Sunday, October 17, 2021

2019 Year End Environmental Review Spells Good News & Bad News for Marco Island

Marco Island is blessed with an abundance of wildlife that makes this island very special. As a barrier island, wildlife arrives here year-round from faraway places. People also visit the island from faraway places to marvel at the wildlife. Marco Island’s healthy environment and wildlife population play a significant part in our thriving local economy. Marco’s pristine white beaches are top-rated worldwide and are often referred to as the “Number 1 economic driver” for the island.

After hearing so much bad news about the environment in 2019 such as massive fish death due to red tide, more fish death from blue-green algae, sea turtle stranding, etc. that when we hear good news, we become skeptical. Politicians don’t seem to help much, and people just want the problem to go away or are looking for someone to blame.

The news is that there is good and bad news!

Photo by Jean Hall | Starter burrow participants in Marco Island through the Owl Watch Marco Program. They could benefit from the Starter Burrow Incentive Program proposed by Councilor Grifoni.

Water Quality: According to Councilor Sam Young, “The good news is we’re back to doing monthly testing versus quarterly water testing. A contract was awarded to Dr. Harvey Harper and Environmental Research and Design (ERD) to study Marco’s water quality issues and make proposals to City Council. Young indicated that the fruits of which will be reaped in 2020 and beyond.”

Bad News: The Waterways of Marco Island was declared impaired by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection through a letter sent to the City of Marco Island. According to Councilor Young, “We have very poor water quality, with December’s test results the worst on record. FDEP deemed Marco’s waterways as impaired not only for Nitrogen but also Phosphorous and Chlorophyll A, as well.”

Photo by Lin Taylor | A resident was caught on video dumping mothballs down an owl burrow. FWC successfully brought the violator to Court. The resident appeared for his arraignment before Collier County Court Judge on December 27th.

Burrowing Owls: Councilor Jared Grifoni’s proposed Burrowing Owl Incentive Grant is a way to recruit property owners to have a starter burrow on their already developed yards to entice burrowing owls to move in. With an explosion of home construction displacing owl habitats, sustaining the owl population is critical for burrowing owls in Marco Island. If approved by the City Council, this pilot program will be the first in the State. 

Also, first in the State as a model program is the Owl Watch Program of Marco, with a full-time biologist from the Audubon of the Western Everglades overseeing 65 active volunteers logging 6,600 hours of observation. The program is now in its 4th successful year.

Good News: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) successfully pursued a violator who dumped mothballs down a burrow and was caught on camera. On December 27th, a local resident appeared before Collier County Judge Tamara Nicola for his arraignment.

Bad News: Code Enforcement Magistrate issued minimal penalties to violators of Protected Species ordinance undermining the message intended by the Ordinance. The Ordinance has failed to discourage offenders as several burrows have been filled and postings being taken down intentionally. 

Sea Turtles: 2019 saw lots of Sea Turtle nests hatched!

Bad News: Sea Turtles recorded the highest disorientations in Collier County. It also saw a record of 41+ cases of Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance violations brought before the magistrate.

Black Skimmers: 2019 saw a very successful Black Skimmer nesting season at Big Marco Pass (Sand Dollar Island). A team from Collier Stewardship Program was present at Big Marco Pass all summer during the weekends to educate the public about the summer nesting birds. Their presence made sure the birds were not flushed so the young grow up healthy and strong and become better breeders for next season.

Bad News: This summer revealed the declining population of Least Terns for the last 2 summers. 

Photos by Rick Woodworth | The Waterways of Marco Island was declared impaired by FDEP through a letter to the City of Marco Island in August 2019. December’s test result was found to be the worst on record for Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Chlorophyll A.

Gopher Tortoises: The Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee (BACR) has committed funds for a population survey of the species in 2020. 

Bad News: Gopher Tortoises are facing increasing threats from contractors driving over vacant lots with known gopher tortoise habitat, thus potentially collapsing burrows. A full truckload of sand was dumped over gopher tortoise burrows and this year death from car strikes is still the biggest threat to declining gopher tortoise population.

Dune Vegetation: Madeira Condo received a Consent Order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to restore the dune and its vegetation. May needs MIPD Beach Patrol to keep a closer eye on Madeira for 2020.

Bad News: Madeira caught Illegally cutting down dune vegetation twice and violating sea turtle lighting ordinance twice. Madeira and their contractor RR Restoration both received $8000 fines. Cost of doing business? 

Big Marco Pass: According to Adam DiNuovo of Audubon Florida, Big Marco Pass (Sand Dollar Island) is the last remaining nesting shorebird habitat that for now has seen little degradation. It is super important to preserve it.

Bad News: The City of Marco Island has applied to the FDEP to trim mangroves in the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) for added vehicular traffic. Increased vehicular traffic is likely to inflict damage to this ecologically sensitive area and is potentially bad news for wildlife.

Tigertail Lagoon: Friends of Tigertail (FOT) taking a lead role in resolving lagoon’s water issues.

Bad News: Tigertail has a problem with sand filling the lagoon. Water quality decreases through a lack of water exchange during tidal flows. This could pose a health issue tied to fecal matter in water. 

According to Shorebird Steward Maria Bachich, “If people become more aware of the magnificent wildlife we have on this island, they are more likely to protect them.”


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