Viewing entries tagged
sanibel tips

5 birds to keep your eye out for this fall

Comment

5 birds to keep your eye out for this fall

Sanibel Island’s warm subtropical climate is perfect for birds to thrive in all year long. Here are five fascinating birds that you may see roosting in the mangroves or relaxing on the sand flats this fall. We would also like to give a special thanks to Lillian Stokes for allowing us to share her beautiful photography! All images are copyright Lillian Stokes. 

 

Roseate Spoonbill

The first time you see a spoonbill flying overhead with its pastel plumage and trailing legs, it is almost instinctual to think it's a flamingo, but it's easy to tell the difference upon closer inspection.  Roseate Spoonbills inhabit Sanibel year-round, but the cooler fall months are a great time to spot them foraging in mucky water around low tide. The spoonbill is a very tactile feeder, and it wiggles its spoon-shaped bill through the water until it senses an unlucky crustacean to snack on. If you would like to see a spoonbill, a visit to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is your best bet.

 

American White Pelican

The arrival of the American White Pelican in the fall months is a highly anticipated event for birders on Sanibel. These birds are much larger than the familiar Brown Pelicans that we see year-round, and have a striking black and white plumage. Journeying thousands of miles from the Rocky Mountains and Northern Canada, these birds almost always arrive on Sanibel in October, right on schedule. You don't have to look too hard for these giant birds – you can usually find them feeding along Wildlife Drive in Ding Darling or soaring over the island showing off their 9-foot wingspan!

 

Black Skimmer

Even though the Black Skimmer can be spotted on Sanibel's Gulf Drive beaches throughout the year, the fall is a great time to see both adult and juvenile skimmers. It is hard to describe a skimmer without comparing them to a Muppet character - you can often see these birds waddling along the beach on legs that are just long enough to support their top-heavy frames. If you look at their bright orange bill closely, you will notice that the top half is slightly shorter than the bottom. Strangely enough, the skimmer uses this uneven bill as it flies just inches above the ocean, dipping its lower jaw into the water in hopes of catching a fish. When the bird feels a fishy texture on its lower bill, it quickly snaps its mouth shut and flies off with the unsuspecting fish. You can find this aptly named bird on almost any Gulf beach from Sanibel to Captiva, as well as at Bunche Beach Preserve in Ft. Myers.

 

White-crowned Pigeon

This lesser-known pigeon is always a treat for bird watchers on Sanibel because it doesn’t visit our neck of the woods very often and is actually a threatened species in the state of Florida. Standing just taller than a Mourning Dove, this pigeon is mostly black and as its name suggests, has a white crown. It is often heard before it's seen, calling out a soft hoo-hoo-HOOOO. The White-crowned Pigeon is a rare occurrence on Sanibel but may be seen October through April, if you're lucky – so keep your eyes and ears open this season! White-crowned Pigeons have been previously spotted in Ding Darling on Wildlife Drive and along the Shell Mound Trail nestled in between mangrove branches.

 

American Oystercatcher

About the size of a backyard chicken and with striking plumes, this shorebird is sure to stand out from the crowd. You may find oystercatchers standing extremely still waiting for the tide to recede or you may see them actively foraging in shallow water in search of oysters, clams, and mussels. These birds put their spear-like bill to good use by quickly stabbing open bivalves to sever the adductor muscle that is used to keep their shell closed. With no way for the clam to snap its shell shut and no other escape route, the soft-bodied animal is quickly devoured by the oystercatcher.  If you happen to be on a boat, you can see oystercatchers feeding on Little Sanibel (the sandbar East of the causeway), or they can be seen from land at Bunche Beach Preserve in Ft. Myers.

Comment

5 Types of Jellies in the Gulf of Mexico

17 Comments

5 Types of Jellies in the Gulf of Mexico

By: Emily Sampson

When it comes to jellies, sometimes we feel their presence before we actually see them.  While this may be a bit unnerving to humans, these fascinating creatures have been drifting in the seas for over 500 million years and are an important link in the marine food chain. Many sea jellies pack a powerful sting, so it is important to know the difference between the harmful and the not so harmful.

 Here is a list of 5 sea jellies (or jelly-like creatures) that you may encounter around Sanibel and in the Gulf of Mexico:

Moon jellies are easily recognizable by the 4 petal-like reproductive organs that can be seen through their bell. 

Moon Jelly - Aurelia aurita

 Moon jellies are the most common species found around Sanibel. Like all jellies, this species isn’t an excellent swimmer but is able to pulse its sac-like body called the bell, through the water. Moon jellies have short tentacles along the outer margins of the bell that are packed with nematocycts, or stinging cells. Jellies use these cells to aid in capturing prey and for the moon jelly, is zooplankton. Not to worry though, their stinging cells aren’t strong enough to penetrate human skin and will only cause a very mild irritation. 

 

These graceful jellies mostly consume zooplankton but their powerful nematocysts allow them to consume larger prey, such as minnows and small crustaceans.Their sting can also produce a moderate irritation in humans. 

These graceful jellies mostly consume zooplankton but their powerful nematocysts allow them to consume larger prey, such as minnows and small crustaceans.Their sting can also produce a moderate irritation in humans. 

Atlantic Sea NettleChrysaora quinquecirrha

Sea nettles possess several long tentacles and long, trailing oral arms. What's interesting about these jellies is that their colors vary depending on salinity levels and therefore may appear transparant or white when found in brackish waters on the bayside of Sanibel. When found in the saltier waters of the Gulf, red and brown streaks radiate from the center of the bell.   

The cannonball jelly has tiny "warts" located on its bell that are packed with stinging cells. 

The cannonball jelly has tiny "warts" located on its bell that are packed with stinging cells. 

Cannonball Jellyfish Stomolophus meleagris

Also known as the cabbage head jellyfish, it’s easy to guess where these jellies get their name.  When floating, cannonball jellies take on a spherical shape with multiple, stubby oral arms peaking from underneath the red-fringed bell.  Cannonball jellies play an important role in the marine ecosystem because they are the preferred prey for the endangered leatherback sea turtle. In addition to being a food source, they also form symbiotic relationships with fish and juvenile longnose spider crabs.

 

Drymonematidae is the name of the recently added family of jellies and thanks to the pink meanie, it is the first new family of jellies since 1921.

Drymonematidae is the name of the recently added family of jellies and thanks to the pink meanie, it is the first new family of jellies since 1921.

Pink Meanie - Drymonema larsoni

A newly described jelly, the pink meanie, was initially observed about 15 years ago in the Gulf of Mexico during a massive moon jelly bloom. When scientists took a closer look, they noticed that this jelly was feeding on the moon jellies and that it was drastically different than anything that had seen previously. It was so distinct, that they created a new family just to classify it! These pink meanies were collected for study near Dauphin Island, Alabama but are extremely rare elsewhere. While they may not be seen commonly in the waters near Sanibel, you never know what could drift along the currents and surprise us all! 

 

Comb jellies have a simple, gelatinous body much like true jellies but they aren't in the phylum Cnidaria. Instead, they are classified as Ctenophores because they lack specialized stinging cells. 

Comb jellies have a simple, gelatinous body much like true jellies but they aren't in the phylum Cnidaria. Instead, they are classified as Ctenophores because they lack specialized stinging cells. 

Comb JelliesCtenophoroa

These jellyfish look-alikes are not taxonomically related to jellies but we think these creatures are too interesting not to share! Their beautiful ovoid bodies are lined with thousands of tiny hair-like structures called cilia that they use to propel themselves through the water, often illuminating with bioluminescence. Even though these jellies may look similar to jellyfish, they have a major difference that is perhaps in our favor – they don’t sting! That’s right, these gentle jellies do not have nematocysts. Instead of using a powerful sting to capture their prey, they use colloblasts, which are sticky cells that essentially glue their prey to their tentacles.  So, have no fear in handling one of these delicate creatures!

17 Comments

5 Ways to protect sea turtles

Comment

5 Ways to protect sea turtles

This week's post is by high school intern Adam Tardif, in collaboration with Nicole Finnicum. Thanks Adam!

Here on Sanibel, we all love our sea turtles, and we want to make sure that we are good neighbors to them. As the sea turtle nesting season begins, it is important to realize that humans can sometimes disturb the nesting process without even realizing it. Here are five things you can do as an individual to help in the effort to protect sea turtles:

1. Don't litter. Large pieces of litter can act as a physical barrier to sea turtles searching for the perfect nesting site. Also, trash floating in the ocean (plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic bottles, fishing lures, etc.) can resemble common sea turtle food items, and if ingested can cause turtles to choke or experience digestive disturbances – not much fun for these magnificent creatures. But perhaps the best reason not to litter is that you will feel good knowing that you have helped to make Sanibel a safer place for wildlife.

Plastic bags floating in the ocean may resemble jellyfish, a common prey item for leatherback sea turtles. To help solve this problem, opt for reusable bags when you shop.

Plastic bags floating in the ocean may resemble jellyfish, a common prey item for leatherback sea turtles. To help solve this problem, opt for reusable bags when you shop.

2. Turn your lights off at night (especially if you live on the beach). Artificial lights can be distracting to adult sea turtles that are nesting – they have the most nesting success in just the light of the moon. Also, hatchling turtles will crawl towards the brightest light they see, which is usually the moon reflecting off of the ocean. Artificial light can be very confusing to a newly hatched turtle and may expose them to predation or cause them to become disoriented or lost.

3. Dispose of fishing materials in designated bins. Sea turtles are good swimmers and their front fins are very powerful. However, since sea turtles move their front fins in a circular motion, they frequently become entangled in fishing lines and ropes. Sanibel Sea School has placed monofilament recycling bins near popular fishing spots on Sanibel – please look for them and use them when you are fishing!

A sea turtle is found entangled in a buoy line...

A sea turtle is found entangled in a buoy line...

... is freed by a fisherman ....

... is freed by a fisherman ....

... and swims safely back into the ocean.

... and swims safely back into the ocean.

4. Leave the beach as you found it. We love spending a day at the beach, lounging in a beach chair and digging sand castles. But, sea turtles are clumsy on land and obstacles like beach furniture and holes are difficult for them to maneuver around, and could block them from reaching an ideal nesting site.

 

5. Don't drive on the beach. While driving on the beach can be lots of fun, vehicles pose a threat to nesting adults, and tire tracks in the sand can make traveling to the ocean much more difficult for recently-emerged hatchlings. While we are on the topic of transportation – watch out for sea turtles in your boat as well!

If you are interested in the most up-to-date information on local nesting sites on Sanibel and Captiva, click here

 

Comment

1 Comment

5 Edible Plants on Sanibel Island

The abundant sunshine and year-round warmth on Sanibel allows for the growth of rich and diverse plant communities. Because we have great access to this native vegetation, our island is a perfect place for foraging - the practice of finding wild plants that can be gathered as food. Foraging is a fun way to get in touch with nature by learning about plants and then searching for them. Here are five edible and easily identifiable plants that can be found on Sanibel.

Note: Please be sure that you have identified edible plants correctly, as many plants may be toxic. We recommend carrying a field guide or doing some research online, so that you are sure you have properly identified the plants – if you’re not 100% sure, don’t eat it - ask an expert!

1.     Seagrape. Just like regular grapes, you can eat the ripe, purple grapes right off of the tree, however, many people think they taste pretty awful. So, we recommend making jelly or juice out of the grapes, which makes them much sweeter and more palatable. You can try these easy recipes here: http://sseminolefarmandnursery.com/recipeseagrape.html

*The seagrape tree is protected in the state of Florida, so it is illegal to harvest from public trees. When harvesting grapes, make sure you have permission from a private owner.

( Photo: www.eattheweeds.com)

( Photo: www.eattheweeds.com)

 

2.     Cocoplum. This shrub is often trimmed into hedges for landscaping around yards, but can also be found along beaches and swamps. Cocoplum shrubs have egg-shaped leaves and bear a small round fruit that can be purple, white, or red. These colorful berries can be eaten raw or made into yummy jams and jellies.

( Photo: www.eattheweeds.com)

( Photo: www.eattheweeds.com)

 

3.     Sea Purslane. You can find this salty snack growing in masses along the dunes on any beach. Top off your salad with a few of the salty leaves or nibble on some while you are at the beach. Here’s a recipe that we are definitely going to try: http://norecipes.com/tomato-purslane-salad-with-white-peach-dressing/

(Photo: http://www.seestjohn.com/flora_sea_purslane.html)

(Photo: http://www.seestjohn.com/flora_sea_purslane.html)

4.     Shepard’s Needle. You have probably seen this daisy look-alike growing in your lawn. Often considered a weed, this power-packed plant is an important source of nectar for pollinators and is edible for us! You can use the raw leaves in a salad or sauté them up with other veggies in a stir-fry.

(Photo: www.floridasurvivalgardening.com)

(Photo: www.floridasurvivalgardening.com)


5.     Saw Palmetto Berries. Widely cultivated for their medicinal purposes, these berries were used medicinally by Native Americans and are still used as a supplement today. The dark, olive-shaped berries can be eaten right off the tree and are rich in protein and minerals

( Photo: www.eattheweeds.com)

( Photo: www.eattheweeds.com)

For more information on foraging and edible plants in Florida, visit www.eattheweeds.com. Happy foraging! 

1 Comment

1 Comment

5 of our favorite shells (and 5 things you may not know about them)

If you're an avid beachcomber of Sanibel Island, you probably already know (and have found) these 5 shells. However, we have added some fun facts about the creatures that inhabit these shells that might just make them more fascinating!

1.     Lightning Whelk. This predatory snail is unique among the gastropods because its shell spirals to the left, while about 90% of gastropods spiral to the right. They also lay those long, snake-like egg cases that we see washed up in the wrack line, that may contain up to 3,000 embryos each!

Lightning whelk egg case washed ashore. 

Lightning whelk egg case washed ashore. 

2.     Alphabet Cone. Cone snails are notorious for their specialized hunting style – they use a modified tooth as a venomous harpoon to sting and paralyze their prey. If you find a live one, be sure to handle with care as you return it to the sea. Check out the video below to watch a relative of the alphabet cone hunt for prey - if you're short on time, fast forward to the 1:40 mark). 


3.     West Indian Worm Shell. Despite their worm-like appearance, these curvy creatures are actually gastropod snails that attach themselves to sponges or rocks. The irregular spiraling of the shell can reach up to 3 inches long.

4.     Lettered Olive. These shiny shells can often be seen at low tide slowly cruising along the sandbar. Even though they look peaceful, olives move across the sand in search of tiny bivalves that they grab with their muscular foot, then drag below the sand to consume.

5.     Coquina. Also known as butterfly clams, these colorful mini-mollusks love to catch a wave and surf to their feeding grounds. You can find these guys burrowing just below the surf near the water line – see how many colors you can find!

From left to right: Lightning Whelk, Alphabet Cone, West Indian Worm Shell, Lettered Olive, and Coquina

From left to right: Lightning Whelk, Alphabet Cone, West Indian Worm Shell, Lettered Olive, and Coquina


1 Comment

1 Comment

5 Sustainable Seafood Choices in Florida

It's an important part of SW Florida culture to eat and enjoy fresh seafood from our local waters, but it's also our responsibility as good stewards of the ocean to make wise choices and avoid eating species that have been overfished. At Sanibel Sea School, when it comes to seafood, the general rules we follow are "eat less, eat local, and eat low on the food chain". Here's a quick list of suggestions if you're in the area and looking for a sustainable meal:

1.     Cobia (US Farmed). These fish grow quickly and efficiently, and require less protein in their feed than other farmed species. They are rarely fished commercially, so wild populations remain healthy. Cobia filets are mild and buttery, with a meaty texture - often available at Publix thanks to their new partnership with Open Blue, a Miami-based farming operation. (http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/03/13/open-blue-cobia-penetrates-publix-super-markets/)

2.     Florida Oysters. Apalachicola Bay, located in the panhandle, provides 90% of Florida’s oysters that are sustainably grown and hand harvested. The rich Apalachicola estuary is one of the last areas where wild oysters are harvested from small boats. Oysters and other shellfish are usually a great choice, since they are filter feeders that clean the water as they eat. 

3.     Mahi Mahi (Troll or poll caught). This popular game fish is fast-growing and spawns early in life making it a great alternative to grouper and Chilean sea bass, which are vulnerable to overfishing. Additionally, Mahi Mahi caught using troll or pole fishing methods reduces the chance of by-catch, which keeps our sea turtles and sea birds safe.

4.     Tilapia (US Farmed). Tilapia is a fast-growing, easily cultured omnivorous species and is extremely versatile in the culinary world. Sarasota Organic Tilapia Farms and RoyalTila based in Punta Gorda are both committed to producing sustainable, eco-friendly, organically fed fish. These facilities are among many in Southwest Florida that are supplying local tilapia to restaurants and grocery stores.

5. Your Catch. Perhaps the most sustainable way to consume seafood is by catching it yourself – we think it’s the most fun too! Be sure to check your local fishing regulations for size limitations and seasons. Here’s a link to recreational fishing regulations from FWC: http://www.myfwc.com/media/2714988/Coastal-species-quick-chart.pdf  

1 Comment

Comment

5 Tips for Biking on Sanibel

Thousands of people frequent the 27 miles of  bike paths on Sanibel every year, and how can we blame them? We are so lucky to have such a beautiful, bike friendly island! Here are some local biking tips from our staff:

1. If you're visiting, rent a bicycle at Billy's Bike Rentals. They have a bike for everyone - single-speed, multi-speed, hybrids, and bikes for kids! Billy's also has a bike shop for all of your gear needs if you are an experienced cyclist, and they have a great map of our island bike paths on their website!

2. Bike through Wildlife Drive at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. For only $1.00, this trail will take you inside the refuge where you will see many types of wading birds, mullet jumping, and maybe even an otter or two. Wildlife Drive is a 4 mile pedal within the refuge, then brings you out on Sanibel-Captiva Road where it's just 3 miles back to the refuge entrance. A great 7-mile loop that will leave you deserving an ice cream!

3. Visit Bailey Homestead (off of Periwinkle Way just past Dairy Queen and the Lazy Flamingo) for off-road biking. One of the most serene off-the-beaten-path spots on Sanibel, this hard shell-packed trail is great for mountain bikes (or walking) and allows you to feel far removed from the hustle and bustle of the main bike path. It's also a great place to spot large alligators and dozens of cormorants and anhingas drying their wings.

4. Take a turn down the back roads. There are dozens of charming neighborhoods off of San-Cap and the Gulf Drives, just waiting to be explored. Fill up your reusable water bottle and venture out in search of your island dream home. 

5. Bike the entire island at least once! Just under 15 miles, the main bike path takes you from the Sanibel Lighthouse all the way to Blind Pass in Captiva. This day trip is a must-do for all levels of bikers because there is just so much to see - Gopher Tortisoes munching on grass, Red-shouldered Hawks soaring overhead, and lush vegetation lining the roads. You can refill your water bottle at Ding Darling along the way and refuel with a delicious lunch in Santiva. Or if you're ambitious, carry on all the way to Captiva and say hello to the manatees at Jensen's Marina! 

 

Do you have biking tips to add? Do share!

Comment

Comment

5 Great Places to Fill Up Your Reusable Coffee Mug


Piggybacking off of our last 'Sanibel Tips' blog post, we are back this week to help you fill up those reusable mugs with our top picks for coffee on Sanibel. Here's where we recommend to get hydrated or caffeinated: 

1) Bennett's Fresh Roast. Delicious coffee and homemade donuts - the perfect morning kick start.  

2) The Sanibel Bean. At this family friendly establishment, you can cool down with a yummy frozen chai or even a smoothie. 

3) Bailey's Coffee Bar. Fill up your reusable mug here to fuel your grocery shopping. 

4) Dolce Tesoro - Simply Cupcakes. Enjoy your coffee paired with the best cupcakes on island. 

5) Sanibel Sea School. That's right, SX3 is now serving our own house blend coffee - organic, artisan roasted, fair-trade African beans. Our coffee comes with great conversation and fun facts about the ocean. The best part - it's free! 

Still need a reusable bottle? Sanibel Sea School has two stainless steel Kleen Kanteen bottles for sale: an 18oz water bottle and a 20oz vacuum insulated thermos. The insulated thermos keeps your beverages cool for 24 hours or hot for 6 hours and even comes with a cafe lid - a must have! 

Still need a reusable bottle? Sanibel Sea School has two stainless steel Kleen Kanteen bottles for sale: an 18oz water bottle and a 20oz vacuum insulated thermos. The insulated thermos keeps your beverages cool for 24 hours or hot for 6 hours and even comes with a cafe lid - a must have! 


Comment

Comment

5 Ways to Eliminate or Reduce the Amount of Plastic You Use

Plastics were first invented to make our lives as consumers easier. Unfortunately, with overconsumption and improper disposal many of the plastics we use end up in the ocean. Plastics in the ocean are harmful and even fatal to sea creatures, so we need your help in reducing the amount that we use! Here's how you can do your part: 

1. Reusable Grocery Bags.  When plastic bags end up in the ocean, animals such as sea turtles often confuse them for their prey (jellyfish). Don’t have one? Stop by Sanibel Sea School and we will give you one - free!

2. Reusable containers for food. These can be washed and reused again and again instead of single-use plastic wrap and baggies - more for your money.

3. Use real silverware! I always keep a spoon and fork in my backpack and simply wash them after use. Plastic cutlery is made out of molecules produced from petroleum and takes an enormous amount of energy to produce - a very long process for something we use in just minutes! 

4. Reusable water bottle. Plastic bottles and lids are frequently washed into the ocean and consumed by animals. These bottles never break down! With a reusable water bottle, you can keep your beverage nice and cool and even infuse water with yummy fruit! Check out this fascinating video on plastic water bottle use : 

5. Make your own shampoo/toiletries.  We go through a lot of shampoo, body wash, and lotion – all of these are packaged in plastic bottles. You can eliminate these bottles by making your own toiletries. Not only is this beneficial for the environment but it's good for your body too! These can be made with aromatic essential oils and without harsh chemicals! Here’s a recipe to get you started:  http://shalommama.com/homemade-shampoo

Check out Emily being super sustainable with her reusable bag and water bottle! 

Check out Emily being super sustainable with her reusable bag and water bottle! 

 

Comment

Comment

Traffic Tips During High Season

If you frequent Sanibel Island during high season, you have most likely experienced congested traffic on Periwinkle Way. Here are some tips to avoid traffic and get you to the beach quicker! 

1) Avoid traveling west (toward Captiva) from 9:00AM-12:00PM and avoid traveling east (off-island) from 2:00PM-5:00PM

2) When driving during these peak times, utilize the gulf roads (East Gulf, Middle Gulf, West Gulf, to Rabbit Road)

3) Pay it forward by letting people out in front of you - and smile as you wave them on

4) Ride your bike - get some exercise and get there faster

5) Be Patient - you're on island time! 

photo (13).JPG


Comment