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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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
Sea Oats cover many of the sand dunes and beach areas in SW Florida and coastal communities on the East coast from Maine to Florida. Sea Oats grow up to 6 ft tall and perform an important role in protecting coasts from erosion.
Sand Dunes form on a beach when sediment of sand is blown upwards on a beach where it accumulates and is suspended around obstacles likes plants, fences, and driftwood. Plants are the best solution to keeping sand dunes in place because their roots hold them in place when flooding from winter storms occurs or severe events like hurricanes happen.
The pictures above are of Sea Oats on beaches on Sanibel Island, Florida and Southampton New York. Both of these areas see their beaches diminished and reduced because of winter storms, tidal currents and other forces. The Sea Oat plant is a favorite anti erosion plant because they are hardy plants that are tolerant of salt water, winds and their ability to send their strong root structures called rhizomes underground.
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.
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.
The state of Floridaand South Florida Water Management Districthas 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 hundredpounds 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 Pythonis 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.