It's the first week in April and a quick glance at the calendar will tell you that Easter is less than a couple of weeks away. That's also a reminder that our island's unofficial "season" is about to come to a close, beckoning a fond farewell to the tourists and snowbirds who flock to Sanibel and Captiva each year for various lengths of time.
But for other creatures that frequent the region - most on a year-round schedule - their "seasons" appear just to be starting.
Last week, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation released its first snowy plover nesting numbers of the 2009 season. The highly threatened species, which number only about 200 pairs across the entire Gulf coast of Florida, had its nesting season begin on March 1.
So far on Sanibel, three nests have been spotted, each containing three eggs. On Cayo Costa, SCCF volunteers have identified four nests. No nests have yet been discovered on Captiva.
Because snowy plovers are so well camouflaged, beach-goers must be careful when walking along the shoreline. SCCF has issued warnings to be wary of this delicate species and their nests, along with nests of the least terns. People should not enter areas that are staked with yellow warning tape. If a snowy plover is flushed from its nest, it takes very little time for the hot sun to damage the eggs. With so very few pairs of these birds around, those who don't heed the warning could cause devastating damage for its population.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued a warning to boaters on Tuesday to follow the posted speed zones and watch for manatees as temperatures warm. Manatees are once again moving from warm water sites to coastal areas where they forage for food, rest and care for their young.
Between April 1 and Nov. 15, portions of Pine Island Sound - which includes Pelican Bay and the eastern side of Captiva from Redfish Pass to the south end of Buck Key - are more restrictive now to boaters and have added more Slow Manatee Zones. Since the number of watercraft-related manatee fatalities has risen during the past four months across the state, folks enjoying our local waterways - as well as this loveable, passive mammal species - should heed FWC's warning and take things a little slower during
their boat excursions.
Also, as manatee mating season approaches and herds hover close to the shoreline, swimmers are urged not to try and pet or feed these gentle giants. In fact, Florida law prohibits such interaction and any violators will be fined and/or prosecuted.
Finally, a heads up to loggerhead lovers: sea turtle nesting season begins in less than a month.
Once again, SCCF will be searching for volunteers to walk an assigned zone on Sanibel or Captiva once a week beginning on May 1 through the month of August. Zones are approximately one mile long, and the walks need to be completed by 7:30 a.m. Volunteers should be available to walk through the nesting season, rather than just the first couple of months.
To request more information or to register as a volunteer, contact SCCF at 472-3984.
Our islands are known the world over as a protected wildlife-friendly sanctuary. We should all do our part to keep it that way.
- Reporter editorial