Living on self-proclaimed sanctuary islands where residents take pride in co-existing in harmony with nature means celebrating Earth Day every day. With an influx of new residents, it's a good time for all of us to remember to be ambassadors in protecting and caring for our coastal ecosystems. We've put together a general list of island-specific ways to help that you can share with visitors, new neighbors, and others who may need to be reminded, especially now as sea turtle and shorebird nesting is underway, it's the height of dry season, and terrestrial turtles are migrating.
At the Beach
Lights out for sea turtles. Nesting and hatchling sea turtles mistake artificial lights for the light of the moon and crawl off-course into the dunes, where they often die from predation or dehydration. Lighting on the beach is the number one threat to sea turtles while they’re on the beach. Turn off all lights, including flashlights, visible from the beach between April 15-November 30.
Leave only footprints on the beach and take all refuse with you. Litter attracts predators, which prey on sea turtle eggs, hatchlings, and shorebirds. Sea turtles can become tangled in beach furniture and equipment. Fill in any deep holes you or others may have dug on the beach. Adult and hatchling sea turtles and flightless chicks have been observed trapped, unable to climb out. Visit sancaplifesavers.org for more ways to share the shore with sea turtles and shorebirds.
Watch where you step. Several species of birds nest directly on beach sand. Camouflage is their defense against predators but it means beachgoers may unknowingly step on eggs or chicks. Nesting season for snowy plovers runs from February to August. In addition to snowy plovers, SCCF staff and volunteers monitor nesting Wilson’s plovers and least terns—both start nesting in April.
Allow sleeping birds to rest. Often flocks of birds can be seen along the shoreline. Birds may be in the middle of migration that will require thousands of miles of flight. Energy spent avoiding humans and dogs can mean they do not have enough to complete their migration. Please do not "flush" the birds by running into flocks to see them fly.
Retrieve your fishing line. Abandoned strands of fishing line can entangle birds, manatees, and dolphins. Dolphins have been observed with fishing lures snagged in their mouths. Unable to feed, these beautiful animals can perish. Learn more at mindyourline.org.
Drive carefully. Spring and late spring are the times when terrestrial turtles and gopher tortoises are most likely to be crossing our roads. You are responsible for the safety of others including wildlife on roads and roadsides. Islanders frequently stop to allow a gopher tortoise to pass safely. If a turtle is crossing the road and you want to assist it, please be sure to take it to the side of road it was traveling, or it will just try to cross again.
Create a wildlife habitat. Plant native vegetation to attract butterflies, birds and other indigenous creatures to your own backyard. Native vegetation will also reduce the need for irrigation and use of harmful pesticides and herbicides. SCCF’s Native Landscapes & Garden Center at 1300 Periwinkle Way can help you with information and supplies.
Conserve water. April is typically the last month of South Florida’s dry season and when water conservation is most critical. The city of Sanibel’s Water Conservation Ordinance permits irrigation two days per week (based upon your property address, odd addresses on Mondays & Thursdays and even addresses on Tuesdays & Fridays). To help prevent water loss through evapotranspiration, which occurs at a higher rate during the hottest parts of the day, irrigation is not permitted between the hours of 9am to 5pm. Click here to access the full Water Conservation Ordinance.
Refrain from feeding wildlife. Doing so can be harmful to wildlife and humans. It is against City regulations to feed any wild animals. Alligators can be particularly dangerous if they have been fed. Federal, state, county, and city laws prohibit the feeding of alligators.
Manage dogs and cats. Keep your cats indoors. Birds can be harmed by these natural predators. Lizards can be poisonous to cats. Alligators and raccoons have the potential to cause harm to your pet. Keep your dogs on a leash. Both City and County regulations require dogs to be on leashes outside a fenced yard and even on the beach. Small dogs have been mistaken for prey by some natural predators. Dogs can disturb nesting wildlife, especially on the beach.
Help injured wildlife. The Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is located at 3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road. CROW has a cadre of volunteers that assist highly trained wildlife veterinarians. Wildlife is brought to the clinic from all over Lee County and neighboring areas. Stop in for a program or call them for advice at (239) 472-3644.