Audubon Florida News

Topic: Coastal Conservation,FL Coastal Islands Sanctuaries

Keep Florida’s Shorelines Beautiful and Safe for All

posted on September 24, 2014 in Coastal Conservation,FL Coastal Islands Sanctuaries

Photo by Rusty ChinnisEach October, volunteer boat captains and their crews coordinated by Audubon’s Florida’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, Tampa Bay Watch, and Sarasota Bay Watch visit bird nesting islands and foraging habitats in west central Florida’s estuaries, lakes, and rivers to remove fishing line and other trash that pose an entanglement threat to birds and other wildlife.

A Saturday in October with a high tide is chosen because this is the only time of the year when almost no birds are nesting on the bird colony sites in this region of Florida.  That means that volunteers can remove the deadly line, balloon ribbon, lures, and other fishing gear snagged in mangrove trees and saltmarsh habitats without endangering chicks or eggs in the nest or frightening fledgling birds.  The higher tides allow boat captains to safely approach islands surrounded by shallow water, seagrass and mudflats, and oysterbeds.

Fishing line is hard to spot, entangled in the mangroves or washed up on marsh and beach shorelines, but it is a clear hazard to wading birds.  Nesting pelicans and wading birds sometimes even deliberately collect it, mistaking it for the softer grass materials that they use to line their nests.  Once a leg or wing is entangled in the line, it becomes a remorseless killer.  A single long line stretching across a bird island can persist for years, entangling many birds.

Audubon and Tampa Bay Watch began the fishing line cleanup in 1993 after a sobering survey at Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay, where staff found over 50 dead birds snared in line. Sarasota Bay Watch, a newly formed group, has been a fishing line cleanup partner with Audubon for six years.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists report that entanglement in fishing gear is the primary cause of mortality of Brown Pelicans, killing adults as well as young, inexperienced birds.  Of course, other birds and wildlife as dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and otters also fall prey to this insidious, invisible killer.

Photo by Mark RachalPre-registration ensures that captains and their crews have permission for this once-a-year event from landowners and managers to otherwise restricted bird nesting sites.  Audubon and the Bay Watch groups have coordinated this activity with park, refuge, and wildlife area managers and receive their full support and participation.

An important component of the fishing line cleanup has been the outreach to fishermen.  Newspaper and other media coverage have helped spread awareness of the need for fishermen to properly dispose of line and other fishing gear.

For Tampa Bay:

BOATERS: Tampa Bay Watch, in partnership with Audubon Florida, is recruiting shallow-draft volunteer boaters to clean Tampa Bay’s colonial bird nesting islands and shorelines on Saturday, September 27.  Contact Anne Dowling, 727.867.8166 or or

For Sarasota Bay:

Join the Sarasota Bay Watch Seventh Annual Monofilament Cleanup on Saturday October 4th at 8:30.  We meet at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, which generously hosts the event with lunch provided to volunteers.  To register, contact


Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary Gets Needed Upgrade

FCIS_Project_August2014This summer, Audubon Florida’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries installed another 425 feet of offshore breakwater at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay, south of Tampa.

The breakwater, created from large pH-balanced hollow concrete pyramids, intercepts waves and ship wakes, slowing erosion of the bird nesting habitats for the nearly 6,000 pairs of colonial waterbirds that nested on the Alafia Bank this spring and summer. The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Shell Marine Grant, funds generated from oil recovered and sold by the government following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This installation is the second large-scale breakwater placed on the north shore of the Alafia Bank, adding to 800 feet installed in 2011.

FCIS_Project_crane_August2014The 8,000-lb concrete pyramid units were lowered into place by a large crane mounted on a barge. The pyramids’ hollow structure and overlapping placement dissipate wave energy, creating a quiet shoreline to protect the island from erosion, which has been toppling bird nesting trees. Oysters and barnacles readily attach to the pH-neutral pyramids, providing habitat for fish and crabs.

The Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, owned by The Mosaic Company and leased to Audubon for management as a bird sanctuary, is a critically important bird nesting site for 16 species of birds, including Brown Pelicans, herons and egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, and American Oystercatchers.

Help Protect Florida’s Nesting Birds

GREG courtship Rick GreenspunSome birds such as cormorants, Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets are already nesting in Florida, so it’s not too early to consider actions to help birds raise their young successfully.

We ask everyone — boaters, nature photographers, bird-watchers, hikers, kayakers, beach-goers — while you are near bird nesting colonies, including the nesting islands, beaches, and shores, to avoid disturbance and to set a good example for others.

NY Times FL pop graphAs Florida’s human population increases, protection of our natural resources — both the wildlife and the habitats that support it — becomes more challenging. It will take all of us working together to ensure that the special and spectacular bird populations, fish, dolphins, manatees, turtles, and all the other wildlife denizens of our community survive in the future. It is both our responsibility and our sacred trust.

These days, with the innovations in digital cameras and lenses, many people can enjoy nature photography and share their experiences. But because this activity has become so popular, it’s critical that the places that we value and the wildlife we love are protected for the future. Intrusion and disturbance of birds at nest, roost, and forage sites when they are most vulnerable must be avoided to ensure future generations of Floridians and visitors can enjoy nature’s spectacle.

For more information:

Visit for tips on what you can do as a home and yard owner to assist bird populations.

Visit for information about what Audubon Florida is doing to protect birds, other wildlife and habitats in our state.

Visit for American Birding Association’s code of birding ethics.

Visit for the National Association of Nature Photographers’ ethical practices guidelines for the Florida Shorebird Alliance photographer guides for comments from local nature photographers on how to ethically capture images while respecting

See for a commentary from Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries’ staff Ann Paul and Mark Rachal about disruptive nature photographers.

Ferman Audubon Truck Challenge

Paul Ferman Blog 1Help Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries through the Ferman Audubon Truck Challenge.

For the second time, we have a special matching offer this year.  Jim and Cecelia Ferman and Ferman Motorcars have generously offered us an opportunity to purchase a new truck at more than one-third off!

Last year donations to Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries matched the 2012 Ferman Audubon Truck Challenge and we replaced one truck.

In this picture, Ferman Chevrolet’s Mark Wilson gave Audubon Sanctuary staff Ann Paul and Mark Rachal the keys to a brand new Silverado truck purchased through the 2012 Ferman Audubon Truck Challenge.  This new truck replaced one of the aging, high-mileage trucks in our two-vehicle fleet.

We want to do that again!  Our old and rusty 1996 Chevy truck has been great, pulling boats to ramps near colonies across west central Florida, but as a boat hauler exposed to salty water, the work for Audubon has been heavy duty.  Several times, we have been stranded on the side of the road, with our Audubon boats in tow behind us, hoping not to be hit by traffic and waiting for rescue.  This is not fun or funny — it means that we have wasted a day during the busy nesting season when we didn’t get our work on the colonial waterbird colonies done, and the maintenance expenses for the old truck are expensive.

Paul Ferman Blog 2

Here is a photo of Audubon’s old, high-mileage, rusty Audubon truck, a 1996 Chevy Silverado 1500.  It has done a good job, but now it’s time to get a replacement.

We appealed to long-time Sanctuary supporter Jim Ferman, and he has suggested a way: Ferman Motorcars will provide a new truck to us at cost, and he will kick-off the match, offering one third of the cost of the new truck.  Now, we need to raise the balance.  Now, we need your help.

Will you make a special donation to the 2013 Ferman Audubon Truck Challenge so that we can safely tow our boats and protect our island sanctuaries?  Donations are, of course, tax deductible and will be Very Much Appreciated!

Online donation:

For more information about how you can participate in the 2013 Ferman Audubon Truck Challenge or for more information about the Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries, please contact Ann Paul at the Sanctuaries office (telephone 813/623-6826 or

VIDEO: American Avocets Cooperate to Find Food

On Sunday, Audubon participated on the Alafia Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on the Mosaic Company’s Riverview Fertilizer Plant’s property. The CBC team consisted of Audubon’s Ann Paul, Mark Rachal, and Carol Cassels, and Mosaic’s Jim Johnson. Here is a great video of a foraging flock of American Avocets cooperating to find abundant food in the spoil area pool.

Have you ever seen this behavior in person?

Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary: A Safe Place for Florida’s Wildlife

posted on November 7, 2013 in FL Coastal Islands Sanctuaries

Bird Is breakwater Oct 2013 Ann PaulIn 2011, Audubon facilitated the installation of a 425 foot man-made reef system to protect Bird Island, one of the islands that make up Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay. The reef will help guard against erosion as well as providing a habitat for planktonic oysters.

Bird Island breakwater DEP inspection Oct 2013 Ann PaulLast month, Florida Department of Environmental Protection compliance staff Brittany Banko, Lindsay Huntermark, and Rebecca Nicker inspected the oysterbar reef breakwater installed on Bird Island at the Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary.

The oysterbar extends 425 feet and intercepts waves, calming water energy impacting the Bird Island south shore, protecting the south cove arm from erosion, creating oyster and fish habitat, and providing foraging and roosting sites for American Oystercatchers, sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and even diamondback terrapins.

Bird Island reef balls with terrapin 9-28-11 RachalThe islands that make up the Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary are home to over 10,000 pairs of nesting birds and is one of the most diverse in the United States. Although, the sanctuary’s most abundant bird is the White Ibis.

Fall Fishing Line Cleanups Protect Florida’s Pelicans

Dead BRPE with fishing line Cortez Key

Brown Pelicans are especially vulnerable to fishing line because of their foraging behavior – tracking and picking out the injured fish in a school.  Sometimes, that injured fish is the bait on a fisherman’s hook.  If the fisherman does not reel the bird in and release it, but cuts the line with a long strand, the pelican flies back to its roost, often a bird colony island.  There, the line becomes tangled in trees, and the pelican, hopelessly caught, dies of dehydration.  Once the line is on the bird island trees, like spiderweb stretching between branches, it can catch and kill more birds.

That is why Audubon and our volunteers in coordination with Tampa Bay Watch and Sarasota Bay Watch go to the bird islands and remove any fishing line or other debris that might catch birds.  But we do this only in the fall when most birds are not nesting on these islands. Rescuing snared birds or removing line in a colony full of adult birds can cause a lot of disturbance. It can cause baby birds to jump out of their nests, or adult birds to fly and leave their eggs and young exposed to predation by crows or death from temperature stress.  Baby birds which can not fly might not be able to make it back into their own nests and will die of starvation.

To participate in the Fall Fishing Line Cleanup, contact Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries (813/623-6826)  or Tampa Bay Watch or Sarasota Bay Watch

“Bridge to Success” Goes Birding at Coffeepot Bayou Island

posted on October 18, 2013 in Birding,FL Coastal Islands Sanctuaries,Wildlife

cp197WEBOn July 9 and 10, students, teachers and counselors with Fairmount Park Elementary and Mark Rachal from Audubon Florida visited Coffeepot Bayou Island to learn about the many wading birds that call St. Petersburg home.  The tour of the bird nesting island was part of the first collaborative summer program “Bridge to Success” science camp between the USF St. Petersburg College of Education and Fairmount Park Elementary.  Audubon Florida was able to participate with the help from funding provided by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

After calibrating their new binoculars and honing their observation skills while looking at the St. Pete Pier and a very accommodating pair of dolphins, the 30 students (15 each day) boarded the tour boat, eager to start spotting the many birds that nest at Coffeepot Bayou Island.  The island was full of young birds including Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolored herons, Great, Snowy and Cattle egrets that waited patiently for their parents to return and then begged to be fed.

cp214WEBMany students quickly learned that the many “fights” they were seeing around the island were instead chicks enthusiastically feeding on the meal their parents had just flown in. Even though most of the students were not familiar with Double-crested Cormorants and Anhingas, great side-by-side views of both birds allowed for comparisons and distinction.  The students could observe on Coffeepot Bayou all the signs of a healthy colony including the courtship displays of Great Egrets, white downy Brown Pelican chicks in the nest, the noisy begging calls of hundreds of hungry young birds and of course the smell!

While we were disappointed to miss seeing Roseate Spoonbills, we were treated to two Reddish Egret young on the branches. And as we headed back for the dock, we spotted two dark morph Reddish Egret adults flying in to the island.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this great event happen!


Bay Soundings: Love Hurts! Some Nature Photographers Get Too Close

posted on April 25, 2013 in FL Coastal Islands Sanctuaries,Wildlife

Audubon’s Florida Coastal Island Sanctuaries was featured in an article in Bay Soundings encouraging ethical nature photography.

From Bay Soundings:

For more than 75 years, Audubon wardens in Tampa Bay have been the keepers of these special places. At first, we protected them from the plume trade and harvest for food that almost drove these birds to extinction. But today, these nesting birds face a new and unexpected threat: catastrophic disturbance by nature photographers. And worse, a few unscrupulous tour leaders in Tampa Bay are giving nature photography a bad name, and threatening the future of our area’s vibrant waterbird colonies.

Bay News 9: Tampa Bay Seagrass Healthiest in Years

posted on March 27, 2013 in FL Coastal Islands Sanctuaries

alafia_seagrassGood news for Tampa Bay’s wildlife, Bay News 9 is reporting that seagrass in this important habitat is healthier than it has been in years. This is GREAT news for Tampa’s coastal wildlife, as many different wintering and nesting birds and other animals rely on the fish that spawn in seagrass as their primary food source.

Hillsborough Bay has been recognized by Audubon and BirdLife International as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area and increased seagrass beds provide food for the thousands of nesting herons, egrets, spoonbills, ibis, and their chicks.

A big THANK YOU to our boaters for taking extra precaution to protect this special place and to those dedicated to making sure the health of Tampa Bay is maintained.

For more information, please see Bay News 9’s report.

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