Category Archives: News About Wetlands and Conservation

News About Wetlands and Conservation

Climate Change and Fertilizers Damaging Our Waterways

The New York Times published an article on July 28th, titled “Study Shows Rising Risk to Waterways from Fertilizers.” The article states that increased use of fertilizers from homeowners treating their lawns and from farms use of fertilizers on their crops can result in harmful algae blooms in nearby waterways during heavy rainfalls. The rains wash nitrogen and other chemicals off of lawns and farmland into lakes, streams and rivers which pollutes our sources of water for drinking, fishing and recreation.

Climate Change will increase the rate of rainfall according to the article which will increase the amount of chemicals pouring into our waterways. Scientists urge agricultural businesses to rethink their use of fertilizers when their properties are located near lakes, streams and rivers. Eutrophication is a term used to describe the growth of plant life such as algae which occurs when excess nitrogen washes into waterways and cuts off the supply of sunlight and oxygen. The depletion of oxygen in a waterway creates a dead zone in which other forms of life cannot live.

One of the biggest dead zones in the U.S. is the mouth of the Mississippi River which covers an area of 10,000 square miles or about the size of Vermont. Billions of gallons of water laden with chemicals comes coursing down the river from cities and towns in the middle and upper Mississippi River Water Basin. The pictures shown above left to right are of the Caloosahatchee River, Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee which are all affected by nitrogen, fertilizer and sewage runoff resulting in Eutrophication and dead zones. The South Florida Water Management District has good information about their efforts to control pollution runoff and protecting our lakes, streams, beaches and other wetlands from pollution.

 

 

 

 

Dry Winter, Rainy Summer

The Dry Winter, Rainy Summer that Southwest Florida has had in Florida this year has had positive and negative impacts. The first four months in South Florida brought almost no rainfall. The lawns in peoples yards turned brown, watering restrictions went into effect and the canals in Cape Coral almost went dry.

Florida normally gets about 60 inches of rain per year with most of it coming from May through October. June of this year has already seen over 11 inches of rainfall in the Sunshine State. Homeowners and state water managers are usually happy with a moderate amount of rainfall but this much in a short amount of time can lead to flooding, fast rising of lake levels in Lake Okeechobee and runoff of harmful chemicals such as nitrogen into rivers and lakes leading to the growth of blue-green algae.

Lake Okeechobee itself has risen by a foot in only a month since the rain started. The 730 sq. mile lake holds 83,000 billion gallons of water with each foot in height. When the water levels approach 15 feet like they do during summer and fall periods, The Army Corp of Engineers starts releasing billions of gallons of lake water laden with nitrogen and other harmful pollutants through the gates of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. The waters produce blue green algae and slime which covers the estuaries, canals and beaches downstream from these rivers. The pictures shown above are The Caloosahatchee River on the left, Kissimmee River center and Lake Okeechobee on the right.

Efforts of by the South Florida Water Management District and other water management officials are building water reservoirs near the lake, drainage canals, and water retention areas to hold excess water from the lake. Organizations such as the Waterkeepers Alliance and cities on both coasts whose beaches and canals are affected are doing everything they can to stop the water releases from reaching their beaches and waterways.

 

 

 

Burmese Python Elimination Program

The state of Florida  and South Florida Water Management District  has begun a Burmese Python Elimination Program. The Burmese Python Snake is a reptile that came to Florida from S.E. Asia from the pet import business that thrives in Miami and South Florida. It became a threat to the people of S. Florida and native animal species in the Everglades after they were released by pet owners and the release of snakes after the damage that was done by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Burmese Python Snakes can grow  to over 20 feet in length and up to two hundred pounds during their lifetime. Females can lay 100 eggs at a time. The main problem with these snakes is they have no known predators and they can eat and devour animals as big as deer and alligators. They have been decimating the small bird and mammal population in South Florida which makes it harder for other mammals and carnivores such as the Florida Panther to find enough food to feed themselves.

The recent program started by The SFWMD to eliminate the Burmese Python  is to pay hunters $50 for each Python they catch up to four feet in length and an additional $25 for each ft over 4 ft. An eight foot Python would bring a hunter $150 in bounty. An additional $100 reward would be paid to a hunter who catches a female guarding a nest of eggs. The program has resulted in over 53 snakes caught and eliminated since the pilot program began this year.  To learn more about the Burmese Python, visit the National Park Service website. The pictures shown above are courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District. Click on the pictures for larger images.

 

 

 

 

 

Shells of SW Florida

The Shells of SW Florida are a great collection of marine life that have washed up on beaches including Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Lovers key State Beach and others. Sanibel is one of the best beaches to collect and view sea shells that have washed up on the beach because of its unique shape which has a long shoreline which faces the Gulf of Mexico and whose currents  deposit new shells each day.

Some of the photos above are a partial collection of shells you will see on the beach. One artistic person made a dolphin out of shells on the beach which is not uncommon among the shell collectors on the island. Some of the popular shells of SW Florida include the Lightning Whelk, Lace Murex, Alphabet Cone, Florida Fighting Conch,  Lettered Olive and Banded Tulip. Visit the Ft. Myers Sanibel website to see the “Sanibel Six” Sea Shells.

Technically a sea shell is a hard outer covering that is made by a marine sea creature that lives inside called a Mollusk. Mollusks are soft bodied animals without backbones but contain other organs and have feet or a foot that allows them to crawl into out of the shell. Once a mollusks dies or crawls out of it shell, the shells are carried by the ocean tides to the beach and other places. It is against the law in SW Florida to collect live shells or shells containing mollusks.

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island has a great collection of shells from the local region as well as from around the world. There is a live touch tank inside the museum. The staff at the museum also gives daily walks to nearby beaches. I found another interesting website with great shell art at Pinterest. To see larger images of the shells above, click on their images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Bald Eagle

The American Bald Eagle is Americas’ national bird and also national animal. It is printed on our currency, postage stamps and used on the Presidents stationary. I took these photos of an American Bald eagle while on a boat trip in the Estero Bay near Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.

The American Bald Eagle has a brown body, white neck and head and yellow bill and talons. The talons or claws that it uses for its feet are used to pluck fish out of the water for its meals. It usually tears apart its prey whether small fish or animals with one talon while holding on with the other. It reaches maturity as the age of 3-4 years and can start flying after about 14 weeks in the nest. They usually live to around 20 years.

The eagle creates its nest, the largest of any nest of bird or animal  in North America near shorelines or wetlands where it hunts for its prey. Only about 50% of young eaglets survive because of the failure of their nests, predation from other predators or inclement weather. The eagle was an endangered species and put on a protection list of birds because of over hunting by poachers trying to obtain there feathers for hats and hunted for sport. They were also decimated in numbers by the pesticide DDT which was widely used near their habitat which caused birth defects in young birds.

The American Blad Eagle is the largest bird in North America except for the California Condor. When it flies, it doesn’t use its wings like other birds but floats along thermal currents in the sky. You can learn more information about the American Bald Eagle at the websites of the  Defenders of Wildlife  and the National Geographic.

Click on one of the pictures for a larger image.

 

Conservation 20/20 Program Adds More Land

 

The Conservation 20/20 Program has added more land to its already existing 25,000  acres that it has under its stewardship. The program has been in existence since 1996 when voters passed a referendum to tax themselves so environmentally sensitive land could be set aside for air and water purification, public recreation and wildlife habitat.

The approximately 25,000 acres now under county stewardship  represents about 3% of Lee County’s 775,000 total acreage. Some Environmentalists and Urban Planners think that a county’s total land area should consist of between 10% to 20% of preserves and green spaces.

The 3 tracts of land that were purchased recently include 12.2 acres in N. Ft. Myers, 91.7 acres in Olga/Alva which has frontage along the Caloosahatchee River and 7.9 acres near the Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island.

It is especially important now that available land be added to the conservation program because the county has seen rapid growth of population and land development in recent years. Only 474 acres have been added to the land stewardship program since 2015. Additional tracts of land are currently being looked at for purchase.

The pictures shown above are of the Hickey Mitigation Park which are part of the Conservation 20/20 purchases. Hickeys Creek contains about 862 acres of environmentally sensitive land located just south and along the Caloosahatchee River between Olga and Alva in Lee County. It has excellent walking trails and kayak/canoe opportunities for visitors. Visitors can view pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes,  cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, and oak-palm forests. Visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Storage Proposals are Controversial

State Legislators and Environmentalists recent  water quality proposals are controversial with the various constituencies who have been  affected by the large nutrient laden water releases from lake Okeechobee.  The billions of gallons of  water releases have plagued the beaches and estuaries on the east and west coasts of Florida.

The Ft. Myers News Press published an article “State May Pump Extra Storm Water Underground” , on Feb. 3rd  2017,  which explained how the South Florida Water Management District , (SFWMD)  may pump excess water underground  in deep injection wells  or use (ASR’s),  Aquifer Storage and Recovery Reservoirs to store large quantities of water that would have been released into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. These measures would help the dirty water problems that have damaged the cities of Ft. Myers, Cape Coral and Sanibel on the west coast of Florida and Stuart on the east coast. Last year was a particularly bad year for the water releases from Lake Okeechochobee because of the large amount of rainfall we received in January which caused the lake levels to rise and the decision by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to open the flood gates to release large quantities of water.

Florida State Legislator and Senate President Joe Negron has stated that he wants to buy up to 60,000 acres of land south of the lake to build a reservoir to hold large quantities of water. Building a reservoir south of the lake has also been a top priority of people who are affected by the water releases from Okeechobee, The problem is that no agricultural land owners want to sell their land for this purpose and also say large job losses would occur if they sold their farmland. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or (CERP) states that land purchases south of the lake is part of the strategy to restore the Everglades.

The pictures above show the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River which are all part of the watershed which affects the water quality problems in SW Florida.

 

 

 

 

Clean Water is Priority for Lee County in 2017

Caloosahatchee River and Edison Bridge

Caloosahatchee River and Edison Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean Water is a priority in Lee County in 2017 according to Lee County Board of Commissioners. The Lee County Commissioners layed out their priorities for 2017 and they are 1. Water Quality 2.  Land Conservation and 3. Justice, and improved services for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Water Quality has been a contentious issue for Lee County residents for several years because of the unsightly and harmful algae blooms and brown water that has been covering our beaches, canals and estuaries for several years. Last year was an especially bad year for dirty water coming down the Caloosahatchee River which was largely the result of large releases of water from Lake Okeechobee.

The Lee County Commissioners plan to ask for $1.38 million dollars from the state and to add an additional $2 Million dollars from the county for water quality improvement. The money will be spent over 4 projects including plugging wells to help out underground aquifers, rehabilitation of the Caloosahatchee River, improving the filtration system at Lakes Park and hydrological restoration at the Wild Turkey Strand Preserve.

The private sector organization in Lee County, Fla. named Calusa Waterkeepers is part of a worldwide organization called Waterkeeper Alliance which advocates clean water for the rivers, bays, lakes and other bodies of water in and around the Caloosahatchee Watershed. The Waterkeeper Alliance is made up of 300 affiliated organizations worldwide and their stated goal is swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunsets on Sanibel

Sunsets on Sanibel have been popular for vacationers and residents to enjoy because of the wide vistas and open skies in which to enjoy the views. The myriad of colors and variations of lights caused by clouds and the suns vanishing appearance draws many people to the beaches to see the sun disappear below the horizon.

Popular spots to see Sunsets on Sanibel are the beaches on the island along the Gulf of Mexico and the Sanibel Causeway Islands which runs across the Pine Island Sound and carries the 2 lane road which is the only access point to Sanibel by vehicle. It is not uncommon to see groups of people standing or seated along the beaches and causeway islands watching the sun set and disappearing below the horizon.

The actual time of sunrise and sunset varies of course depending on time of year. The City of Sanibel Web Site has a link which gives the time of sunrise and sunset in this area. It has the chart of tidal information for fisherman and the temperature of water for swimmers.

The pictures shown above were taken at different times of the year and display sunsets at different times of the evening. One of the prettiest sights to see are the rainbows across the sky near Sanibel after a rain storm. Click on one of the photos in this post to see a larger image.

http://www.mysanibel.com/Departments/Natural-Resources/Tides

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Film Series

The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Film Series will begin on Jan. 4th 2017. The film series will be held in the Visitor & Education Center auditorium and will be done biweekly on Wednesday’s through April 12th. There will be documentaries on subjects such as “Mullet: A Tales of Two Fish”, ” Million Dollar Duck”, “Sonic Sea”, and several other films. There will also be lectures by well known naturalists, photographers and scientists.  The Ding Darling Society website has a full list of the activities and things to see and do at the refuge.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society is a non-profit volunteer organization that helps with environmental education, working in the visitor center and conservation of the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex. There are daily walks and tram tours given through the wildlife refuge by experienced guides. I have driven, walked and bicycled through the refuge myself and find any mode of transportation a good one. The road that winds through and around the refuge is several miles so those preferring to bicycle to and through the preserve should be physically fit. Wearing a hat, and wearing sun screen is advisable.

There is a concession business called Tarpon Bay Explorers that operates near the refuge that offers kayak and canoes for rent and also has boat rides through the wildlife refuge. Click on their link to learn more.  The pictures shown above can be enlarged by clicking on them.