As December graduation nears at FGCU, I am finishing my service learning volunteer requirement at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Wednesday, Nov 18, I took part in a two-hour guided kayak tour. This experience was a terrific connection to the nature in my own backyard.
As a graduating senior, the pressure to succeed at work and internships is high. What better way to reduce stress than to try out something new and spend some time out on the water before finals. There was such a sense of peace and tranquility on this tour. As a first time kayaker, our guide Randy was excellent in giving general instructions on efficient kayaking. Throughout the tour, he was keeping all kayakers motivated and expressed everything to be expected while paddling – even when the wind picked up and a slight current began.
Of course, the first question most asked after recounting my experience was if I saw any marine life. While it is noted that it is less common to spot dolphins on this tour, our group witnessed two swimming along while we were all stationed by mangrove trees. I also had the opportunity to hold a periwinkle snail while learning the natural food chain that occurs in those particular areas of the water.
I will definitely recommend this tour for anyone interested in trying out something new. For a nominal fee of $59, you gain a lasting memory of Southwest Florida's coastal uplands and nature. The guides are friendly and the view is absolutely breathtaking.
FGCU December graduate: Communication, B.A
Mutants in the Reserve, really?
And I'm not writing about our staff.
These are real live mutants.
Not your mutants from outer space, mind you.
These mutants are animals native to our area.
These critters scored either extra high or extra low on their genetic diversity tests.
Twice in 2 weeks I had the opportunity to meet a couple of extra special nine-armed sea stars while leading trawling programs for high school or college marine science field trips. Trawling means pulling a net, behind a boat, along the estuary floor. We use trawling as a way to introduce students to the amazing variety of life that calls our Reserve home. Our fisheries biologist also uses trawling as a way to evaluate the health of estuarine food webs by studying the populations of baitfish, etc. Anyway, I digress.
It was a bright and clear day (as opposed to a dark and stormy night when one might expect to encounter mutants) two weeks ago when I encountered my first unusual nine-armed sea star.
As you might have guessed by now, nine-armed sea stars are supposed to have, well, nine arms. Go figure. All together in the net there were nearly a dozen nine-armed sea stars – and in that bunch there was one that stuck out from the crowd. It had ELEVEN arms! I was really excited to see such a cool animal.
On a recent non-breeding bird route survey that included areas in and around Cape Romano, we were very excited to observe a 30-inch smalltooth sawfish in Morgan Bay. At this size, this sawfish would be considered young-of-the-year, and was most certainly recently pupped in reserve waters. We were able to watch the sawfish from a distance of just a few feet as it casually swam in a small mudflat pool in just 4 inches of water, likely attracted by the large number of bait fish we also observed. This was a rare encounter, and a first observation of a smalltooth sawfish in its habitat for me.
Smalltooth sawfish, closely related to sharks and rays, historically inhabited coastal and estuarine waters from North Carolina to Texas, but as their numbers have been drastically reduced from habitat loss and from commercial fishing impacts (as by-catch from becoming entangled in fishing nets), Southwest Florida is their last stronghold. The smalltooth sawfish was classified as endangered in 2003 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and is now fully protected. The ESA designates smalltooth sawfish Critical Habitat that includes the waters of Florida Bay, Rookery Bay NERR, and the Estero Bay/Caloosahatchee River/Charlotte Harbor complex. Research on these fish is in its infancy, and not a great deal is currently known about the habits and life history of this species.
Out re-sighting Red Knots on Marco Island city beach on Sunday. Strong winds and bouts of pouring rain made it difficult at times, but I was able to read several bands.
Light green flags 537, A03 and 6C9. 537 has a geo-locator over an orange band. 6C9 has been seen by Rookery Bay staff member and researcher Beverly Anderson in previous years. Also had green flag HKM, a bird first seen a month ago on Marco and Keewaydin.
Jean Hall was of course ready at a moment's notice with her camera and took these photos.
Shorebird Monitoring and Stewardship Project Manager
Rookery Bay Reserve is the nursery for numerous aquatic species. On Aug. 20, 2015, Xiomara, Dave, Jeannine, Keith, and I went trawling for fish and other sea critters that we could catch. Dave emphasized the importance of preserving Rookery Bay due to its fostering environment for many juvenile species, such as the lane snapper which sometimes seeks refuge among the mangroves’ prop roots or even under a mangrove seed or leaf. The importance of Rookery Bay is evident in the species that we caught when we trawled near Keewaydin Island- we caught two batfish, a flounder, a sea pork, some starfish, many comb jelly, and a handful of crabs. These are only a few of the many species that calls Rookery Bay its home, and due to this reason it is important to continue to keep it pristine.
Recent rains and high tides did some damage to sea turtle nests in the Rookery Bay Reserve.
There were 38 nests washed away and of the nests that are left on the beach, 26 were inundated. There were about 4 nests that hatched, but had really terrible success. In two of these, no hatchlings made it out and were drowned by rain/high tide. The other two had some that made it out, but still had a lot of dead babies inside.
Florida’s white sand beaches are a playground for millions of residents and visitors each year. Beaches also serve as important habitat for shorebirds, with many species laying their eggs and raising their young right on the sand. Beaches in and around Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve historically have hosted some of the largest beach-nesting seabird colonies in the state.
Audubon Florida and Audubon of the Western Everglades recently partnered with Rookery Bay Reserve to hire Adam DiNuovo in a new position as Shorebird Monitoring and Stewardship Project Manager.
DiNuovo is working with research and stewardship staff at the reserve to monitor seasonal beach-nesting bird colonies, over-wintering shorebird population trends, spring/fall migratory periods and habitat on mainland beaches as well as on remote, offshore islands. He is also recruiting and training bird stewards as part of a wider education and outreach initiative within Collier and Lee counties.
A native of Palmer, Massachusetts, DiNuovo received his bachelor’s degree in Conservation Biology from Franklin Pierce University. Before taking this position in April, he was Research Coordinator at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research managing field crews studying the California Least Tern and Western Snowy Plover at Camp Pendleton. He was previously part of the Audubon family, having worked for three years as Assistant Sanctuary Manager at the seven seabird islands that form Audubon’s Project Puffin focal islands in the Gulf of Maine. Before Project Puffin, DiNuovo worked with American oystercatchers in South Carolina, Delaware and Virginia; piping plovers in Mississippi and Massachusetts; and common and roseate tern colonies in Massachusetts.
Exciting news!! During their monthly shorebird survey, Audubon program coordinator Adam DiNuovo, research assistant Beverly Anderson, and bird steward volunteer Deborah Woods spotted and photographed this snowy plover with chick near the north end of Keewaydin Island. Snowy plovers , which are a threatened species, live in Florida year-round and nest from March through September.
Snowy plovers have not been recorded on any of our surveys over the past 10 years. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife, this is the first nest in Collier County since 2005.