Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Our Island Ecology

By Chadd Chutsz

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring

No man is an island, and Marco, along with the rest of the globe, is feeling the effects of built up pressure in the Western Pacific pushing back towards the east. The result for us is a relatively warm, wet winter caused by reversed trade winds extending a Pacific Jetstream across the southern U.S.A.

In December, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported the Oceanic Niño Index, which compares ocean surface temperatures in the east-central Pacific to the long-term average, to be 3.4. This breaks the record of the last strong El Niño year in 1997, with similar high rainfall. The current El Niño event is expected to continue into the spring, so our snowbirds may appreciate what a “wet season” is all about.

Testing the Waters

Good News! The water quality trend report from Collier County indicates decreasing nutrient loads in the Rookery Bay water basins, which are upstream of Marco Island. Improving fecal coliform, water clarity and turbidity trends were also reported in the Rookery Bay basins.

Although Marco Island waters were not included in the report, preliminary data from 2015 IWR assessment samples indicated good water quality in our waters with total nitrogen, total phosphorous, chlorophyll a, and fecal coliform levels all below ENR 3 criteria.

And a final snippet of good news…FDEP water quality lab results from tests performed due to the January 12 North Marco Utilities sewage spill concluded that the cleanup response was able to prevent surface water contamination.

Who Gives A Hoot

A few residents have expressed concern about our island owls’ absence at some burrows, while others are asking why burrowing owls are making themselves at home under their lanai. It appears we are not the only ones looking for a dry spot to hang out in this wet winter we are having!

Research has shown burrowing owl do exhibit site fidelity, especially with nesting success. However, loss of mate, migratory patterns and food availability all have an effect on nest success and dispersal from an initial burrow. Having said all that, this wet weather has us all out of sorts, and as soon as the spring hormones kick in, the owls are expected to get back to burrowing business.

Enjoy regular updates and insights on Marco Island nature and wildlife, straight from the desk of the City of Marco Island Environmental Specialist, Chadd Chutsz. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered in this column, or a question you’d like answered, contact Chadd at 239-389-5000.

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