Monday, November 29, 2021

2020 Year-End Environmental Hits and Some Misses

Photos by Jean Hall | From mid-August to early November, over 11 manatees have been stranded at Tigertail lagoon during low tide.


Submitted Photos | In July & August 2020, two-thirds of the black skimmer chicks displayed swollen joints, unable to walk or fly and eventually died. FCW isolated 5 bacteria.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone as COVID-19 ruled our lives. Let’s reflect on what we were able to get done last year under difficult circumstances. Like the Marines, we “learned to improvise, overcome and adapt. 

Clean Waterways Act, SB 712 was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on June 30th to protect Florida’s water quality. It addressed the serious source of pollution contributing to algae bloom in our waterways including septic tanks, waste water treatment facilities, storm water runoffs and agriculture. 

Water Quality – Marco’s impaired waterways are included on a list maintained by the State known as “the 303(d) list, a list of impaired waters required by Federal Law. The city is anxiously awaiting Dr. Harper’s report on Marco’s water quality along with his recommendations. 

Conservation Collier referendum received 77% voter support. The conservation program lacked funding after the original tax expired in 2013. The Conservation Collier referendum would hope to restart land acquisition for conservation. 

Red Tide – Before year-end, red tide delivered masses of dead fish on Marco’s canals and beaches leaving the horrible stench of decay. 

Beach Closures – Marco Island’s beaches were closed on March 19th due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Welcome back – Beach closure was lifted in Collier County on May 9th and Marco’s beaches saw an assault of day trippers from Miami/Dade (where beaches where still closed). The once pristine beach became one big repository of trash! 

Burrowing Owl – The Owl Watch Program went digital for the 2020 nesting season using the NestStory software to track burrows and owls. The season recorded 404 sites; over 3,000 burrow checks and an estimated 2,000+ hours of owl activity. Burrowing Safe Harbor Incentive Program was implemented this year which provides a monetary incentive to residents of Marco Island if they put a starter owl burrow in their yard. Fourteen residents have qualified for the program and will be awarded $250 each by the City.


Submitted Photos | May 9th – Collier County lifted the beach closure and Marco’s beaches were assaulted by day trippers from Miami/Dade—their beaches were closed—leaving mounds of trash behind.


Gopher Tortoises Survey, a conservation and stewardship program, received additional funding. Brittany Piersma, lead survey biologist for Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE)has counted 298 gopher tortoises so far and surveyed 80 properties.  

Photos by Jean Hall | Mid-December, Red tide delivered masses of dead fish on Marco’s beaches and canals.

Sea Turtle Season 2020 started with two sea turtle monitors from the Collier County Sea Turtle Protection Program. In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal inundated many nests. Bad News: For the second year Marco recorded the highest hatchling disorientation in Collier County, which is five times the countywide average of 3% of hatched nest disorientation (16% vs. 3%). Code Enforcement also reported 47 cases of Sea Turtle Lighting violations brought before the Code magistrate.  

Black Skimmer Nesting Colony at Sand Dollar Island – In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal wiped out the nesting colony of 600+ black skimmersUpside: Black Skimmers came back and re-nested. 

Black Skimmer Chicks DieOff – In July & August, two-thirds of the skimmer chicks displayed swollen joints and were unable to walk or fly and most eventually died. Mystery illness was identified by FWC as bacterial dermatitis, tendinitis and osteomyelitis caused by 5 bacteria: Enterococcus faecalis, staphylococcus aureus; serratia marcescens, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. According to DiNuovo, lead biologist for the project, “it may be in the water or it is coming back in the food they were eating. He callfor more testing on the surrounding water bodies to determine the source.




Submitted Photos | Water Quality – Sample of a Water Quality Testing Report showing readings exceeding state limits.

Manatee Rescue – from mid-August to early November, over 1manatees had been caught by low tide and stranded at the Tigertail lagoonIn July, a manatee calf was stranded under a boat dock – all with happy endings. 

Tigertail Lagoon: Discussions on the “restoration” of Tigertail Lagoon started in 2019 with a study by Humiston & Moore and commissioned by the Hideaway Beach Association (HBA) in order to come up with a management plan for the lagoon. A second study was again commissioned by HBA in 2020. HBA will need the input from numerous regulatory agencies along with funding source 

Piping Plovers – Sand Dollar Island is an important wintering habitat for the piping plovers. One identified female Piping Plover banded in Michigan in 2010 has been wintering on Sand Dollar Island since 2013. It was again sighted back in Marco on December 6, 2020. She is ten years old and the talk of the conservation worldPiping Plovers are protected as a threatened species by both State and Federal agencies. 

Concerns for 2021: With the proposal to dredge Tigertail lagoon and deposit the sand on the nesting areas of sea turtlesblack skimmers and least terns – what will happen to the nesting areas? The wintering habitat of the piping plover will also be at risk.


Submitted Photos | 2020 Sea Turtle Season ended recording the highest hatchling disorientation in Collier County – FIVE times the county average of 3%.


3 responses to “2020 Year-End Environmental Hits and Some Misses”

  1. Sharon says:

    I love your honest and factual reporting Maria.
    This is a serious subject that you brought attention too.
    It breaks my heart to see what is happening to our wildlife and sea life.
    Thank you so very much. I pray we can start making a difference through good information and education

  2. Mary Aronin says:

    Thanks for the 2020 environmental update. I hope we (Marco Island) can improve our sea turtle nesting and hatchling disorientation numbers (16% vs. 3% county wide is terrible!) by shielding and/or dimming beach facing lights during nesting season.

    I hope any dredging done at Tigertail only takes place with the blessings of AWE and FWC so as not to disturb the nesting of threatened Piping Plovers and state threatened Black Skimmers on Sand Dollar Island.

    The 2020 water quality chart measuring phosphorus for Marco is terrible! What can we do to improve these numbers?

  3. M C LESKE says:

    Excellent article, very informative and thorough. Please continue to publish updates on environmental issues on Marco. Thank you.

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