Category Archives: Parks & Preserves

Why Wetlands are Important

Many people may wonder why wetlands are important. It wasn’t long ago that land developers, farmers, settlers and even our government agencies looked for ways to dry up the land and make it suitable for economic uses and home steading. Canals were built to divert the water away from large terrains of land covered with wetlands such as swamps and other wetland bodies.

Floridians now realize their mistakes of destroying wetlands because freshwater is becoming an ever-decreasing resource in the state which provides bountiful benefits. The National Park Service has a website that describes the benefits of healthy wetlands. Some of them include an adequate supply of fresh drinking water to provide for 20 million people residing in the state and millions more who visit here annually. Fresh drinking water is probably the most important resource that this country has besides clean air.

Other benefits include providing healthy habitats for wildlife, an ecosystem which protects marine life, coastal storm protection, and recreational opportunities. There are several wetland systems in SW Florida including the Six Mile Cypress Slough which is a slow moving swamp which was restored a few decades ago to protect freshwater supplies as well as provide recreational opportunities to many people who enjoy walking along its wooden boardwalks and viewing wildlife.

Another large wetland in SW Florida is the 60,000 acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. CREW as it is called provides a large underwater aquifer system that provides freshwater to thousands of Floridians who live in the area. There is a staff of people who provide educational opportunities at CREW to people who want to see the area and learn about the benefits of this ecosystem. Visit their website to learn more.

The pictures shown above L-R are of a bunch of wading birds feeding upon marine life in a stream, the Platt Creek Mitigation Preserve and kayakers enjoying some touring through the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Click on any picture for a larger view.

 

 

Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project

The Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project was given the thumbs up when Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed the bill into law n May of 2017. The Law provides over $1 Billion dollars of funding to find and develop water storage areas south of Lake Okeechobee.

The Caloosahatchee River and St Lucie Rivers which run east and west have been getting the greatest discharges of water from the lake in order to keep its height within safe levels. The discharges have carried harmful nutrient water flows into these rivers and caused green slime, tainted brown water and foul smelling algae into the communities that these rivers empty into.

The area south of Lake Okeechobee has been turned into a massive agricultural region by farmers and developers over the past century and cut off the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades National Park. The establishment of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project which is planned to hold 240,000 acre feet of water  will help to clean the water coming from Lake O and re-establish the flow of water going to the Everglades National Park.

I took a trip to the region south of Lake Okeechobee a few years ago to do some bird watching and I saw some of the Storm Water Treatment Areas that are already in use which serve to cleanse and treat water from the lake. The photos above are of one of those water treatment areas and the W.P Franklin Locks on the Caloosahatchee River.  Visit the South Florida Water Management District website to learn more about the water storage conservation and treatment areas currently working or in the planning stages. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan also has a good website to learn about the history and work of restoring the Everglades.

 

 

St. Augustine Lighthouse

The St. Augustine Lighthouse shown in the pictures above replaced the old Spanish Watchtower that was constructed in 1824 which was also the first official lighthouse in Florida. The St. Augustine Lighthouse was finished in 1874, took over 1 million bricks to build and stands 14 stories tall.

I didn’t have much time to visit St. Augustine and there is a lot to see and enjoy especially if you are a history buff so I chose the historic lighthouse for my short visit and I was not disappointed. The winding staircase inside the lighthouse with 219 steps is wide enough for two people to walk abreast or past one another. When I made it to the top, there was a circular walkway around the top where you can  see for miles and enjoy the panoramic vistas of the city of St. Augustine, Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal waterway. 

I found out from reading Wikipedia that St. Augustine was founded by Spanish explorer Admiral Pedro Menendez de Avites who named the city St. Augustine because some of his sailors sighted land eleven days earlier on August 28th which is the Feast Day of St. Augustine. St. Augustine who lived around 354-450 was a very important person in the development and foundation of the early Christian Church and religion.

The grounds around the St. Augustine Lighthouse have the original Innkeepers house, now a museum, artifacts from shipwrecks off the beach, an active boat building area where volunteers are building small boats of earlier times like the “Skipjack” and “Yawl” which were used by local fishermen and British Warships. St. Augustine was once the center of the shrimp fishing industry in the U.S. The website VisitSt.Augustine has some good information about what to see and do in this town. Floridahistoriccoast is another good travelers website. 

 

 

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation

The pictures shown above are of the visitor center and paths through the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel Island, Fla. SCCF is one of the many attractions on Sanibel because they have several preserves, trails, a garden center and exhibits that show and explain how coastal and inland habitats live and thrive under unique conditions. The main mission of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is to conserve the coastal resources and aquatic habitats on Sanibel and Captiva and surrounding watershed. 

The SCCF has several scientists on staff who monitor the water quality around Sanibel and report on the amount of pollution, dissolved oxygen, salinity and other factors of the watershed. The waters around Sanibel were once filled with healthy oyster beds but they have been diminished and threatened by the amount of pollution coming from nearby places. 

The Visitor Center at the SCCF is a great place to see the native animals and plants that live on Sanibel-Captiva including the turtles who nest on the islands. There are live turtles to view and exhibits of habitats. If you have the time and like hiking, there is a trail that winds through the several hundred acre preserve where you can view fresh water habitats, native birds and trees on Sanibel. The trail is well marked and you can take a short stroll or walk the whole length of the preserve which can take an hour or two. The trail contains an observation tower as well. 

One of the best well known and cared for parts of SCCF is the Native Garden Center which was recently moved to a better and larger location on Periwinkle Way which contains several acres of plants and shrubs to view or purchase. It is managed and cared for by employees of SCCF and many volunteers. 

The SCCF has a Facebook Page and visitor comments on Trip Advisor as well. 

 

 

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Cardinal

Red Cardinals are supposed to be good luck when you see them and this summer there has been no shortage of Cardinals appearing in many places I have visited. I normally write this blog for SW Florida but I have been staying on Long island for most of the summer. Red Robbins seem to be the dominate bird species in my area of Eastern Long island but Red Cardinals have been flying around frequently and making their calls or songs as song birds do.

The Red Cardinal that I photographed above was in the Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Refuge located in Noyac, New York. Noyac is located near Southampton, New York and the preserve which is part of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system consists of 187 acres that is located on a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Little Peconic Bay. It is definitely worth the visit because of the beautiful views of a forested nature preserve and the beaches and views of the Peconic and Noyac bays. I also saw several wild turkeys walking along the nature path.

The female Red Cardinal is bright red all over except for the black patch on its face. The male cardinal has a brownish color over its red body. They both have sharp and short bills and a red crest on the top of their heads. They live in nests in short bushes, wooded forests, and backyards with birdfeeders.

You can hear the call and song of the Red Cardinal by visiting the All About Birds website and clicking on the sounds tab and then choosing either of the green arrows below. They make a loud whistling sound with a distinctive series of whistles.

Click on either of the 2 photos above for larger images

 

 

Lovers Key Beach State Park

Lovers Key Beach State Park is a barrier island just south of Ft. Myers Beach in SW Florida. It consists of 712 acres of beach, shrub habitat and salt water waterways winding their way through the island. Beachgoers will find the two mile long beach a great place to find shells of different kinds, clean Gulf of Mexico swimming and interesting places to gaze at the long beach and driftwood washing ashore. There is also an abundance of wildlife on the island and an interesting place to view birds.

There is a nominal fee to enter Lovers Key Beach State Park but it is worth it. One of its’ nice features is a tram that will take you from the parking lot to the beach and across some pretty bridges. No heavy carrying of beach chairs and towels required at this place. There are also concessions to rent bicycles and kayaks at this place. Clean bathrooms are available here also.

Lover Key takes a heavy pounding during the winter storms each year so the beach has to be re-nourished frequently by barges pumping sand back onto the beach. What I liked most about Lovers Key is the cleaner water it has to swim in than other beaches north of there.  I think it is less affected by the large inlets that lie next to Sanibel and Ft Myers Beach which churn up the sand and mud on the bottom.

The Gulf of Mexico  temperature gets pretty warm during the summer months and its easy to drive into without getting cold. Once you drive off the island there are plenty of restaurants just south of the beach in Bonita Springs or north of the beach on Ft. Myers Beach. The website Trip Advisor gives Lovers Key State Beach Park very positive ratings. You can also visit the official state website to learn more about the park.

Click on the pictures above for larger images

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Pine Island Sound

Pine Island Sound is one of the five aquatic preserves of Charlotte Harbor that  is nestled between the barrier islands of Sanibel and Pine Island in Lee County. It consists of over 58,000 acres of salt water preserves and islands. Some of the more popular places to visit that are located in or next to the Pine Island Sound are Cayo Costa State Park, Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve and Useppa Island. There are boat excursions to each one of these places if it is not accessible by car.

Pine Island Sound  has been a great boating and fishing location for residents and tourists. Fish that are caught in the sound include, Trout, Redfish, Mangrove Snook, Snapper, and many others. The sound is used also used by paddleboarders, kayakers, wind surfers and others who use the waters for it wide open waterways and plentiful supply of wind. Another popular activity is shelling along the beaches of the sound and barrier islands.

Pine Island Sound has been under attack for many years by pollution from runoff of water from nearby lands and polluted water coming from estuaries such as the Caloosahatchee which carries nutrient laden waters from inland lakes and streams. The sound contains environmentally sensitive mangroves which serves as nesting and feeding areas for fish and birds. The Pine Island Sound also contains sea grasses and oyster beds which are necessary to feed Manatees and marine life and also to keep the water clean. The Enviironmental and Scientific Organization which monitors the health of the ecosystem withn the Pine Island Sound includes the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) They have monitoring locations which tests the water for nitrogen, oxygen, salinity levels and other important water quality measurements.

Click on the pictures above for a lager view. I took these photographs from different locations looking at the Pine Island Sound.