibson’s focuses was on water drains. She repeated the maxim, “only rain in the drain” to help illustrate the point that residents need to be on the lookout for people polluting our storm drains. She cited complaint calls about painters cleaning their brushes into storm drains, contractors not staying on top of their job sites and allowing dirt to wash down the drains. She reminded the audience that property owners are responsible for the actions of the contractors they hire.
Another issue pollution control runs into on Marco Island has to do with excessive and wasteful irrigation. Excessive irrigation has to do with saturating the soil to the point that runoff ends up in the drains. Also, when poorly adjusted sprinklers send water directly into the street, debris is washed into the drains. She said to call or email pollution control at 239-252-2502 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The final speaker was Dr. Steve Brady, whose quirky delivery was topped only by his depth of knowledge of his subject area. Brady delivered a wealth of information on every possible fruit tree the audience could have wished to learn about. He covered everything from how to plant, fertilize, and prune a variety of the popular fruit trees Marco Islanders love.
On mango trees, Brady emphasized that you should not grow your mango trees any taller than about six feet. The best time to prune is right after harvesting. He said most lots on the island can host three mango trees. He said once a mango tree grows too large that it cannot be brought back down because its root system will have grown too large, also. He suggested to the audience that the mango festival in Miami in mid-July is well worth attending.
Another tree Brady suggests for islanders is the guava tree. He also recommends keeping them small and to bag the fruit to protect it from insects. He suggests making guava ketchup with some of your crops.
After the speakers concluded, Connelly gave away a number of door prizes, including several small mango trees, a bromeliad and date palm, both of which were donated by Affordable Landscaping, who promised to deliver and plant the winners’ prizes.