Saturday, December 4, 2021

Celebrate the Natural Wonders of Sand Dollar Island

Photos by Jean Hall | Great news for the start of the nesting season, this Black Skimmer C29 was just recently sighted on Sand Dollar Island—he was banded by Adam DiNuovo in 2017.


Sand Dollar Island (SDI) is one of the few coastal habitats remaining in Florida for coastal nesting, migratory birds, and other wildlife according to Audubon of the Western Everglade’s Policy Associate, Brad Cornell. The state also refers to this spit of sand as Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area.

Submitted Photos
| 1952- Marco Island before development. A small beach and what appears to be a small lagoon off the space where Hideaway Beach exists today. Marco Island beach does not exist.

“The ephemeral nature of Tigertail Lagoon, its mudflats and seagrasses and the shifting sands of Sand Dollar Island are all-natural marvels of nature and provide a diverse suite of habitats for so many species of wildlife. This is an area not only to be protected but to be celebrated,” says Cornell.

“The tip of SDI is the only place that is currently suitable in the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) for successful nesting for the threatened Black Skimmers, Least Terns and the Wilson’s Plovers,” Cornell adds. “While Sea Turtle nesting can occur more compatible with people, they too suffer from over wash risks, so the tip of SDI is important for them. It is guarded from the Gulf winds, waves and erosion.”

Brittany Piersma, shorebird biologist for Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has observed 38 species of birds on Sand Dollar Island and there may be more. It is the start of the 2021 shorebird nesting season on Sand Dollar Island and Piersma is hoping for a more positive outcome for the birds. For 2020, the Black Skimmers had a very rough summer with the loss of nearly 75 percent of their chicks. Prior to the 2020 season, Sand Dollar Island had one of the biggest nesting colonies of Least Terns and Black Skimmers in Florida according to AWE. For this reason, Cornell is advocating for the various regulatory agencies in the state and county to increase water quality testing of nearby waterbodies and to budget and plan for source tracking studies of any wildlife killed by bacteria. In the case of the Black Skimmers, FWC sent suitable carcasses for necropsy to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) which provided a final diagnosis of bacterial dermatitis, tendinitis, and osteomyelitis, with multiple bacteria isolated (Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus, Serratia marcescens, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.



Photos by Jean Hall | Reddish Egret by the mudflats checking the water for a meal.

The recent sighting of Black Skimmer No. C29 was a welcome sight. This bird was banded by Adam DiNuovo in 2017 as a chick on Sand Dollar Island. Sand Dollar is also an important wintering habitat for the endangered Piping Plovers that were sighted near the mudflats in the winter. A Wood Stork was spotted flying low into the lagoon. A large group of 175 Blue-winged Teal Ducks also took advantage of the mudflats.

Piersma added that the evolving and dynamic nature of Tigertail Lagoon attracts new species each year. The Reddish Egret with its dancing behavior is a favorite as this rare and unique bird entertains as well as mesmerizes beach visitors. Everybody’s overall favorites, the shy Roseate Spoonbill and Great White Egret, are frequent visitors to the mudflats with the company of other wading birds. During Sea Turtle season, Sand Dollar Island is a robust nesting site for the threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtles.

Let’s all practice good stewardship every day and celebrate, protect, and preserve the unique ecology of Sand Dollar Island with its amazing wildlife.


How You Can Help:

  1. Respect nesting sites posted with signs.
  2. Keep your dogs at home – an unleashed dog can easily wipe out a bird colony.
  3. Pick up your trash – its attracts predators that can eat eggs or young chicks.
  4. Properly dispose of fishing lines – they can trap, injure, and even kill wildlife.
  5. Do not feed wildlife.
  6. Do not flush resting birds.
  7. Join a beach clean-up.


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