The Town of Fort Myers Beach hosted its first-ever Environmental Forum before roughly 40 people at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center on Thursday evening, January 17. Representatives from Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC); Turtle Time, Incorporated; Florida Department of Environmental Protect (FDEP); Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife (CROW), and the Town provided presentations. Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp welcomed the speakers and audience, explaining that “we are blessed to live, work and play in the beautiful environment that is Fort Myers Beach, so it is our responsibility to be good stewards and knowledge is power, to make a positive impact on our barrier island.”
Morgan Parks, a Southwest Regional Biologist with the FWC, discussed “Beach Nesting Birds.” “We work with our partners to ensure that nesting shorebirds remain strong on Fort Myers Beach, particularly at the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) at the sound end of the island. Nesting birds can be solitary or live in colonies to protect their young from predators: the former to be inconspicuous; the latter with safety in numbers! Among the nesting birds are terns, plovers, willets, Black skimmers and American oystercatchers, with the vast majority listed as State Threatened.”
Adult birds make little scrapes in the sand and lay their eggs right on the beach, explained Morgan. “Please leave eggs and chicks alone, even though the babies are super cute. You will know if you are too close because parents will dive bomb and even poop on you! We rope off these areas to keep people and especially pets away, because if you scare off the parents or force them to take action to try to keep you away, their eggs can bake in the hot sun, as they lay on them to keep them in the shade and cool during the day. Outside of nesting season, they come to Florida to rest, to save their strength for their migration, and if you or your pet scatters them, they must waste precious energy.”
Amy Clifton, who is a FWC Regional Biologist, provided additional information on the CWA. “I spend a lot of time in Lee County, because we have six CWAs here, and that is more than any other county. The purpose of a CWA is to protect imperiled wildlife that warrants protection, and property owners must agree to allow their land in be a CWA. We post signs and symbols that indicate we don’t want you or your pet past that certain point. We manage CWAs according to the ‘Imperiled Species Management Plan,’ where we allocate funds and staff time to protect and improve these sites, especially so the most vulnerable species might thrive, like beach nesting and wading birds, where we can legally restrict access to them or issue written citations. We could legally close the entire CWA to the public during the April 1 through August 31 nesting season but choose not to.”
Good For Them; Good For Us
Eve Haverfield is the founder of Turtle Time, Inc., a non-profit established in 1989 for the benefit of marine turtles on Big Hickory Island, and Bonita, Bunche, and Fort Myers Beaches. “Sea turtles are the guardians of the ocean. When we first began monitoring Fort Myers Beach, there were 5 nests, but last year that was up to 68 and in 2017 we attained 99 nests, so we hope to break that record this year, as Loggerhead turtles nest every other year. Sea turtles are not only mysterious, beautiful, and compelling, but an ‘Indicator Species,’ meaning that what happens to them eventually happens to us, and that is what makes the hundreds of dead turtles that washed up last year especially important, as what is good for them is good for us and vice-versa.”
She implored the audience to make simple lifestyle changes that will not only protect sea turtles but will not adversely affect people. “Use Amber LED lights that will not cause turtles to march toward them and their death rather than to the Gulf, while providing plenty of safe light for you and will last for years. Fill in holes in the beach that will not trap them or injure you. Do not use or throw away plastic bags that can look like jelly fish that is food to turtles. These are such easy things! Remember that for every 1,000 eggs, only 1 to 4 will become a mature sea turtle after 30 to 50 years, with their nesting season from April 15 through October 31, during which we monitor the nests early every morning.”
Rebecca Flynn is an Environmental Specialist for the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve with the FDEP. “The Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve was the first one established by the Florida Legislature in 1966, and today there are 41, with all of them patterned to some extent off of this one. Ours covers 11,000 acres, while the 41 combine encompass over 2 million acres, and combined, they are essential natural and biological preserves for the enjoyment of future generations and critical to water quality. I monitor sea grasses and oyster beds through a variety of testing sites and formats, along with nesting and wading birds on our 32 islands, then combine everything together to help formulate Basic Management Plans for imperiled water quality. In addition to all this monitoring, we conduct fishing line and trash clean-ups and education and outreach programs to the community and homeowner associations, to reduce wildlife deaths and bring greater awareness to the Estero Bay region.”
Environment & Economy
Rachael Rainbolt, CROW’s Development & Education Manager, discussed how environment impacts wildlife in Florida, and the affect wildlife has on people. “Florida is a tourism destination and people come here to experience our wildlife. Ecotourism is a $5.2 billion industry that produces over 50,000 jobs, so what is good for the environment is good for the economy! Last year, CROW rehabilitated over 200 species, as we are the only wildlife hospital in Lee County. As such, we are open 365 days-a-year, where you can speak to a first responder, just like when you call 911 for people, including advice as to when to rescue an animal as opposed to when to leave one alone, but we do not handle nuisance animals you want off of your property. Generally, we see 3,500 to 4,000 patients annually, but last year, because of our water quality, that soared to 4,760! If you have an interest in becoming a CROW rescue volunteer, please contact us, as we only have 2 or 3 such people on Fort Myers Beach and could use more, as rehabilitation and release back into nature is our ultimate goal.” To become a CROW volunteer, see www.crowclinic.org.
Rae Burns, the Town’s Environmental & Stormwater Technician, was the final speaker. She first discussed the Town’s pilot program with Oceans Habitat, Inc., to install artificial reefs along the Ibis and Egret Streets canal to improve water quality. Rae then discussed the most frequently-asked questions she receives from the general public in her role with the Town, including for docks & shorelines, turtle lighting, algae, palm trees, floodplain management, and the 50% Rule.
By Gary Mooney