Category Archives: News About Wetlands and Conservation

News About Wetlands and Conservation

Monarch Butterflies

I came across a large number of Monarch Butterflies while bicycling along a road in Southampton, Long Island this summer. The amazing thing that caught my eye was the number of Monarchs that were flying around and feeding on the flowery shrub along the road. There must have been over a 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the nectar of the flowers. The Monarch has black and orange wings with whites dots on the tips of its wings and on its head. There are also black veins running lengthwise down its wings. The pictures shown above are the butterflies I photographed this summer. Click on any one of them for a larger image. 

Monarch Butterflies are unique in the Butterfly kingdom because they only feed on the milkweed plant during its caterpillar or larval stage. The chemicals from the milkweed plant make the Monarch toxic to any predator that might want to feed upon it.  Monarchs are also unique because of their migratory patterns. They fly over 1,200 to 2,800 miles each year from northern states and California to Southern California and Mexico. They also make the return trip when warmer weather returns. They can fly over 20 miles in a single day. I saw this batch of Monarch Butterflies in August which is the start of their trek south from northern states. 

This butterfly is an endangered species because the change in climate which is happening due to global warming disrupts their habitats. The loss of habitat due to human causes such as over development in rural areas also hurts the lifestyle of the Monarch. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service shows the migratory patterns of the Monarch on maps on its website along with other interesting information of this unique butterfly. 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Green Building Council and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

The U.S. Green Building Council (USBG) is an organization founded by a group of environmentally minded individuals who direct an effort to promote environmentally efficient buildings of all types, including commercial, industrial and residential buildings that meet certain sustainable and conservation criteria.  The U.S. Green Building Council holds conferences nationally that update builders and environmental design engineers of the latest developments in green buildings.

The standards aim to promote water conservation, smart use of materials in building construction, conservation of energy and other factors that lessen our use of earths natural resources.  The USBG created “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” a rating system to give buildings points and that rank them according to how environmentally efficient a building is. Platinum is the highest ranking followed by Gold, Silver, and Certified.

I have been spending the summer in Southampton, New York, located on the East End of Long Island and there are several buildings that have achieved the LEED Certification including 2 on Stony Brook University’s Southampton Campus. Two of the buildings include the Marine Sciences Lab Bldg. (Silver) and the Library (Gold)  which are shown above.

A group of buildings in Lee County< Florida have been designated as green buildings and been certified as LEED buildings. The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve Interpretive Center, Jet Blue Baseball Stadium, the Ft. Myers Regional Library and Sanibel Recreation Center are some of them. More and more buildings strive to attain the U.S. Green Building Councils attainment of a LEED Certified ranking. You can learn more about the technologies of LEED certified buildings, conferences and leaders in green building design by visiting the USGBC website.

Click on one of the photos above for a larger image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heavy Rains fill up Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve consists of 3,500 acres of wetlands which vary from slow moving swamps or sloughs, dry areas consisting of hammocks and forests containing many of the native trees of Florida.

The Six Mile Slough was created in 1970 with the encouragement of concerned citizens who saw the natural ecosystems being destroyed by heavy commercial and residential development in South Florida. Sloughs are slow moving swamps that move rainfall over the landscape and help to filter the water as it seeps into underground aquifers.

The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is 11 miles long and 1/3 mile wide and is one of the few areas where visitors can visit a wetland that resembles an ecosystem that dominated the landscape years ago. The depth of the water is usually 2-3 feet deep but the unusual heavy rains and tropical storms this summer have made the slough over 10 feet deep. It is located in Ft. Myers, off of Six Mile Cypress Pkwy.

The South Florida Management District keeps track of the monthly and yearly rainfall levels in South Florida and Lake Okeechobee.  Visitors to the slough can enjoy a scenic walk on a 2 mile boardwalk through the slough and also visit the interpretive center which has exhibits of old Florida and plants and animals which inhabit the slough.

The pictures shown above are of the slough. Click on any image for a larger view. The park employs naturalists who give tours of the park on the boardwalk and also give wet walks through the swamp for those who are more adventurous. The Six Mile Slough is also a great place to go birding and view many of the birds who make wetlands their home. Visit their website at https://www.sloughpreserve.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW)

The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) is a private non-profit organization that manages a land area encompassing 60,000 acres that straddles Lee and Collier counties in SW Florida. The South Florida Water Management District owns the land which is used as a water recharge area and the South Florida Water Management District which enforces the laws regarding hunting and wildlife.

I became aware of CREW when I took a naturalist course through the Florida Master Naturalist Program offered through the extension office in my county. (Lee) About 25 of us took a full day  class every week for about 8 weeks examining the “Wetlands” in South Florida and learned about the importance of keeping water resource areas such as swamps, lakes, ponds and other fresh water bodies of water safe and protected. Wetlands provide a natural recharge place for rain water to filter back into the ground, and recharge aquifers where we get most of our drinking water.  Our class shown above took a field trip to CREW one day and our nature walk took us through different ecosystems of trees, plants, dry and wet areas. Our experienced nature guide explained the different kinds of plants and animals that lived in this 60,000 acre region and what areas get particularly flooded during rainy season.

CREW has a staff of volunteers that work there at different times of the day and week that can offer visitors chances to take guided nature walks through the area. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning more about Florida’s natural areas and inland regions. Visit their website to learn more about this watershed and how to take advantage of its learning and ecotourism opportunities.

 

 

 

 

 

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