- Erick Lindblad, Executive Director
- Wendy Cerdan, Business Manager
- Cheryl Giattini, Campaigns and Legacy Coordinator
- Karen Nelson, Communications Coordinator
- Alexis Horn, Public Outreach Coordinator
- Dr. Eric Milbrandt, Director
- Dr. Rick Bartleson, Research Scientist
- Mark Thompson, Research Associate
- A. J. Martignette, Research Assistant
- Jeff Siwicke, Research Assistant
- Ashely Harner, Research Assistant
Native Landscapes & Garden Center
Natural Resource Policy
Wildlife & Habitat Management Program
- Chris Lechowicz, Director
- Kelly Sloan , Biologist & Sea Turtle Coordinator
- Audrey Albrecht, Biologist & Snowy Plover Coordinator
- Victor Young, Field Technician
Erick Lindblad has served as the Executive Director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation since 1986. He has been instrumental in the Foundation’s acquisition of over 1,190 acres of Wildlife Preserve areas on and around Sanibel and Captiva. In 2002, he oversaw the establishment of SCCF’s Marine Laboratory. During his tenure, SCCF has grown from a full-time staff of four to over 30 full-time employees, including grant-supported positions and interns.
Erick has coordinated and actively participated in land management activities including invasive non-native plant control, prescribed burning (Division of Forestry Burn Manager Certification), gopher tortoise management and surface water management projects. Land acquisition has been accomplished by a variety of means, including fee simple, bargain sale, development agreement and donation.
As part of his commitment to the sustainable development of Southwest Florida, Erick serves on Conservation 20/20, Lee County’s Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Council and the Land Management Subcommittee. He also was appointed by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners to serve as the county’s representative on the Babcock Ranch Inc. Board, which oversees the management of the state’s 71,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve in Lee and Charlotte Counties.
He served on the Board of the International Osprey Foundation, the Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association and the Babcock Preservation Partnership, and also served on the Technical Advisory Committee of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.
Erick has served on various City of Sanibel committees over the years including the Budget Review Committee, Wildlife Committee, Interior Wetlands Study Committee, and the Algae Task force. He serves as Treasurer of the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Trust Fund, and was awarded the Walter Klie Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sanibel-Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce (although he likes to think of it as ‘mid-lifetime’).
Prior to his tenure at the Conservation Foundation, he served as Director of Newfound Harbor Marine Institute at Seacamp on Big Pine Key, FL from 1979 to 1986. He graduated in 1974 from Millikin University in Illinois with a B.A. in Biology.
Wendy brings experience in the banking field and as an account clerk with a local governmental agency to her position as Business Manager of SCCF. She and her family have been Southwest Florida residents for over 25 years.
Campaigns and Legacy Programs
Cheryl has more than 30 years experience working on development and marketing strategies for business and non-profit organizations. She is an honors graduate of Georgetown University. Upon graduation from Georgetown University Law Center, she joined the National Public Radio General Counsel’s Office as an attorney. In addition to traditional legal duties, Cheryl worked directly with the board of directors on development issues facing a non-profit corporation. Her career evolved from the practice of law into the field of public relations and marketing.
In 1999, Cheryl began working with SCCF in a volunteer capacity. She was part of the leadership team that successfully undertook three land acquisition campaigns in two years. Now, as a consultant, she works closely with the SCCF board of trustees and staff to coordinate SCCF’s Annual Fund Drive and capital campaigns. She also works with SCCF members on planned giving, leading to the growth of the Legacy Funds, SCCF’s endowment program.
She and her husband, Marc, are full-time residents of Sanibel Island. Cheryl sits on the board of directors of The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company. Her prior board service has included the Community Foundation of Sanibel-Captiva and the South Florida National Parks Trust.
A New York native, Karen moved to Sanibel in 2000. She spent 20 years in New York City, working for several major hotels before moving into direct marketing. After relocating to Sanibel, she edited and wrote for several weekly Sanibel and Captiva publications before joining SCCF in 2007.
Public Outreach Coordinator
Alexis Horn, a native Floridian, has worked in the environmental field for over ten years. She has worked as an endangered species biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, receiving the Employee of the Year Award for proactive work. She has also been an adjunct professor of biology and environmental science, ran the Florida Panther Campaign for the national Sierra Club, and is a photographer on the side.
She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Environmental Policy from the University of South Florida, and her master’s in Conservation Biology from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. While doing field work on Mountain-pygmy possums in Kosciuszko National Park, she and the UNSW research team were featured in Australian Geographic‘s 100th Anniversary Edition on innovative approaches to conservation.
Education Director since 1988, Kristie has been teaching people about our natural habitat and environmental stewardship for over 40 years. She has developed a deep understanding of the greater Everglades ecosystem through her experience as a marine educator in the Florida Keys, a ranger in Everglades National Park, an outdoor recreation planner at the J.N.’Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge and her position at SCCF.
Kristie has been a park ranger in Acadia National Park, Independence National Historic Park and Salem Maritime Historic Site and is the former executive director of the ‘Ding’ Darling Foundation. Kristie has been honored for her work by the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Realtors, Committee of the Islands and the League of Environmental Educators in Florida.
She currently serves on the board of the Captiva Island Historical Society and formerly chair of the Upper Captiva Community Panel, officer on the board of Sanibel Captiva Audubon Society and former Commissioner for the Upper Captiva Fire and Rescue Department. She has worked with endangered sea turtles since the summer of 1984 and assists with the Pine Island Sound Indigo Snake Project.
For almost 22 years she commuted to work daily over the waters of Pine Island Sound by boat from North Captiva Island. This gives Kristie a unique perspective on the changes to the estuarine system. Yes, she still loves boating, but also the fact she can simply get into her car and drive to work without getting wet. Kristie and her husband Red reside on “the big island” of Sanibel. She holds dual degrees from Penn State University in Marine Sciences and Environmental Education.
Landscaping for Wildlife
Dee is the ‘Landscaping for Wildlife’ educator for SCCF, teaching residents about the use of Florida’s native plants to create habitat for birds and butterflies in their yards. Through monthly Native Plant Classes, garden tours, landscape designs, and house calls, homeowners get all the help they need to plant their native gardens. As part of this program, Dee teaches homeowners and neighborhood associations how to live safely with alligators in monthly ‘Gator Tales’ presentations.
For the education and enjoyment of residents and visitors, Dee raises Florida’s native butterflies and their caterpillars in the Lolly Cohen memorial butterfly house and encourages people to plant for butterflies. Butterflies and caterpillars from the house are used in life cycle kits to educate local school children.
Always looking for new ways to educate Floridians about their native plants, Dee teaches ‘The Cultural History of Florida’s Native Plants’ from the ethnobotany garden around the teaching shelter on Foundation trails. In the garden, Florida’s native plants are labeled according to their uses as food, shelter, art, and medicine by peoples past and present.
eRICK mILBRANDT, phd
Dr. Eric Milbrandt began his career in marine science in N. California at Humboldt State University. His first course in Invertebrate Zoology at the Telonicher Marine Laboratory in Trinidad helped to inspire a career in marine science. He received an REU fellowship to study marine science using molecular tools at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Center for Great Lakes Research with Dr. Chuck Wimpee. The internship led to a directed senior undergraduate research project on rocky intertidal seaweeds under the direction of phycologist, Dr. Frank Shaughnessy.
Because of the positive experiences and valuable tools both in the lab and in the field, Dr. Milbrandt decided to pursue a graduate degree in marine science. He was accepted at the University of Oregon to study at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston, OR. During his Ph.D., Eric received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve to study the microbial ecology of the South Slough Estuary. While writing his dissertation, he was offered the position of Research Scientist at SCCF. He returned to OIMB to defend in the spring of 2003 and has been contributing to the SCCF ever since.
During his transition to Florida, Dr. Milbrandt established several permanent mangrove forest plots to study the effects of human activities on mangrove reproduction, recruitment and forest structure. He has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles on the recovery of mangroves after hurricane disturbance and the effect of sea level rise on black mangrove recruitment. He has also led several grant-supported efforts to restore the tidal hydrology to Clam Bayou, then to enhance and restore mangrove shorelines. Part of the effort was in collaboration with Drs. Loren Coen, Steve Geiger and others to build oyster reefs and conduct extensive mapping and monitoring.
At SCCF, Dr. Milbrandt has been instrumental in the establishment of RECON (River Estuary Coastal Observing Network) which is providing Real-time information to advance SCCF policies. This tool introduces the Marine Laboratory to difficult socio-economic challenges in the policy arena and helps support the collaborative meetings and influences of the Southwest Florida Stakeholders. RECON also enhances research at the lab including in numerous water quality studies around Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in cooperation with the USFWS in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
In 2011, Dr. Milbrandt was named the third SCCF Marine Laboratory Director. He serves as a reviewer of manuscripts for Estuaries and Coasts, Limnology and Oceanography, Botanica Marina, the Journal of Wetland Ecology and Management, and Hydrobiologia. He is a Graduate Faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University and an affiliate member of the Coastal Watershed Institute.
Rick Bartelson, PhD
After receiving a B.A. in Biology from the University of South Florida, Richard worked as a lab and field technician at Mote Marine Lab, the Rookery Bay Marine Lab, and Florida DER mainly doing water quality sampling and analyses. He received his M.S. from the Ecosystems Ecology division of the Environmental Engineering Sciences program at the University of Florida. For his master’s thesis, he studied the effects of seagrass on sedimentation and constructed a simulation model of seagrass growth and its effect on currents and sedimentation. While at UF, Richard researched ecosystem effects of increased fresh water flow in Florida Bay. After graduating, he worked on a project showing effects of diverting fresh water flow on the Savanna River ecosystems. He then worked on a simulation model of the Chesapeake Bay as a Senior Faculty Research Assistant at the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Environmental Lab. He received his Ph.D. from the Marine, Estuarine and Environmental Studies program at the University of Maryland, College Park, where his research was designed to increase the understanding of how water column nutrients affect seagrass health. After finishing his field and lab research, he started a postdoc with the Lake Okeechobee Research unit at the South Florida Water Management District, conducting microcosm research on the effects of submersed plants on nutrients and constructing a simulation model of submersed plant growth.
Research interests: Ecosystem role of seagrass beds, seagrass effects on water quality, sedimentation and nutrient cycling, sediment and water column effects on seagrass growth, correlation of seagrass bed size with ecosystem effects, effects of seagrass beds on water flow, enhancing nutrient removal ability of submersed plant beds.
Mark received his B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Purdue University. As an engineer for private industry, including AT&T in Virginia, he worked to control and minimize pollutants in wastewater, stormwater runoff and hazardous waste from large manufacturing facilities. In 1992he found much more satisfying employment at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) working with sea turtles, oysters and estuarine fishes. From VIMS he migrated to South Carolina where he worked with hard clams, leeches and other interesting marine creatures. As luck hadit he was then hired by the Marine Resources Research Institute, part of SCDNR where he participated in oyster reef research, headed their horseshoe crab program and helped with water quality monitoring in the ACE-Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). While in South Carolina, he received an M.S. in Environmental Science from the College of Charleston-Medical University of South Carolina’s joint graduate program. His thesis explored the secret life of horseshoe crabs in South Carolina, during which time he was a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Horseshoe Crab Management Plan development team.
He moved to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FL DEP), where he monitored and analyzed southeastern Florida’s waters using biological, chemical and physical indicators . His work also included taxonomy, data management, laboratory work and resulting publications.
The U.S. Peace Corps captured Thompson in 2005, where he spent three years in a tropical Philippine paradise teaching Coastal Resource Management (CRM) at a small college and developing a CRM research program. He and his numerous student researchers did baseline assessments of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats as well as the state of local fisheries. Research included characterizing catch efficiencies of local gear typesand implementing least-impact fishpond management techniques. He also developed a CRM resource center complete with water quality lab,habitat assessment equipment, eight computers with GIS and statistical software, all connected to the Internet.
Thompson enjoys learning about nature and sharing his knowledge with others, with special interests in estuarine ecology and the impact of water qualityon biological communities. He dives (US EPA Research Diver Certification), kayaks, mountain bikes, and he lived aboard a 33-foot sloop for many years in SC and FL. He is an accomplished coastal navigator.
A.J. received his B.S in Marine Biology from Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. While there he spent a semester studying abroad in Bermuda, at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, Inc. He returned to Bermuda after graduation to work as an intern in the Benthic Ecology Research Programme laboratory. The primary research he conducted there was assessing the effect of Bermuda’s marine protected areas on fish population dynamics. He also assisted with coral, seagrass, and algae research.
A.J. is an avid scuba diver and holds his research diver certification through the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. He is interested in all aspects of marine ecology with a special interest in fish population dynamics, fisheries enhancement, and protecting valuable marine habitats.
A.J.’s main area of focus at SCCF’s Marine Lab is the RECON project. He has been responsible for the deployment, including the development of a custom mounting and retrieval system, of the RECON sensors. He is also responsible for the ongoing maintenance required to keep the network working, including data quality control.
Jeff received a B.A. in Geography from the University of South Florida. Upon graduation, he lived on Andros Island, Bahamas for nearly two years where he worked as an environmental educator at Forfar Field Station. It was there that he developed his interest in the marine world and was trained as a SCUBA dive master. Jeff then moved to the Florida Keys where he began working on a charter fishing boat eventually earning a Coast Guard masters license. From the Keys, Jeff moved to Seattle and then Ithaca, NY, where he continued operating boats and worked for a small craft brewery. Two winters out of Florida was all it took for him to find his way to Sanibel and SCCF. At the Marine Lab, Jeff’s boating and diving skills are put to good use. Since late 2005, he has been studying the effects of large freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee by monitoring seagrass growth rates and the usable light they receive. Jeff has also been involved with the installation and servicing of the RECON sensors.
Ashley Harner is a native Floridian, who received her B.A. in Environmental Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University. During her time at FGCU she interned with Rae Ann Wessel, who is the Natural Resource Policy Director at SCCF. With Rae Ann, Ashley worked on reporting the weekly conditions of the Caloosahatchee, developing fact sheets, researching land use and GIS, creating data, attending policy conference calls and meetings, as well as participating in post legislative session bill/issue reviews and webinars. Ashley also volunteered with Amanda Bryant, the previous Sea Turtle Program Coordinator, digging up hatched nests and recording the contents of each nest.
At Florida Gulf Coast University Ashley worked with Gopher Tortoises using telemetry satellite tracking as well as, assessing population density in urban environments before becoming a research assistant for the SCCF Marine Lab.
Native Landscapes & Garden Center
Jenny’s love of nature began during her childhood in the foothills and farmlands of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. She earned a B.S. in Biology with a double major in Theatre from Mary Washington College. Despite the seemingly incompatible fields, Jenny has brought them together in the art and science of horticulture. An intensive summer program in Landscape Architecture at Harvard spawned her love of outdoor design. This led to a graduate degree in Public Garden Management from Cornell. Jenny has also held internships in nursery management and garden maintenance at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington and in exhibit development and design at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. In addition, she has been an environmental educator, working in subtropical marine ecology and leading students of all ages on educational snorkeling adventures.
Jenny developed a strong appreciation for subtropical flora and plant ecology while living in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys for several years. In 2010, Jenny was named Treasurer of the Association of Florida Native Nurseries. She is a member and the newsletter editor of the Coccoloba chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society; serves on the Lee County Extension Service horticultural advisory board and is an annual speaker for the Sanibel Master Gardener lecture series.
When I was young my parents played a big role in introducing me to nature and a love for the outdoors. My family and I did lots of hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities which inspired me to go to school for environmental studies. After receiving a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Manchester College in Indiana in May of 2009, I got an internship at the Native Landscapes & Garden Center. I fell in love with the local flora and fauna and got the opportunity to be hired on as the Native Plant Nursery Assistant in 2010.
Muffit has always been an avid naturalist and artist. Born and raised in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, she majored in Modern Dance at the University of Wisconsin. After graduation she taught dance in Arkansas. In the late 1970s, Muffit and her family arrived on Sanibel where she continued to teach dance and yoga. Wanting to know more about the island’s unique environment, she turned to the Native Landscapes & Garden Center where she is happy to be involved with native plants, wildlife and ecology.
Natural Resource Policy
Rae Ann Wessel is a limnologist and marine scientist with over 35 years of experience working in corporate, government, private and nonprofit sectors in South Florida dealing with water, environmental and land use issues at the local, regional, state and federal levels. For the past 11 years she’s served as the Natural Resource Policy Director for SCCF, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.
In 1994 Rae Ann assisted with a News-Press-sponsored community forum on issues related to the Caloosahatchee. Since that time, she has been researching and identifying critical Caloosahatchee issues and building support for sustainable solutions. She is involved in oxbow research, historical documentation and education projects and guides river tours on the Caloosahatchee and its estuary.
Rae Ann serves as a: Commission appointee to the Conservation 2020 Conservation Lands Acquisition and Stewardship Committee, member of the Everglades Coalition, representative of the Environmental Advisory Council for the Everglades Foundation, past appointee to Lee County’s Local Planning Agency and a 1992 graduate of Leadership Lee County.
She has received numerous awards for her environmental work. In 2012 she was selected one of the Women Who Make Southwest Florida. In 2013 she received the Citizen of the Year award from the Sanibel Committee of the Islands (COTI) for her work as a “Tireless Scientist for the Environment”. In 2007 she received the Richard Coleman Aquatic Resources Award from the Florida Lake Management Society. In 2013 she received the inaugural Charles Edgar Foster Conservation Education Leadership Award and in 1998 the Conservationist of the Year from Audubon of Southwest Florida.
Wildlife & Habitat Management Program
Chris grew up on the southwest side of Chicago, IL. He had a strong interest in nature at a very young age, especially with amphibians and reptiles. His passion for all things slimy and scaled led him to the Chicago Herpetological Society where he was mentored by numerous knowledgeable members and visiting scientists. Chris graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Florida Gulf Coast University with degrees in Zoology, Computer Science, and Environmental Science.
He began working at SCCF in 2002 and is the Director of the Wildlife Habitat Management Program and staff herpetologist. As land manager, he oversees SCCF’s nearly 2000 acres of conservation land with the help of his field technicians. Prescribed burns, exotic plant removal, native tree planting, and other habitat restoration techniques are used to maintain functioning ecosystems on the islands. Chris is also the IT Manager for the Foundation.
Chris’s current Sanibel wildlife projects are the SCCF Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project, the SCCF Diamondback Terrapin Project, and the SCCF Florida Box Turtle Project. Chris is also a coauthor on a new book (2014); “The Amphibians and Reptiles of Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida: A Natural History”. He maintains an educational website on map turtles and is involved with several projects along the Gulf Coast with these riverine turtles. He is a member of the Turtle Survival Alliance, the IUCN/SCC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, a board member of the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust, and an active member of the local herp society (Calusa Herpetological Society).
Sea Turtle Program Coordinator/Biologist
After receiving a B.S from Virginia Tech in Biology, Kelly worked as a research technician in a Virginia Tech lab investigating how animals use the magnetic field to orient and navigate. Her strong interest in international conservation took her to South Africa to study baboons at Wildcliff Nature Reserve and then to Costa Rica to volunteer with a sea turtle nesting program.
Kelly started working for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Marine Turtle Conservation Program in 2007, where she helped manage all aspects of sea turtle conservation in South Carolina. One of the main components of the program involved coordinating over 30 projects (1,000+ volunteers) in the statewide sea turtle nest protection and stranding network. While working at the SCDNR she completed her Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy. Her thesis focused on using barnacle growth as an indicator of the onset and duration of Debilitated Turtle Syndrome in loggerhead sea turtles.
In the spring of 2013, Kelly joined a team of scientists on Long Island to characterize the response of endangered piping plovers to habitats created by Hurricane Sandy. Kelly accepted her current position as coordinator of the SCCF Sea Turtle Program in December of 2013.
Shorebird Program Coordinator/Biologist
Audrey is originally from coastal Connecticut. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a B.S. in wildlife conservation biology and management in 2006. For several years she worked a variety of seasonal jobs across the U.S. including the monitoring of various shorebird species throughout New England, controlling invasive plants by non-chemical means in California, and assessing habitat for Canada Lynx in Wyoming.In 2010 she began working with Virginia Tech on a project assessing the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on wintering Piping Plovers in coastal Louisiana and Texas. This project led to 2 more years of monitoring, banding, and re-sighting Piping Plovers, Least Terns, and Snowy Plovers in South Dakota and Nebraska for Virginia Tech. In 2013 she joined the staff at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in North Dakota. She split her time there between two projects. She spent fall and spring assessing migratory stopover habitat used by Whooping Cranes along the central flyway from the Canadian border down to Oklahoma. She spent summers monitoring, banding, and re-sighting nesting Piping Plovers and Least Terns on the Missouri River system and in the Alkali Lakes region of North Dakota and Montana.
Victor Young grew up in Southwest Florida. At a young age he began assisting biologists from various organizations with wildlife surveys. Victor’s passion for the outdoors and nature eventually brought him to SCCF where he started as an intern in the summer of 2005 in the Wildlife Habitat Management Program. Victor was hired as a full time Field Technician in summer 2006. Shortly after joining the SCCF team, he left for boot camp in the U.S. Coast Guard and was stationed in a reserve port security unit as a boat engineer and later as a small boat Coxswain. Victor utilizes his mechanical training he received in the Coast Guard to help maintain and fix equipment and vehicles. He also conducts fire line maintenance, treatment of invasive exotic vegetation, assists with prescribed fires, and conducts various other tasks at SCCF.