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b-pepper-sBrazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) is a large shrub or tree with dark green leaves and clusters of red berries. Introduced to Florida in the late 1800's, Brazilian pepper was cultivated as an ornamental, and is still referred to as Christmas berry. It was later discovered to grow rampantly in most warm climate habitats. Brazilian pepper is now classified as a Category I invasive plant by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council because it crowds out the native plants that serve as wildlife habitat. State and local governments spend millions of dollars per year eradicating this noxious weed from public lands.

                        Learn more about invasive species

red-tide-aerial-sRed tide is a natural occurrence that has been documented in the state of Florida since the 1840's. Legends and folklore indicate it has been around much longer than that. Red tide is caused by a microscopic alga (a plant-like microorganism) called Karenia brevis. This organism is naturally found in our waters in low numbers. High concentrations, also known as blooms, occur when certain environmental conditions involving water chemistry and physics are just right. Blooms sometimes change the water color to be red, brown, or dark green, hence the name red tide. Click here for more information about red tide.

eggs-4200320-sDid you know that some birds nest right on the beach? Many species of migratory shorebirds travel thousands of miles each year to reach the unique habitat that Florida beaches offer. Birds such as least terns, snowy plovers and black skimmers are a few species that, instead of gathering twigs and other material for a tree nest, simply dig a shallow depression (known as a scrape) right in the sand. The eggs are camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings, and parent birds protect eggs and young from the heat, stormy weather and predators. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve seasonally posts sections of the beach, such as the south tip of Keewaydin Island, to help alert beach visitors of nesting activity. Protection of nesting colonies early in the season is crucial. As the summer progresses, coastal areas have increased risk of being overwashed by severe storms and high tides. A combination of posting and closure, law enforcement presence, and visitor awareness is necessary to ensure beach-nesting bird reproductive success.

Your help can ensure the future of beach nesting birds by following these guidelines:

• Avoid walking near dunes or beachside vegetation where eggs may be hidden.
• Keep your distance from any birds on the beach.
• Do not force birds to fly.
• Respect posted areas.
• Report violations to FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline: (888) 404-3922.
• Keep pets leashed or consider leaving them at home.
• Never deploy fireworks at or near an active nesting area.
• Don't leave any litter or food behind – this can attract nest predators.

During beach-nesting season (April - August) no people, dogs, or vehicles are allowed within the posted areas. State Law (Chapter 68A-27 F.A.C) may subject violators to criminal penalties. The attempt to take or possess any migratory bird, their nest, or eggs is a violation of Federal Law (16 USC Sec.703).

Learn more about Rookery Bay Reserve's beach-nesting bird monitoring program

Pelican-Naples-Pier-sBrown pelicans, herons, and egrets are among the most recognizable birds on our shoreline. Often observed resting gregariously on piers, docks and rocks these agile anglers take to the air where they can spot schools of baitfish, and perform a plunge-dive in order to scoop up their unsuspecting quarry.

Anglers sometimes unintentionally kill coastal birds with their kindness. While it may seem helpful to feed the birds, tossing unwanted fish, bait or scraps into the open pouch of a nearby pelican encourages them to become a nuisance to others. They become acclimated to people, learn to flock around fishing boats looking for an easy meal, and often these coastal birds will swoop after cast bait or lures and hook themselves.

gullwithlure-sAt fish cleaning stations, skin and bones are often tossed into the water where a flock of hungry pelicans can be seen clamoring for the goods. This "meal" is about as healthy as a candy bar wrapper but with more serious consequences. Without its sheath of muscle and flesh, a bare skeleton provides no nutrition and often gets stuck in the pelican's pouch causing injury, infection or death.

Thanks to efforts made by Florida Sea Grant and other partners, many marinas have installed PVC "fish tubes" that deposit these scraps on the bottom where they are out of reach of coastal birds and still return to the carbon cycle. Please keep a look out for these tubes and use them to dispose of the remains of your catch.

clean-up-sWe can make a difference in preserving the environment. As individuals, we can reduce our demand for limited resources such as water, electricity, petroleum products, paper, wood, metal, and land. We can also reduce the amount of toxic, non-biodegradable wastes which we produce and discard. By developing an awareness of our everyday actions and adopting new non-polluting, water-conserving habits, we can protect our estuaries, adjacent lands, watershed and aquifers for future generations.

Do your part whenever possible:

· Use water-conserving shower heads and hose triggers.

· Turn off the lights when you leave a room.

· Carpool, walk, ride your bike, or take the bus.

· Choose environmentally-friendly or biodegradable products.

· Reuse or recycle instead of throwing things away.

Car-Prius-sMany water pollution problems can be associated with automobiles. By taking good care of our vehicles, we can reduce the amount of pollution entering our coastal areas.

To minimize pollution from your automobile:
• Check the ground where you park for spots indicative of a leaky gas tank, hose or radiator.
• Replace lost or damaged mufflers.
• Have your oil changed regularly to maximize fuel efficiency.
• If you change your own oil, recycle or properly dispose of used oil.
• Wash your car with biodegradable or non-phosphate soap.
• Choose a vehicle featuring fuel-efficiency and lower exhaust emissions.
• Drive less: walk, ride a bike, carpool or take the bus.

corridor-expedition-map-sNative biodiversity (a wide variety of plant and animal species) is an important indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Similar to spokes in a bicycle wheel, each different species supports the ecosystem "hub" and keeps the "wheel" rolling. A major threat to biodiversity is habitat fragmentation, which occurs when large tracts of habitat are split into isolated pockets between areas of human development. Many animal species cannot survive if they are unable to access essential feeding grounds, find places to avoid predators or locate a suitable mate. By supporting the maintenance and development of habitat "corridors", we can provide connections between fragmented habitats and preserve wildlife.

Learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

lionfish-sThe presence of aquarium plants and fish Florida's coastal and inland waterways is becoming a serious issue. Aquarium owners sometimes become overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping their fish happy and healthy in their tanks. When fish such as lionfish and panther groupers from the Indian/Pacific Oceans get too large, their owners often feel obligated to release the animals in the wild. This is illegal because these fish don't have natural predators in our local ecosystems and can reproduce and out-compete native species. Lionfish can now be found from the Keys up to North Carolina.

Snakes and turtles also get released and tend to do well in our subtropical environment. At best, they may be a threat to biodiversity, but they can also represent a risk to our pets, kids, or even our own health and safety. Monitor lizards are now found in various areas of southwest Florida. These aggressive lizards can grow over 6 feet long. Boas and pythons have been spotted in the Reserve and Everglades National Park. Please think about how large the animal or fish is going to get before you buy it. Will you be able to care for it when it is larger? If the answer is no, you shouldn't buy it. Releasing exotic animals into the wild could present dangers to you or others and is illegal.

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