Tag Archives: Wildlife

Tests reveal dangerous pollution in Bradenton Beach waters

People are being advised to think twice before swimming on the bayfront in Bradenton Beach.

Dangerous levels of enterococcus — a bacteria commonly found in human and animal feces — were found in three tests taken along the Sarasota Bay waterfront at Bridge Street and Bay Drive South over the past two weeks, according to a Feb. 14 news release from the nonprofit Suncoast Waterkeeper.

One sample discovered more than 24,000 colony-forming units per liter, an estimate for the number of bacteria capable of reproducing in the sample. Other samples reached 1,670 and 4,884 cfu/L.

The Florida Department of Health regards enterococcus levels exceeding 70 cfu/L as unsafe for human contact, so the samples ranged from 24-340 times the threshold. The DOH posts a no-swim advisory if one of the public beaches it monitors tests higher than 70 cfu/L.

The tested area is located at the base of the Historic Bridge Street Pier at the end of Bridge Street, which also is near the anchorage in the waters to the south and the Bridge Tender Inn ashore.

“We are aware we had a problem, and we are about to start testing ourselves, so we can get to the bottom of it,” Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said in the release. “You know we believe in the importance of clean, healthy waters. We have the clam project and living shoreline in progress. We just didn’t know it was this bad.”

Suncoast is a nonprofit that tests water quality in 11 locations other than the public beaches the DOH monitors weekly to cover “other areas used recreationally that are representative of our inshore coastal waters,” according to the release.

The nonprofit uses Palmetto-based Benchmark Enviroanalytic Laboratory to analyze samples.

“We are not pointing fingers here,” Suncoast Waterkeeper Andy Mele wrote. “We are concerned that there could be a public health program, and we will be working with the Manatee County DOH and the Bradenton Beach government to help identify the sources and resolve the problem.”

Osprey nests atop Bradenton Beach cell tower

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An osprey, a fish-eating bird of prey, sits Feb. 5 in the nest it made atop the cell tower in Bradenton Beach. Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale told The Islander Feb. 3 the osprey nest will remain undisturbed on the structure unless the tower needs repairs. In 2017, an osprey nest was removed from the tower because Hurricane Irma left the tower damaged. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Lot clearing halted for nesting herons in Holmes Beach

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A great blue heron watches over at least one fledgling Feb. 4 in a nest in an Australian pine tree in the 500 block of 56th Street in Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
Holmes Beach code compliance officer Robin Evangelisto takes photos and video Feb. 3 of a great blue heron nest atop an Australian pine tree in Holmes Beach. Per federal law, Evangelisto issued the property owners a stop work order until the birds have left the nest.

Protecting the balance between development and wildlife is a priority on Anna Maria Island.

In mid-January, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth notified code compliance of an active blue heron nest in an Australian pine tree where a home was demolished and the bayfront lot was being cleared in the 500 block of 56th Street in Holmes Beach.

Since then, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was notified and lot cleanup has stopped until the birds leave the nest. A nest is active if it contains eggs or fledglings.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to tamper with nests containing eggs or fledglings. Breaking the law can result in a $15,000 federal fine.

Owners Patrick and Daria Grinenko and contractor Moss Builders claimed they did not know the nest existed when construction started.

Code compliance officer Robin Evangelisto issued a temporary notice of violation and stop work order Jan. 14 to the property owner and awaited review by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Evangelisto observed the nest with FWC officer Jason Dalton, who confirmed there was a female heron with fledglings but could not confirm the type of heron.

So she photographed and videotaped the bird and sent it to FWC biologist Nick Jennings, who confirmed the bird is a great blue heron.

“You may continue to clear the lot so long as you do not cause take to the great blue herons,” Jennings wrote in a Jan. 24 email to Evangelisto, the Grinenkos and Moss Builders.

Under the federal act, “take” is “attempting to take, pursuing, hunting, molesting, capturing or killing any wildlife or freshwater fish, or their nests or eggs.”

Jennings wrote that flushing the bird from its nest, forcing the abandonment of the chicks, would qualify as “molesting.”

Evangelisto said Feb. 3 that the city doesn’t want to take chances that continued work on the site could disrupt the nesting birds. So a notice will remain until the fledglings have left the nest, but the property owner will not be cited unless the stop work order is violated.

“We just have to wait and see,” she said. “Once we know the fledglings are gone and we know that mom has moved on, we will give the OK.”

Turtle watch plans season around beach renourishment

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Equipment lines the shore at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach during a 2013 Manatee County renourishment project. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
Heather Roles, left, and Lee Zerkel, volunteers with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, relocate eggs to a new, manmade nest during a 2013 beach renourishment project.

The loggerhead sea turtles that nest on Anna Maria Island could share space with bulldozers this spring and summer.

A beach renourishment project, slated to begin in April and last for six months, will overlap with sea turtle nesting season, which runs May-October on the island shoreline.

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted in October 2019 to approve two beach renourishment projects in 2020.

The projects replace sand lost through erosion by piping sand from an offshore seabed to the beach. The work will start at 78th Street North in Holmes Beach and continue southward to the tip of the island at Longboat Pass.

The county initially planned renourishment to start in February — lessening the intersection between the projects and sea turtle nesting season.

However, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said she expects the project to start in April and she’s prepared a plan to work with the county and other government agencies that rely on the organization’s reports, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fox said she must coordinate with the county about where and when sand will be placed to avoid covering sea turtle nests.

She said the process will be similar to when the island was hit with several months of severe red tide in 2017, leading to daily cleanups that included raking with a tractor on the beach, orchestrated by the county.

Turtle watch worked hand-in-hand with the county to ensure no nests were disturbed.

AMITW also may need to relocate nests to avoid disturbances during renourishment.

After the nests are verified for eggs, volunteers will dig from the sand about 100 eggs — about the size of pingpong balls — and place them in a new, hand-dug cavity, with locations to be determined by the FWC.

Fox said all nests through 2022 must be checked for eggs, due to the project.

Fox also said she will be cutting back her troupe of volunteers from 78 to 48, as less walkers but those with more experience will be needed during renourishment. Morning patrols to look for nests laid the night
before will be conducted by ATV until the projects end.

Fox said turtle watch has been dealing with renourishment projects since 1992, so “this is nothing new.”

“Once this gets going, we will have to move swiftly, as will the county,” she said. “Timing will be crucial.”

Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s parks and natural resources director, said he is confident AMITW and the county operation will work in concert.

“Turtle watch is prepared to do their best effort,” Hunsicker said Jan. 29. “They will operate under FDEP and FWC allowances to work with us to protect the turtle and shorebird resources during the life of the project.”

Shark attacks remain low globally but increase in Florida

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A blacktip shark is the species most often implicated in Florida bites, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program. Islander Courtesy Photo

Shark attacks were unusually low for the second year running, with 64 unprovoked bites in 2019, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.

The total was roughly in line with 2018’s 62 bites and about 22% lower than the most recent 5-year average of 82 incidents a year, according to a news release on the UF database.

Two of the bites were fatal, a drop from the average of four deaths a year from unprovoked attacks a year.

Consistent with long-term trends, the United States led the world in shark attacks with 41 bites, an uptick from 32 the previous year, but significantly lower than the nation’s 5-year average of 61 bites annually.

Attacks were mostly concentrated in the Southeast, with 21 in Florida, a state that has led the world in the number of shark attacks for decades.

The state’s 21 unprovoked bites represented an increase from 16 the previous year and accounted for 33% of the global total.

Volusia County had the most shark bites with nine, followed by Duval, five, and Brevard, two, with single attacks in Broward, Martin, Nassau, Palm Beach and St. Johns counties.

No bites were reported from Manatee County in 2019, which has had four confirmed unprovoked shark attacks since 1982, according to the database.

Hawaii saw a small spike in attacks, with nine in 2019 compared with three the previous year.

California and North Carolina had three shark attacks each. Single bites occurred in Georgia, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and the Virgin Islands.

Massachusetts, where two great white sharks attacked in 2018 with one fatality, had no incidents in 2019.

New York, where two bites occurred within minutes of one another in 2018, also had no attacks.

The decline globally may reflect changes in the migration patterns of blacktip sharks, the species most often implicated in Florida bites, said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program.

“We’ve had back-to-back years with unusual decreases in shark attacks and we know that people aren’t spending less time in the water,” Naylor said in the release. “This suggests sharks aren’t frequenting the same places they have in the past. But it’s too early to say this is the new normal.”

The ISAF investigates all reported human-shark interactions but focuses its annual report on unprovoked attacks, which are initiated by a shark in its natural habitat with no human provocation.


By the numbers

Australia had the second-most shark attacks globally with 11, a decrease from the country’s most recent 5-year average of 16 bites annually.

The Bahamas followed, with two attacks.

Single bites occurred in the Canary Islands, the Caribbean Islands, Cuba, French Polynesia, Guam, Israel, Mexico, New Caledonia and South Africa, once a hotspot for shark attacks.

— Lisa Neff

Dead dolphin recovered from Anna Maria beach

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Gretchen Lovewell, center, program manager for the stranding investigations team at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium on City Island in Sarasota, arrived to oversee the removal of a male dolphin that washed up on the Gulf shore near the Palmetto Avenue beach access in Anna Maria. Mote will determine cause of death with a necropsy, but no trauma was evident, Lovewell told people gathered on the beach. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

Nack had issues.

Gretchen Lovewell, program manager for the stranding investigations team at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium on City Island in Sarasota, wrote The Islander an email Jan. 10, explaining that the dolphin that stranded and died on the Gulf shore near the Palmetto Avenue beach access in Anna Maria had “several issues.”

Her post-necropsy update stated that most of the male dolphin’s organs were abnormal and it had recently eaten four “decent-sized catfish.”

Lovewell said there was “no smoking gun,” but it was a “very sick animal.”

Lovewell told people gathered on the beach there was no evident trauma and age may have been a factor. The stranding team was familiar with the dolphin named Nack. It had been tracked for years by members of the Sarasota Bay Dolphin Project.

Meet 2019’s Islanders of the year, but the real winner is wildlife

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Devon Straight, with a rescued eagle. Islander File Photos
Ed Straight, left, holds a sick gull. Islander File Photos
Gail Straight feeds a juvenile raccoon. Islander File Photos

Ask just about anyone who has lived on Anna Maria Island more than a few months, a student at Anna Maria Elementary School, a cop, the volunteers who take calls at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. Ask an animal-, bird-, wildlife-lover, and the answer comes readily.

Who you gonna call with a wildlife emergency? Wildlife Inc.

When you call the Wildlife rescue number, you likely reach either Gail or Ed Straight, founders and directors of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, based in their home in Bradenton Beach since 1987.

Ed Straight, president and former Bradenton Beach city commissioner and law enforcement officer, started rescuing and rehabbing animals in need as a hobby after finding a duckling alone in a lake, rejected by its mother.

They now manage thousands of rescued birds and animals yearly, from laughing gulls and owls to Key deer and otters and many more, caring for their injuries or nursing them when they’re abandoned, and returning them to the wild when possible.

They also raised their grandson, Devon, who continues to help while serving in law enforcement in Bradenton Beach.

They had a slow start, but the number of animals the nonprofit cared for grew as development encroached on habitat, according to Ed Straight. He told The Islander that Wildlife Inc. cared for around 2,500 injured or abandoned animals in 2018 and received many more rescue calls.

Ed Straight and Wildlife Inc. volunteers take screech owl Odie and other animals to local schools and island events to teach people about wildlife.

It is the only wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Manatee County.

They answer calls at all hours and they don’t ask for much, just help feeding the thousands of critters in their care.

It’s a big feed bill.

They are Islanders of the Year.

And they deserve our help.

Call Wildlife Inc. at 941-778-6324.

And thank them for all they do.

Osprey takes up residence on new Lake LaVista nesting pole

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Laura Schulman of Alpharetta, Georgia, captured this photo Dec. 26 of an osprey using the new artificial nest while visiting family for the holidays in Anna Maria’s Lake LaVista neighborhood. Islander Courtesy Photo
Workers install the nesting pole, donated by FPL. At 50 feet in height, the pole and nest dwarf the surrounding trees. Islander Photos: Phil Colpas
An employee of Volt Power, a subcontractor for Florida Power & Light, secures the Lake LaVista nesting platform to the top of the pole.

It’s like the bird knew the nest site was a gift.

When a Norfolk Island pine tree containing an osprey nest was felled in November, residents of Anna Maria’s Lake LaVista neighborhood worried about the fate of the homeless bird.

After the tree was cut down, an osprey stayed in the area and could sometimes be seen perched in another Norfolk Island pine tree. But that tree was on a piece of property slated for construction.

Neighbors couldn’t bear to see the osprey lose its home twice, so they decided to take action.

Lake LaVista resident Kay Johnson proposed installing an artificial nesting platform near where the tree stood that was removed.

The Lake LaVista Homeowners’ Association gave permission to place a pole on the property at the end of Lake LaVista, near the 200 block of Lakeview Drive. The HOA also purchased the nesting platform from Bradenton-based All Steel Fabrication Inc.

Dean Jones, who manages Anna Maria’s public works department, offered to dig a hole for the pole and coordinated with Florida Power & Light, which donated a 50-foot pole for the nesting platform.

As they erected the pole Dec. 19, workers saw the osprey hovering above.

In less than a week, neighbors spotted the osprey in its new artificial home.

“It’s so great to see,” said Lake LaVista HOA member Anna DeAugustine. “What a great way to start the new year.”

Contractor awaits parts for Bradenton Beach dock repairs

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Duncan Seawall employees climb Nov. 25 off a work barge used to make repairs to the floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach. The gangway rests on the dock. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
A structure to support the gangway to connect the Historic Bridge Street Pier to the floating dock stands partially constructed Nov. 25. The structure consists of four cross-braced pilings.

The floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach soon may be open to the public.

Public works director Tom Woodard said Nov. 26 that Sarasota-based Duncan Seawall was cross-bracing four timber pilings to form a support structure for the gangway, the walkway connecting the pier to the dock. The gangway was pulling away from the pier and removed.

The dock was closed Oct. 4 for repairs to the gangway.

The pilings form the foundation of a support structure, where the gangway will rest when it is reinstalled. It previously was connected to the pier.

Work the week of Nov. 25 involved cross-bracing the pilings with lumber and placement of a support beam between the pilings closest to the pier.

The final step will be to build a 6-foot extension of the pier deck to connect to the support beam and gangway.

Duncan also will install safety railings on the floating dock.

Duncan took Nov. 28-29 off to celebrate Thanksgiving, but Woodard said the contractor would complete the job “hopefully by Dec. 6.”

He added that the city would open the dock to the public when the work is finished.

City officials opened the dock Aug. 2, after two-and-a-half years of turbulence due to failures by the company originally contracted to build and install the dock. The dock, which cost $191,524, replaced one damaged by storms and removed in 2017.

The dock was closed within a month of opening because of the gangway.

The repair will cost $73,317, including the cost of 18 new rollers — the mechanisms connecting the dock platforms to the support pilings to allow for tidal movement — after the city procures the parts from Ronautica Marinas.

Fungus killed gulls on Passage Key

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Jeannie Bystrom, an animal activist, found a laughing gull and other birds in a colony dead Oct. 8 at Passage Key, north of Anna Maria Island and sounded the alarm. Islander File Photo: Jeannie Bystrom

Investigators now have the reason for why laughing gulls were found dead in October on Passage Key.

Researchers with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in Athens informed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Save Our Seabirds in mid-November that aspergillosis killed the birds. The fungal infection is common in the warm, moist environs of Florida.

Dana Leworthy, avian hospital administrator with Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota, told The Islander aspergillosis can come from any rotten item and laughing gulls are known for consuming most anything.

“It grows in swampy areas or on dead fish,” Leworthy said of the fungus. “It can reproduce without hesitation.”

More than 30 dead gulls were retrieved by the FWC for testing Oct. 13.

And they were found to have microscopic lesions in their throats.

Lesions and growths are two symptoms of aspergillosis, which can cause lung problems, including respiratory issues.

Researchers call aspergillosis “the great pretender” because it mimics so many other diseases and can display a variety of symptoms, Leworthy said.

Aspergillosis was definitively confirmed by blood tests at the University of Georgia.

But where or how the gulls contracted the fungus remains a mystery.

Leworthy speculated they may have become infected eating a single rotten food source.

The fungus is common in birds, but Leworthy said it was “weird” only the laughing gulls were affected and found dead on Passage Key. No other bird species appeared to be sickened on Passage Key.

“Maybe they had some sort of stressor that made them more susceptible to illness,” Leworthy said. “It’s just very strange that they were the only ones.”

The Passage Key gulls were not the only group of gulls that died mysteriously in October.

Before the Passage Key incident, more than two dozen sick laughing gulls were taken to Save Our Seabirds from Siesta Key. More than half died within 24 hours, according to Jonathan Hande, a senior hospital technician at SOS. Nine more birds died on the beaches. Their cause of death has not been established.

The incident ended and no birds have turned up dead since October.