Start of Snowy Plover Season Kicks Off with a New Banding Project

Snowy plovers are small beach-nesting shorebirds that we share our beautiful beach with here on Sanibel. February 15th marks the official start to snowy plover nesting season in the state of Florida. Over the next few weeks, adult plovers will form mating pairs and begin to establish territories across Sanibel. SCCF recently teamed up with staff from the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and a few volunteers to rope off a known nesting area adjacent to the Perry Tract on the east end of Sanibel. This small stretch of beach is located just to the east of Gulfside City Park.  For the last several months, a group of plovers ranging from 6- 12 individuals have been utilizing this area for roosting and foraging.

This year SCCF will continue its long tradition of monitoring the nesting of snowy plovers, along with 2 other beach-nesting species: Wilson’s plovers and least terns.  The shorebird biologist and shorebird intern will regularly be on the beaches monitoring plover activity and constructing protective boundaries around nests. Additionally, there will be presentations about our nesting shorebirds given bi-weekly at the SCCF visitor center throughout nesting season. The next presentation will be Thursday, February 23rd at 2:00 pm in the SCCF auditorium.

As a means to better track the movements and nesting success of our snowy plovers, SCCF’s shorebird biologist has initiated a banding project. To identify birds as individuals, adult plovers are captured and given a federally issued metal band and unique combination of color bands on their lower legs. Currently on Sanibel there are 6 uniquely banded individuals, one of whom was banded as part of a past research project in 2009. If you happen to see a banded snowy plover on the beach, please take a photo or make note of the colors on the legs, and the location of the bird. You can report any sightings of our banded birds, or send any further inquiries about our research to the shorebird biologist at shorebirds@sccf.org .

Three Sea Turtle Internships Now Open

All 3 Internship have been filled – thank you for your interest

SEA TURTLE INTERNSHIP – NIGHTTIME TAGGING PROJECT (2 POSITIONS AVAILABLE)

Term:  May 1 – July 31
Compensation: $200/week stipend, housing on Sanibel, $400 travel stipend

Required qualifications:

  • High school diploma and related experience working outdoors
  • Ability and desire to work long hours overnight
  • Ability to work under adverse conditions (biting insects, rain)
  • Ability to work independently to accomplish set goals and as part of a team
  • Ability to maintain a positive attitude & sense of humor

Desired qualifications:

  • Previous experience conducting nighttime sea turtle surveys
  • Previous experience tagging sea turtles (flipper and PIT tags)
  • Experience driving ATVs and UTVs
  • Willingness to use your personal vehicle for work if needed (mileage compensated)
  • Experience with public outreach

Job description:

Two internship positions are available to help with sea turtle nest protection on Sanibel and Captiva Islands from May 1 – July 31. The interns will be responsible for monitoring the beach overnight in search of nesting sea turtles. Morphometric data will be collected for each turtle and the turtles will be tagged with flipper and PIT tags. Successful candidates must be able to work closely with other interns and a large group of volunteers. Previous experience conducting nighttime sea turtle nesting surveys and tagging sea turtles preferred but not required. Housing included. Surveys will start at sunset and will be conducted 4-5 nights per week.  Some weekend work may be required.

To apply:
Send cover letter, resume, and contact info for 3 references to Kelly Sloan at ksloan@sccf.org.
We will contact qualified applicants to set up interview appointments.  No phone calls, please.

 

SEA TURTLE INTERNSHIP

Term:  April 2017 – September 2017
Compensation: $200/week stipend, housing on Sanibel provided, $400 travel stipend

Required qualifications:

  • High school diploma and related experience working outdoors
  • Ability and desire to work long, irregular hours (including weekend hours)
  • Ability to work under adverse conditions (intense sun and heat, biting insects, rain)
  • Ability to work independently to accomplish set goals and as part of a team
  • Ability to maintain a positive attitude & sense of humor

Desired qualifications:

  • Previous experience conducting sea turtle surveys and locating egg chambers
  • Experience driving ATVs and other beach vehicles
  • Data entry/management experience
  • Willingness to use your personal vehicle for work (mileage compensated) if needed
  • Experience with public outreach (talking to the public when asked questions)

Job description:

An internship position is available to help with sea turtle nest protection on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The intern will be responsible for completing early morning surveys to document sea turtle nesting activity and identify each crawl to species and crawl type, locate egg chambers, and conduct nest evaluations. Successful candidates must be able to work closely with a large group of volunteers in hot and buggy conditions. Previous experience conducting sea turtle nesting surveys and locating egg chambers preferred but not required. Housing included. Work will be 5-6 days per week starting early in the morning and potentially continuing into the evening.  Weekend work will be required.  Applicants must also be willing to assist with other departmental projects, such as habitat management and wildlife sampling, as needed.

To apply:
Send cover letter, resume, and contact info for 3 references to Kelly Sloan at whmp_internship@sccf.org. Please list the internship you are applying for in the cover letter.
We will contact qualified applicants to set up interview appointments.  No phone calls, please.

2016 End of Season Sea Turtle Update

loggerhead-4798

Loggerheadlines

The first nest of the 2016 season was laid on April 22nd – what a great marker that was to celebrate Earth Day! We were coming off a record year for sea turtles on our beaches, with 522 nests laid on Sanibel and 133 nests laid on Captiva in 2015.

The sea turtles continued to impress us in 2016 and broke historical nesting records on both beaches, with a total of 636 nests laid on Sanibel (including two greens) and 194 nests laid on Captiva. This is the third year in a row that Sanibel has broken records, and the first record breaking year for Captiva since 2000!

loggerhead-nests

The East End of Sanibel has historically been a low density nesting beach, but in recent years has seen a notable spike in nest numbers. The average number of nests laid from 1996-2013 was 38 per season. In 2014 and 2015 there were 110 and 120 nests laid on the East End, respectively. Continuing with this trend, this season 174 loggerhead nests were on the East End, more than quadrupling the 20 year average.

Although statewide numbers do not reflect a corresponding increase in nesting, a statistical analysis of trends indicates that there has been a strong increase (71 percent) over the last ten years (2007-2016). This is especially good news considering it follows a sharp decline in nest counts in the previous decade (1998-2007).

Many years of sea turtle nesting data are needed to analyze sea turtle nesting trends, but it’s really starting to look like the coordinated conservation efforts over the past 20-30 years are starting to pay off, and loggerheads might be in the beginning stages of recovery.

Volunteers

The 2016 volunteer hours were nothing short of staggering. In less than 7 months, our 107 volunteers reported 4,752 hours on the beach. This is approximately 119 fourty-hour work weeks! Even on the long and hot days of July, these folks are always willing to help with huge smiles on their faces. We are so grateful to have such an amazing team!!

Tagging Project

This year we were proud to launch our nighttime tagging project to learn more about the nesting patterns of individual females on Sanibel. Our Nighttime Tagging Team, Andrew Glinsky and Jennifer Gooch, came to SCCF with a combined 6 seasons of tagging experience. Andrew worked on 3 tagging beaches in Costa Rica and most recently tagged leatherbacks in Western Africa. Jennifer also spent one season tagging in Costa Rica and then Grenada before coming to Sanibel. They were an excellent team that worked very well together, with the public, and with the turtles.

After obtaining the necessary permits, we were so appreciative that Mark and Gretchen Banks generously funded the entire project. Our only remaining limitation was finding housing for the additional staff needed to complete the project, and we were so fortunate to have the Wilmeth Cottage to accommodate our tagging interns!

night-turtle-3

The goal of the project was to monitor the movement of individual nesting females. In addition to working with the turtles, Jennifer and Andrew were able to educate beach goers every night by encouraging sea-turtle friendly behaviors.  They distributed red filters for flashlights, tagged furniture left on the beach to remind beachgoers of the hazards to nesting and hatchling sea turtles, and shared information about the mission of our sea turtle program.

The project was more successful than any of us imagined! Between May 1 and July 27, Andrew and Jennifer encountered 239 turtles (representing 157 unique individuals). Of the 239 crawls, 50 were on the East End and 189 were on the West End. Preliminary data from the tagging project suggest that the East End turtles are generally distinct from the West End turtles (with a few exceptions). The lack of crossover between the East End and West End turtles could be great news for conservation efforts. Since sea turtles take about 30 years to reach reproductive age, the spike in nests we have been seeing on the East End could be from females that were protected as hatchlings 30 years ago and are now returning to the East End to lay their eggs. More crossover between West End and East End turtles could mean many things, including a potential shift in preferred habitat from the West to the East End. Several more years of data would be required to explore the alternatives, but if the results remain consistent, it would be fantastic news for the turtles!

Additional highlights from our results include:

  • One loggerhead was originally tagged on Sanibel in 1993 (23 years ago!) when she nested just 3 miles from where she was seen in 2016
  • Another was encountered 10 times from May 27th- July 16th. She was originally tagged on Sanibel in 2014 by a student from FAU and this season she typically only laid between 1-15 eggs ( the average number laid is 110 eggs).
  • A turtle that nested on May 26 was originally tagged on Melbourne Beach. It’s very unusual for loggerheads to nest on both coasts of Florida!

Tagging data on Sanibel also helps fill in the gaps and broaden the spatial scope of the long term datasets collected by Mote Marine Lab and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.  The results of the project are providing additional data to help prioritize management initiatives and conservation efforts both on Sanibel and statewide.

Coyotes

One of the recent changes in the nesting habitat on Sanibel involves colonization by coyotes in 2011. Coyotes are emerging as predators throughout the Southeast United States and it is important to learn more about their behavior and the impacts on nesting and hatchling sea turtles. We are in a unique position on Sanibel to further enhance our understanding of coyote/sea turtle dynamics.

To observe the ecology and behavior of coyotes that have colonized the beach habitat, five wildlife cameras were mounted behind sea turtle nests on Sanibel in 2014 – 2016. Ongoing data indicate that coyotes are considerably more active on the West End than the more densely developed and populated East End. Photos of coyotes are captured on the undeveloped stretches of beach on the West End almost every night.  In addition to nest depredation, they may also be causing sea turtles to abandon their nesting attempts and creating other negative impacts in the quality of nesting habitat. In fact, one of the tagging project goals was to characterize potential shifts of nest sites away from coyote-dense stretches of beach in response to these pressures, but based on 2016 data we do not see any indication this is happening.

img_0004

Wildlife camera data revealed a drop in overall coyote activity on the beach in 2016, and coyotes were seen twice as often in 2015 compared to 2016 (0.75 photos/day vs. 1.5 photos/day in 2015). A corresponding decrease in depredation rates was also observed this season, and we are now below the 10% threshold recommended by the Federal Loggerhead Recovery Plan. Previous studies suggest that night patrols on the beach significantly decrease the amount of coyote depredation on nests (for example, Eskew, 2010) and it is possible that our tagging surveys contributed to the drop in activity this year.

Another major factor that contributed to the decreased depredation rate is nest screening, a management technique that has been implemented on Sanibel since 2015. Our screening efforts increased this season with 88% of nests screened in 2016 compared to 64% in 2015. Only 6% of the screened nests were depredating, so all of our hard work seems to be paying off – many thanks to the volunteers that put in so much time to help protect these eggs!!

It is relevant to note that in 2015, the City of Sanibel contracted the University of Georgia to conduct a fecal genotyping project to estimate coyote population size and density on Sanibel. In light of this study, Sanibel biologists are now in a unique position to provide a comprehensive assessment of the coyote population on Sanibel. The collaborative effort among Sanibel biologists will make us well equipped to evaluate the true impacts that coyotes are having on both eggs and hatchlings on our beaches. These data will make it possible to prioritize management objectives and develop effective plans that have the greatest positive impact on sea turtle nesting success.

Storms

img_3728Tropical Storm Colin and Hurricane Hermine produced strong storm surge and extreme tides for Sanibel and Captiva’s beaches in 2016, completely washing away 145 nests 34 on Captiva, 15 on the East End, and 96 on the West End) and severely inundating many more. Storms are natural events in coastal ecosystems and sea turtles have a nesting strategy that accommodates for these pressures. Each female turtle deposits several nests throughout the nesting season, essentially hedging bets to make sure that even if a storm hits at some point during the nesting season, there is a high probability that at least a few of the nests will incubate successfully. For example, one of our tagged females was identified nesting on Sanibel three times in 2016, and while one of her nests washed away in TS Colin, her two other nests produced a total of 153 hatchlings.

Hatchlings

Despite some challenges this season, especially with storms, over 25,000 hatchlings were produced on our beaches this summer!

hatchling-data

Collaborations

Jake Lasala, Florida Atlantic University: The purpose of the project is to determine the mating behavior of sea turtles nesting in southern Florida. Specifically they want to find out how many males and females are actively contributing to the population, known as the breeding sex ratio.  From 2013-2015 samples were collected from over 60 individual nesting females and 850+ hatchlings. All of the nests have had multiple paternal contributions, and on average 2.5 fathers are contributing to each clutch of eggs. Our tagging information allowed Jake to examine changes in paternity of an individual female’s clutches over the course of the season.

Simona Ceriani, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Simona is using a stable isotopes analysis to determine where the turtles that nest on Sanibel are foraging over the winter. Last year she focused on green sea turtles, and this year she incorporated our tagging data to use samples from 60 unique loggerheads. The results will contribute to protecting their overwintering habitat (potentially including federal critical habitat designation, closing the areas to threats such as commercial fisheries, etc.).

Clear Your Gear: Sadly, according to CROW records, more than 100 wildlife are currently lost each year due to monofilament or hook injuries. In response to this increasing threat, seven Sanibel-Captiva area conservation groups have united to create a new environmental campaign called “Clear Your Gear.” The organizations collaborating on Clear Your Gear include: City of Sanibel Natural Resources Department, CROW (the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife), J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, Monofilament Busters, The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Sanibel Sea School. Clear Your Gear will work to educate the fishing public on the harmful effects of fishing line (monofilament) and other fishing gear discarded in the environment, and thereby reduce the number of injured or destroyed wildlife. Currently, Clear Your Gear has established more than 20 monofilament recycling stations on Sanibel and the Sanibel Causeway.

Program Support

Operating support for the SCCF Sea Turtle Program comes from a wide variety of donors and grants. Two generous donors made significant gifts this season. Kirsten Recker funded the balance for two new beach vehicles, and Mark and Gretchen Banks funded our entire tagging project as well as matching all donations to the Adopt-A-Beach program.

As with the time and talent contributions of our volunteers, we could not be as effective as we are without the financial support of all these most appreciated donors.Turtle vehicle

SCCF Awarded Grant for New Sea Turtle ATV

atvThis year the SCCF Sea Turtle Program was selected as an award recipient for the Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP) to purchase a new All Terrain Vehicle (ATV). The STGP, which is funded by the sale of Florida’s “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, awarded over $300,000 to 24 Floridian Sea turtle Programs in the 2016/2017 funding cycle.

atv-grant-recognitionFull funding for this ATV allowed SCCF staff to monitor the westernmost stretch of beach on Sanibel, which has become impassible with larger beach vehicles due to erosion. The ATV was equipped with all the necessities: screens, buckets, stakes, mallets, nest signage, and a toolbox added to the rear rack. Ninety-seven loggerhead nests and one green nest were laid on this two mile stretch of beach, and without the use of the ATV these nests would not have been documented or protected with anti-predator screens.  These surveys allowed us to maintain spatial continuity in a valuable long-term dataset and also provided important information about coyote behavior in this area of high nest predation.

Learn more at www.helpingseaturtles.org

carol-on-atv

Multi-organization effort leads to successful capture and rehabilitation of Reddish Egret on Sanibel

shorebird-release-5517SCCF has once again teamed up with the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) to capture a juvenile white morph reddish egret at Blind Pass. This individual was previously captured on September 7th to remove a small amount of monofilament from its foot. On that day the bird was banded and released. SCCF’s shorebird biologist continued to check on the bird while conducting routine surveys, and on September 26th noticed monofilament hanging from the left wing. The bird was amazingly still able to fly despite its entanglement. On Sunday October 2nd, researcher Amanda Powell from ARCI and SCCF’s Audrey Albrecht were able to successfully capture the bird again.

20161002_132452Upon capture, they discovered there was more than just line hiding under the wing and the bird was taken to CROW (Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife). Once at CROW the hooks and line were successfully removed and the laceration sutured. After a week of rehabilitation the bird was ready for release. SCCF staff released the bird on Monday October 10.

This bird’s story serves as a reminder of the danger that monofilament poses to all types of coastal wildlife. Monofilament can be recycled, and should be disposed of properly in the collection bins located near beach accesses and boat ramps. If you accidentally hook a bird while fishing, please reel it in and release instead of cutting the line! This bird is also an example of an individual who has lost its fear of humans and habitually begs for bait fish.  Please do not feed wildlife.

SCCF is grateful to the assistance from ARCI and CROW in the successful capture, rehabilitation, and release of this reddish egret.

20161010_102938

More Information:

FWCs monofilament recycle program

 Reel and Release Brochure

ARCI Tracking Studies

Fishing for Alligators

sanibel-do-not-feed-the-gators-2094-03-31-00-18-35-2As the Living with Wildlife educator at SCCF, many stories come my way from residents that are concerned about issues in their neighborhoods that concern wildlife.  Alligators are most often the topic of those stories. A  most concerning recent neighborhood story included children fishing in a fresh water canal.  With the recent death of the child in Orlando by alligator attack the story concerned me even more.

Can fishing in lakes and canals turn into feeding alligators?  If the fishing happens over and over in the same place and if the bait used or the fish caught are thrown into the water…I believe those alligators can become “human fed” gators.  Many years ago blue crab fishing in the refuge was ended for just this reason.  The chicken necks used for bait were attracting alligators whether the fishermen meant to or not.

Although it is not illegal to fish in fresh water lakes and canals where our gators live is it really worth it?  Just like you should not allow your dogs to swim in fresh water, I think children fishing in fresh water is not worth the risk…fish in salt water for their enjoyment and safety.  Playing closer than 20 feet to fresh water edges is not advised.

Alligators catch their natural prey by lunging onto canal edges to catch birds or heaven forbid small children and dogs.  Fishing could encourage that natural behavior,  teaching them to overcome their natural avoidance of humans.

Thinking of the horror of a child being attacked by a gator on Sanibel reminds me of my friends’ death by alligator attack in 2004.  A resident attending an SCCF “Gator Tales” program following that death “confessed” to feeding that gator.  He did not understand how bad it was to feed wildlife.   In the couple of years following that horrible attack, approximately 150 alligators were trapped and killed on Sanibel.  A FED ALLIGATOR IS A DEAD ALLIGATOR.  FEEDING WILDLIFE IS DETRIMENTAL TO HUMAN AND GATOR HEALTH.

– Dee Serage-Century

2016 Sanibel and Captiva Shorebird Nesting Season

A 5 week old plover chick nestled under his dads wing

A 5 week old plover chick nestled under his dads wing

The 2016 shorebird nesting season has come to a close. SCCF’s shorebird biologist and shorebird intern have been monitoring nesting Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, and Wilson’s Plovers since mid-February.  No nesting attempts were made on Captiva this year; all nests were on Sanibel.

The snowy plovers on Sanibel only fledged 4 chicks in 2016.  Of the 28 nesting attempts this year, only 7 nests made it to hatching, producing a total of 17 chicks. The primary causes of nest and chick loss were due to depredation (primarily crows and gulls) and washover events (primarily Tropical Storm Colin).

Wilson’s Plovers fared much better with 4 chicks successfully fledging in 2016. Of the 3 nest attempts, 2 nests hatched a total of 5 chicks. One nest was washed over during Tropical Storm Colin.

The Least Terns did not succeed at producing any fledglings on Sanibel this year.  They formed a nesting colony west of Bowman’s beach in mid-May.  A canine predator depredated the majority of the 23 nests in late-May, leaving only 6 nests remaining. At least 2 of those nests hatched and 3 chicks were observed in the colony prior to Tropical Storm Colin. All remaining nests and chicks were lost during the storm. The terns did not return to Sanibel to nest in 2016, but likely formed a new colony elsewhere. Many fledglings were observed on the island during July and August.

SCCF Sea Turtle Nest Numbers Break Records on All Island Beaches

SCCF Nests and LighthouseIt has been a banner year for loggerheads nesting on Sanibel and Captiva! As of August 4, the nest numbers for the East and West End of Sanibel were 164 and 430, respectively. The previous records for these beaches were 120 and 376 (both set in 2015).

184 nests have been laid on Captiva to date, also breaking their previous record of 179 nests laid in 2000.

With 722 total loggerhead nests on the two islands combined, and scattered nesting continuing into August, 2016 has shattered the all-time record of 622 nests for the two islands combined!
While we’re breaking records on Sanibel and Captiva, the Statewide numbers won’t be totalled until the end of the season in October.

At least for the SCCF Sea Turtle Program, these numbers show that decades of coordinated conservation efforts are starting to pay off, including nest protection, reducing fisheries interactions, and limiting artificial lighting in coastal communities.

Here are the nest counts as of  August 4, 2016:

8/4/2016
Sanibel East Sanibel West Captiva Total
Loggerhead Nests 164 430 184 778
Loggerhead False Crawls 332 803 283 1418

Sea Turtle Nests Break Record on East Sanibel

IMG_20160713_072800

A loggerhead egg from this morning

Today SCCF’s Sea Turtle Program confirmed that Sanibel’s East End has broken the record for nest numbers since we began recording. We officially have 122 loggerhead nests on the East End!

2015 was the previous record holder with 120 nests. Prior to that, the average for nests on the East End was 38 per year! We are having an excellent season!

Here’s how you can ensure all those nests, hatchlings, and momma’s stay safe:

  • Respect all staked nests.
  • Turn off all lights — Nesting females and hatchlings primarily emerge after dark so remember to turn off all lights. Sea turtles use the brightest horizon to navigate towards the water. Any artificial lighting will cause confusion and steer turtles in the wrong direction. This includes beachfront lighting, flash lights, flash photography, and even iPhones.
  • Remove all beach furniture and toys — Clear everything off the beach from 9 pm – 7 am. Obstacles on the beach can cause nesting females and hatchlings to become entangled.
  • Fill in all holes on the beach — if you dug a hole on the beach please fill it in. Nesting females and hatchlings can fall into holes, causing them to be venerable to predators.
  • Never approach a nesting sea turtle — if approached the sea turtle will likely abandon her nesting attempt.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Facts Turtle vehicle

  • Loggerheads are one of seven species of sea turtles in the world
  • Nesting/Hatching season occurs from April 15 through October 31
  • Adult loggerheads can grow to more than 3-feet long and weigh 200 to 350 lbs
  • A female loggerhead may nest around 3-6 times per season
  • Each nest contains 100 or more leathery ping-pong ball sized eggs
  • Incubation takes about 55 to 65 days depending on sand temperatures
  • It may take 30 years or more for loggerhead hatchlings to reach maturity

 

First Sea Turtle Nest Hatches on Captiva

On Sunday, June 12th, the fist loggerhead sea turtle nest monitored by SCCF hatched on Captiva! Eighty-one hatchlings made their way to the Gulf of Mexico, giving us some good news after Tropical Storm Colin.

Please remember to be sea turtle friendly since both nesting adults and now hatchlings are sharing our beaches.

To report a dead or injured sea turtle, please contact our new SCCF Sea Turtle Hotline at 978-728-3663 (978-SAVE-ONE)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Facts 

  • Loggerheads are one of seven species of sea turtles in the world
  • Nesting/Hatching season occurs from April 15 through October 31
  • Adult loggerheads can grow to more than 3-feet long and weigh 200 to 350 lbs
  • A female loggerhead may nest around 36 times per season
  • Each nest contains 100 or more leathery ping-pong ball sized eggs
  • Incubation takes about 55 to 65 days depending on sand temperatures
  • It may take 30 years or more for loggerhead hatchlings to reach maturity

How You Can Help

  • Turn off or shield all lights that are visible from the beach. Avoid using flashlights on the beach. If necessary, use amber or red LED bulbs
  • Do not disturb the screens covering nests. They prevent eggs from being eaten by predators and the hatchlings emerge through the holes without assistance
  • Remove all beach furniture and equipment from the beach at night
  • Dispose of fishing line properly to avoid wildlife entanglement
  • Fill in large holes that can trap hatchlings
  • Do not disturb nesting turtles – please do not to get too close, shine lights on, or take flash photos of nesting sea turtles
  • Pick up litter

Your Donations at Work: Protection, Education, and New Programs for Sea Turtles

11737933_10205638737622655_4768393859119190329_n

For many islanders, May marks the end of the Busy Season. The traffic improves and, for some, thoughts turn to northern homes and summer travels. But for a dedicated group of staff and volunteers at SCCF – those working tirelessly in the Sea Turtle Program – the Busy Nesting Season is just heating up.

The sea turtle season is officially underway and the first nest of the season was laid on April 22nd – what a great marker that was to celebrate Earth Day! We’re coming off a record year for sea turtles on our beaches, with 522 nests laid on Sanibel and 133 nests laid on Captiva in 2015.

Protecting the nesting sea turtles and hatchlings on our beaches would literally not be possible without the tireless efforts of more than 100 SCCF volunteers and a small but dedicated group of staffers. Every morning from April through October, they survey 18 miles of beach. Rain or shine, usually in the company of no-see-ums, they search for tracks that sea turtles might have left behind when emerging from the sea to nest. The discovered nests are staked and then monitored daily until the hatchlings begin crawling to the Gulf. Storms, humans and predators may disturb or destroy the nests, reducing their survival.  After the nests hatch, they are evaluated to determine the number of hatchlings that successfully emerged.

FullSizeRender (2)-2SCCF’s volunteers play a huge role in educating folks on the beach about keeping the beaches safe for nesting sea turtles by turning off lights, removing beach furniture at night, and filling in large holes that could trap turtles. Our volunteers also help to reduce the amount of trash left on the beach. Last year they collected over 800 gallons of trash that could have been ingested by sea turtles and other marine creatures.

In addition to nest protection activities, the sea turtle program also responds to live and dead sea turtles that wash up on the beach, participates in collaborative research projects, and helps monitor beach construction projects. This season, we are very excited and proud to launch our nighttime tagging project that will provide important data for our nesting research on Sanibel and Captiva. This new work will add our local data to the research currently being done by Mote Marine in Sarasota and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida on Keewaydin Island.

Please consider celebrating the start of Sea Turtle Season by supporting SCCF’s conservation activities. If you have not yet contributed to SCCF’s Annual Fund Drive, your gift will qualify you as a Member in Good Standing for another year. If you have already made a donation this year, we hope you might consider supporting the new Adopt-A-Beach Program to help fund sea turtle monitoring. If you have questions, please contact Cheryl Giattini at 239-395-2768 or cgiattini@sccf.org.

donate now

And for those of you looking for a different way to support SCCF and the sea turtles, you are invited to join Yali Zawady of Ambu Yoga on Friday, May 6 at 7:30pm. She is leading a New Moon Meditation on Alison Hagerup Beach Park at the end of Captiva Drive. Once a month, instead of class fees, Yali accepts donations for the Adopt-A-Beach Program, and an anonymous donor will match your donation. To learn more visit www.ambuyoga.com.

 

 

SCCF’s Indigo Snake Project Provides Education to Local Institutions

best_indigo_shot

Adult Eastern Indigo Snake

SCCF is in its third year of captive breeding its legally acquired eastern indigo snakes in the SCCF Nature Center, as a subsidiary of the SCCF Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project (SPISEIP). The eastern indigo snake is a large (5 – 7 ft), docile, black snake that is now extirpated in many parts of Florida, including Sanibel and Captiva. It has been a state protected species since 1971 and a federally threatened species since 1978. This means that it has been illegal to harass, touch, catch, keep, and kill, etc. wild eastern indigo snakes in Florida since 1971. Legally held (captive) eastern indigo snakes are either the result of confiscations by law enforcement (that are then given, and permitted, to someone because they can’t be released) or from captive-bred stock whose origins predates the state and federal listing of the species. Legal captive eastern indigo snakes cannot be sold in Florida due to them being a Florida listed species.

The SPISEIP began in 2012 when SCCF partnered with the Orianne Society; a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the eastern indigo snake. Chris Lechowicz was placed on their federal permit to conduct a mark-recapture study in Pine Island Sound to assess the population status, collect genetic samples, and come up with recommendations to sustain these populations. This species was once common on many barrier islands in Florida, but have been severely reduced to just a few islands in Pine Island Sound in recent years. Some populations still exist in the Florida peninsula, but many populations have been decimated due to development and especially the construction of new roads through large tracts of land. Eastern indigo snakes have a very large home range and road mortality is one of their main threats due frequently crossing roads.

Juvenile Eastern Indigo snake

SCCF’s original pair of captive indigo snakes (that were given to us in 2011 and 2012) are not from Pine Island Sound, but from a long line of captive bred animals that were produced in Lakeland, FL by the only permitted breeder in Florida at the time. A common question we are asked is: “Why do you breed indigo snakes at SCCF?”  The best answer for that is “conservation through education”. Nature centers, conservation organizations, schools and numerous individuals would like them for live exhibits or for educational lectures on snake conservation. Educational snakes are a very powerful tool to help to change negative feelings about snakes (and their role in the environment).   An adult indigo snake certainly gets everyone’s attention at a lecture and the message about their plight and that of other snakes, are better appreciated. Plus, the opportunity to legally touch or hold one can be a transformative experience for those who have a mild or unsure fear of snakes.

Indigo PIT Tag

A PIT tag, like a microchip for a cat or dog, is inserted for identification

Legal captive indigo snakes are very hard to acquire, especially in states that are in their natural range (like Florida).  By breeding these snakes, we are able to give other educators and organizations, that conduct similar conservation work, legal eastern indigo snakes that will be used to help change the minds of many people with negative feelings about snakes and teach people about this magnificent, unique, and troubled species in Florida.

Many people ask if the snakes we have produced can be released on Sanibel since they are now absent from the island. The answer to that is no.  Pine Island Sound snakes are genetically distinct from other populations in Florida and snake biologists, as well as state and federal agencies would not allow the mix of gene pools.  Plus, the problem that led to their extirpation has not been addressed, which is a busy road (Sanibel-Captiva Road) bisecting two major land areas (SCCF and Refuge Lands). To have any hope of repatriating indigo snakes back on the west end of Sanibel, Sanibel-Captiva Road would need to be either elevated or a barrier constructed on both sides with frequent eco-passes underneath to allow wildlife to go back and forth. Also, the stock for the repatriation would need to be from Pine Island Sound snakes.

Indigos new home at CROW

A new home at CROW

This spring, some of our captive-bred eastern indigo snakes that hatched at the SCCF Nature Center on 7/23/15 will be given to Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary (West Naples), C.R.O.W (Sanibel), FGCU (Fort Myers), and Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute (North Carolina) for educational and outreach exhibits. The hatchlings were held until April to assure that they were readily feeding and large enough to be micro-chipped.  If you have any questions about this effort, please call 239-472-3984 or email Chris Lechowicz at clechowicz@sccf.org.  If you see a wild eastern indigo snake on any of the islands in Pine Island Sound, please take a picture and send it to indigo@sccf.org or call 239-472-3984.

Earth Day Marked by 1st Sea Turtle Nest of the Season

DSCN7472Great news!! Our first nest of the season was laid on Captiva Island last night! Kerry Salatino was the lucky turtler that found the crawl this morning on her survey and you can see her excitement. What a great way to celebrate Earth Day! It’s official – they are back!

The earliest nest ever recorded on our beaches was on April 20, 2012 (on Captiva)…so although this doesn’t break the record, it’s still an early nest. The earliest nest recorded on Sanibel was April 25, 2012.

We’re super excited about this sea turtle season and the amazing crew SCCF has to help with nest protection this year. We’re only one week in and we’ve already collectively picked up 36 gallons of trash!

To report a dead or injured sea turtle, please contact our new SCCF Sea Turtle Hotline at 978-728-3663 (978-SAVE-ONE)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Facts 

  • Loggerheads are one of seven species of sea turtles in the world
  • Nesting/Hatching season occurs from April 15 through October 31
  • Adult loggerheads can grow to more than 3-feet long and weigh 200 to 350 lbs
  • A female loggerhead may nest around 36 times per season
  • Each nest contains 100 or more leathery ping-pong ball sized eggs
  • Incubation takes about 55 to 65 days depending on sand temperatures
  • It may take 30 years or more for loggerhead hatchlings to reach maturity

How You Can Help

  • Turn off or shield all lights that are visible from the beach. Avoid using flashlights on the beach. If necessary, use amber or red LED bulbs
  • Do not disturb the screens covering nests. They prevent eggs from being eaten by predators and the hatchlings emerge through the holes without assistance
  • Remove all beach furniture and equipment from the beach at night
  • Dispose of fishing line properly to avoid wildlife entanglement
  • Fill in large holes that can trap hatchlings
  • Do not disturb nesting turtles – please do not to get too close, shine lights on, or take flash photos of nesting sea turtles
  • Pick up litter

 

1st Day of Sea Turtle Season

Sea Turtles Aug 2015 (1 of 25)Today marks the start of the 2016 sea turtle season for Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Sea turtle season continues through October and during this time we expect to see hundreds of sea turtle nests.

Each morning nests are staked off by a large network of volunteers in order to monitor and protect them. Sanibel and Captiva provide great nesting habitat for sea turtles, so it is important we keep the beaches pristine and safe for their use. There are several things you can do to help keep the beaches sea turtle friendly.

  • Respect all staked nests.
  • Sea Turtles Aug 2015 (2 of 25)Turn off all lights — Nesting females and hatchlings primarily emerge after dark so remember to turn off all lights. Sea turtles use the brightest horizon to navigate towards the water. Any artificial lighting will cause confusion and steer turtles in the wrong direction. This includes beachfront lighting, flash lights, flash photography, and even iPhones.
  • Remove all beach furniture and toys — Clear everything off the beach from 9 pm – 7 am. Obstacles on the beach can cause nesting females and hatchlings to become entangled.
  • Fill in all holes on the beach — if you dug a hole on the beach please fill it in. Nesting females and hatchlings can fall into holes, causing them to be venerable to predators.
  • Never approach a nesting sea turtle — if approached the sea turtle will likely abandon her nesting attempt.

Be on the Lookout for Snowy Plovers

Can you spot the snowy plover?

Sanibel Island is home to many species of nesting birds. Some are more noticeable than others, such as the many ospreys calling loudly from their highly visible nest platforms. Others, like the snowy plover, can be easy to miss. These tiny shorebirds are most commonly found resting or feeding among the wrack at the high tide line; but are often overlooked because of their quiet nature and perfectly camouflaged plumage.

In February and March, the snowy plovers pair off and begin establishing territories along the beach. The males will dig practice nest scrapes in several locations. When the pair decides they have found the ideal location, they will begin mating and eventually lay eggs.  A typical snowy plover nest is a shallow depression in the sand sometimes lined with small pebbles or shell fragments. They will lay one egg every other day until they reach a full clutch of 3 eggs, which they then incubate for 4 weeks.

SNPL_camo 1During nesting season, it is not uncommon to see areas of the beach roped off with string and posts bearing informational signs. These areas are essential for snowy plover nesting success and chick survival.  Nests are very difficult to see, and it would be easy for someone to mistakenly step on one.  Fencing off a large area around the nest minimizes disturbance to the nest.

When people, dogs, and vehicles are too close to the nest, the adult will be off the nest, leaving the eggs vulnerable to the elements or predators. Adults will call loudly, and feign a broken wing in hopes of distracting potential predators from their young. If you see an adult exhibiting these behaviors, it means you are too close to the nest or chicks. The proper course of action is to immediately stop moving and carefully observe the ground around you. Once you are sure you are not standing near a nest or chicks, slowly walk away from the birds and continue to watch your feet as you go.

Snowy plover chicks are precocial, which means they will be up and running and finding their own food within a few hours of hatching. They can feed themselves, but still rely on their parents for protection from the elements and predators until they are fledged. The chick’s instinct when approached by people or predators is to crouch down and stay very still. Their sandy colored speckled plumage allows them to blend in perfectly with their surroundings.

Please help protect nesting snowy plovers by respecting the signs and staying outside the roped off areas. It is also important to remember to keep all dogs on leashes, and never allow children or dogs to chase after birds on the beach. If you have questions about snowy plovers or other shorebirds on Sanibel Island, please contact the shorebird coordinator Audrey Albrecht via email at aalbrecht@sccf.org

SNPL_camo 3