Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beach Cleanup This Saturday, September 17

Please Join the Friends of Tigertail as we partner w/ Keep Collier Beautiful & Ocean Conservancy

to participate in the 26th Annual International Coastal Cleanup !

Saturday September 17, 2011

8 AM to 12 NOON

On Tigertail Beach

Wear shoes that may get wet, sunscreen and hat !

The Friends of Tigertail will provide water bottles, plastic gloves, garbage bags.

Check out our website for more information: or

See attached flyer for the Friends of Tigertail 2011 Cleanup Schedule

Contact : Susan LaGrotta 239-394-1470

Sign Up Early for Free T-Shirts Provided by Keep Collier Beautiful !

This is a special event that takes place world wide, help us continue to keep our beaches beautiful !

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A positive proposal

This letter to the editor appeared today in Naples Daily News. It makes a positive suggestion in reference to the recent destruction of gopher tortoise habitat on Marco Island:

Almost putting it back

Editor, Daily News:

I do research on gopher tortoises, focusing on Marco Island’s unique population.

Anyone can imagine how frustrated I feel with the Marco Island Academy (MIA).

After destroying about five acres of gopher tortoise habitat and paying to remove a small gopher tortoise population off the island, MIA has decided to not put a temporary school in an area they bulldozed and destroyed on Marco Island near Key Marco.

The school said its goals included teaching students about Marco Island’s native animals and environment. I think they can do so by comparing their actions with a tornado. Both leave devastation, destruction and chaos in their path. The tornado destroys by natural forceful winds; the school does so through political influence, misguided determination and false promises. Both replace life with vacancy and emptiness.

When I was about 8 years old, I learned a valuable lesson from my grandparents. Walking with my grandmother I would often pick wild flowers. One afternoon as I was picking flowers my grandmother told me we already had flowers at the cabin and I should put the flowers back which I had picked.

I suddenly realized I could not put the flowers back; I was unable to replace what I had taken.

Similarly, the damage to Marco Island’s gopher tortoises and their habitat has been done by MIA. It cannot be undone, but perhaps together we can turn a terrible mistake for something better.

Could this site near Key Marco be a future gopher tortoise preserve? Would MIA lend its support to such an endeavor?

— Julie Ross

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some encouraging news

Although there has been a lot of discouraging environmental news here on Marco Island lately, word is that sea turtle nesting is up significantly in Collier County this year. Read more here:

Harboring Enemies, or Protecting Friends?

I was walking in my neighborhood a few months ago and to my right, a flash of movement caught my eye under a bush. It was a black racer - no doubt a female, being chased by another, no doubt a male. It was that time of year, and the snakes were getting frisky.

Snakes are active year-round here in Southwest Florida, but springtime means more activity, and that often means more danger for them.

A while back I heard grown men shouting in front of my house. I rushed out to the street as some county employees were about to dispatch a small snake with a shovel. "Stay back! It's a copperhead!" they said as I approached. They were shocked when I intervened and picked him up gently and explained to them that there are no copperheads in our area, and that this was a harmless baby corn snake.

"I'd just as soon kill 'em all," one fellow said.

"Then you must like rats and mice a lot more than snakes," I replied. "If you kill the snakes, you're asking for more rats and mice."

"Never thought of it that way," he said. "But how do you know which ones are dangerous?"

That's easy for us on Marco Island. There are very few if any venomous snakes left on the island. If any remain, they're probably pygmy rattlesnakes which are easy to identify by their thick, grayish, spotted bodies, spade-shaped head, and vertical (cat-like) pupils, plus a small (often non-functional) rattle. A cottonmouth may also wander into the mangroves from time to time. But if you leave them alone, you can be sure they'll leave you alone.

The snakes we're likely to see here are almost always one of the following harmless varieties:

The Black Racer is most common - a sleek black snake (gray with darker blotches when they're newborns), two or three feet long, with a distinctive white chin. As their name suggests, they're fast and often disappear before you really get a look at them. They have to be fast to catch lizards, mice, and baby rats. They'll bite if you grab them, but not many of us are fast enough to do so, and their bite is harmless anyway.

The Corn Snake is a beautiful snake, sometimes four feet long, with orange and brown coloration. They're most active from dusk to dawn here, when their favorite foods, mice and rats, are also active. They are the most common snake to be kept as a pet.

The corn snake's cousin, the yellow rat snake, may also be found on rare occasion on the island. Just to confuse us, they're grayish when young.

The Mangrove Water snake is also strikingly beautiful - and equally harmless. It's rust-red to orange in color, and as the name suggests, they live in and around mangroves, sometimes venturing farther inland.

The Southern Ringneck snake sometimes shows up, but they're so small and secretive that you're unlikely to see one unless it's been flattened by a car when crossing a road.

The smallest snake on the island, the Brahminy Blind snake, is an invasive species from India, and if you see one under a rock or buried in your mulch, you'll likely think it's a worm, not a snake. Again, absolutely harmless to humans, although they love to eat termites.

Colorful scarlet snakes (which mimic coral snakes, but are themselves harmless) have also been found here on rare occasion, and ribbon, garter, and brown snakes may also be occasionally encountered. And we've all heard about the infamous Burmese Pythons that have gotten a foothold (so to speak) in South Florida, but have been a lot rarer since the record cold temperatures in 2010.

A new group on the island, Eco Marco, is trying to collect data on snake sightings. If you see a snake (alive or dead) that you can identify or describe, you can let us know at our website ( If you need help relocating a snake that has gotten into your garage or pool, you can also contact us.

If you choose to live in Florida, you're choosing a natural paradise, and a sensible responsibility that goes along with the privilege of living here is knowing a bit about your non-human neighbors, including snakes. Learn about them and you won't be afraid of them, and you certainly won't kill them. You might even find them, as more and more people do, fascinating and even beautiful.

In spite of their sullied reputation, they're not enemies to be destroyed, but friends to be respected and protected.

Photos of former gopher tortoise habitat on San Marco Rd.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gopher Tortoise Basics for Marco Islanders

We are fortunate here on Marco Island to have a small but thriving population of gopher tortoises. Some live on developed land, a few at the north end of the island but most at the south end along the ridge-line of higher ground that runs along Inlet and Dogwood Drives. Most live on undeveloped lots, which means they are vulnerable when those lots are developed.

They're also vulnerable to careless drivers. Here's how small a young tortoise is when crossing the road - easy to hit if you aren't paying attention!

Here's what it looks like when driver's aren't careful:

Please help us spread the word about the need to protect gopher tortoises on Marco Island - whether from decimation through reckless development or through careless driving.

Gopher Tortoise Decimation ...

If you've driven down San Marco towards Goodland lately, you've seen what looks like a war zone at 2297 San Marco Road. The damage was done by Marco Island Academy. MIA organizers announced plans earlier this year to open their new charter school there, in spite of the fact that doing so would mean the destruction of important habitat for gopher tortoises, a state-protected species.

I live nearby and have been watching that population of gopher tortoises closely for quite a while. I know that there were far more tortoises present than the ones that were relocated by FWC. I also know, based on the important field and genetic work being done by wildlife biologist Julie Ross, that relocation of even a few individual animals from our genetically distinct population is not good conservation practice.

How were permits issued so quickly for the destruction of habitat and relocation of a protected species? Were proper protocols followed, or were corners cut at the expense of wildlife and people who care about wildlife? A good journalist would be doing the community a public service by investigating the timeline of this project, and the degree of its compliance with state wildlife laws.

Last week the Eagle reported that MIA is abandoning the property (at least temporarily), having permanently decimated it as tortoise habitat and having permanently reduced the number of tortoises left on our island. Their decision to relocate to First Baptist Family Church was, according to the Eagle, made for financial reasons.

What the story didn't report is that MIA, in its rush to start something of value, has taken something of value from all of us who live on Marco Island. It's hard to put a dollar value on our natural beauty and already-dwindling ecological diversity, but there's no question that we are now poorer than we were before.

I'm especially saddened because over the last few months, I've seen several tortoises killed by cars in the Dogwood Drive area where I live. (For some rather gruesome pictures, go to and Careless driving and reckless planning, it turns out, have similar effects on wildlife.

"Who cares?" might be the response of some, but Marco Island's leaders would be unwise to dismiss the tourism value of our native wildlife. Our beach is great, but why shouldn't we offer a great beach plus a vibrant natural environment where people have the chance to observe eagles, gopher tortoises, burrowing owls, native songbirds, and other remnants of "the real Florida?"

We can hope that our journalists, local elected officials, and FWC will do a better job of monitoring future projects with the goal of preventing future tragedies like the one that just occurred on San Marco drive.

In that light, it's more clear than ever how wise the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation ( was to organize and act quickly to protect our island's small eagle population. They knew that the only way you can protect a protected species is by protecting its habitat. Those of us who are concerned about the whole range of our native wildlife need to follow the good example of MESF by advocating and organizing for our fellow creatures who have neither voices, votes, nor money.

Each time I drive by the scene of destruction at 2297 San Marco Road, I'll be increasingly motivated to do just that.