SCCF: A History of Island Conservation
On October 31, 1967, the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation was incorporated “to preserve natural resources and wildlife habitat on and around the islands of Sanibel and Captiva.” Forty years later, SCCF is still guided by that original mission.
The preservation of Sanibel's unique freshwater interior was SCCF's priority in 1967. Among the first land purchases were wetlands along the Sanibel River corridor, and the Foundation acquired 500 parcels over 40 years. When 27 acres along the Sanibel slough became available in 2006 - the last significant property that would ever be available on the Sanibel River - islanders stepped up and made that founding dream a reality. However, more remains to be done to preserve the unique character of the islands, and land acquisition remains a core mission of the Foundation.
© George Graham
SCCF formalized the educational component of its mission with the 1977 construction of The Nature Center. Between beach walks, boat tours, kayak tours, bike tours, trail walks, night-sky star talks and classroom activities, Foundation education programs reached over 44,000 people last year.
Water quality has always been a core mission of SCCF, and this commitment was formalized in 2002 with the establishment of the Marine Laboratory. Ongoing studies of sea trout, mangroves, sea grasses, harmful algal blooms, pollution from sewage treatment, scallops, oysters, blue crabs and more measure the health of the estuary and record the impact of freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee (and the impacts of 2004's Hurricane Charley). The Marine Lab launching its RECON network (River, Estuary, and Coastal Observation Network), which will provide real-time reporting on key water quality parameters. This data will be transmitted hourly and will be available at www.sccf.org. The Marine Laboratory has established a thriving academic collaboration with Florida Gulf Coast University.
SCCF has been involved in sea turtle research through the years but formally took over coordination of the islands' Sea Turtle Conservation program in 1992. About a hundred volunteers help patrol the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva every morning during sea turtle nesting season, from May through October.
Ecological and wildlife studies are conducted by the Wildlife Habitat Management staff, making the most of the 1,800+ acres under the ownership of SCCF. Vegetation studies and mapping, and surveys and studies on gopher tortoises, snakes, frogs and nesting shorebirds are just some of the WHM research projects.
SCCF has long played an advocacy role in local environmental issues but this was formalized in 2006 with the addition of a Natural Resource Policy Director, enabling the Foundation to play a more active role in water quality and land use issues as they impact the islands and our surrounding waters.
SCCF is proud to have played a part in preserving the good nature of our islands - a role that would never have been possible without the broad support of many, many islanders. We are looking forward to our next 40 years.
Development, the Causeway, Potable Water and SCCF
Development didn't truly hit the islands prior to the 1960s because there were two major impediments: limited access and limited potable water. The opening of the causeway in 1963 provided access and the 1966 creation of the Island Water Association brought a more reliable source of fresh drinking water to the islands; before then, people were dependent upon cisterns and shallow wells.
Lee County zoning in the late 1950s set density at 35,000 units with little regard to protecting the environment, and starting in the 1960s, development projects began taking root across the islands. The people who valued the wildlife and wild lands witnessed the erosion of the vitality of environmentally sensitive lands. The founding of the City of Sanibel was a decade away.
Determined that Sanibel and Captiva's natural beauty and resources were not going to fall to the same fate as Miami and Palm Beaches, a small group of people seized a vision that changed the islands forever.
Known as the Ding Darling Memorial Committee, this group worked from 1962 to 1967 to formalize land acquisition and intent for the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and to lay the groundwork for a strong conservation presence on the islands. After a plan was firmly in place for the Refuge, the Committee members recognized the continuing need for a citizen-driven, private, not-for profit environmental organization to advocate for environmental protection and to purchase and protect endangered land outside the Refuge.
After incorporating as the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation in 1967, the group formulated a plan for the new organization. The original plan, which was approved unanimously, included land purchases; a nature center with education programs; marine facilities; ecological, wildlife and Sanibel slough studies; and developing relationships with other organizations. That original vision continues to guide SCCF.
SCCF and Sanibel's land use plan
The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation convened a series of Island Conservation Conferences starting in 1968, where information was gathered and synthesized to further promote preservation of the island's natural resources. The “Sanibel Zoning and Planning Committee” was formed to work with Lee County to insure orderly development and limit building height, but it met with little success.
Sanibel learned from the mistakes of other coastal communities that had developed so intensively they sacrificed the very thing -- their natural beauty -- that was the foundation of a tourism-based economy. Not to be deterred, a small group of citizens began the movement for home rule and the right to determine the future of the island.
After the November 1974 incorporation of the City of Sanibel, the City needed to develop a land use plan. SCCF funded a significant portion of the study of the island's natural systems relative to land use and city management. SCCF staff and volunteers provided reports, research, existing data, recruited experts and even provided lodging for the visiting scientists.
The final study, The Sanibel Report, included 20 reports on every facet of the island's natural systems, such as beach, mangroves, interior wetlands, hydrology and wildlife information. This was incorporated into the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which is still used by the city as it balances orderly development with the preservation of ecological integrity.
The fundamental concept of Sanibel's Comprehensive Land Use Plan is design with nature in mind. In order to protect those areas that are most crucial for wildlife and wetland functions, development and density determinations were set according to what the native landscapes could reasonably bear.
Other mechanisms were put in place that also minimized development impact. These included the percent of coverage by impervious surfaces on a parcel, along with native vegetation standards. The concepts of conservation within City regulations have persevered through the years and in many instances, have been further defined and strengthened.
SCCF and surface water management
In the early '90s, Foundation staff led the City-appointed Interior Wetlands Study Committee to make recommendations on habitat issues in conjunction with the development of the city's comprehensive surface water management system and operating procedures.
The study committee concluded that the island's wetlands habitat had decreased significantly since the 1950s as a result of fire suppression, the invasion of Brazilian pepper and other hardwoods and a lowered wet season water table. It recommended that a plan to restore wetlands should include components to address each of these impacts.
A new water management system was created that would provide flood control and allow for a more historic wet season water table.
For flood relief during major storm events, the new system included two new, more efficient weirs, i.e. water control structures, larger road culverts and improvements in the Sanibel River to allow greater flow during storms. For wetlands protection, the control elevations rose from 2.5 feet to 3.2 feet above mean sea level at the Tarpon Bay structure and from 2.5 to 2.8 feet at the Beach Road structure.
Together with Brazilian pepper removal and prescribed burning, management of water levels created an environment much more favorable for wetlands species of plants and wildlife.
The first of the lands along the Sanibel River was acquired including the site of the Nature Center. Foundation members began working through public meetings to minimize the adverse impact of development along the River corridor.
© George Graham
Marine research was initiated in partnership with Florida Atlantic University.
Nature trails were constructed on Center Tract lands.
Land acquisition: 216 acres
1977 - 1986
The Nature Center was dedicated in December 1977. The Native Plant Nursery was established in 1978, to make indigenous plants available and to provide learning opportunities.
The Foundation began offering educational programs and added educational staff.
In 1970s dollars, $250,000 was raised in one year for land acquisition.
Foundation volunteers worked diligently on drafting Florida's Aquatic Preserve Act, which led to the creation of both the Estero Bay and Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserves.
The first Brazilian pepper eradication workshop was held on Sanibel. Australian pines and melaleuca were also identified as invasive. The encroachment of non-native vegetation on preserved lands necessitated developing land management plans to restore natural function, and SCCF did its first prescribed burn on preserved land.
Land beyond Sanibel was also deemed important. Through the Conservation & Recreation Lands Program, the Foundation worked with the State of Florida for the acquisition of large tracts on Cayo Costa and North Captiva islands, leading to the establishment Cayo Costa State Park. SCCF also acquired lands on Buck Key.
Erick Lindblad was hired as the first full-time Executive Director in 1986.
Land acquisition: 410 acres
1987 - 1996
SCCF advocated for an ad valorum tax for the City of Sanibel to acquire and preserve environmentally sensitive lands.
SCCF's intern program was formalized and permanent intern housing was added.
The Bruning Foundation kick-started a new era in habitat management, and a full-time restoration ecologist was hired. Land restoration received more help with the founding of “pepper busters”.
The building at Tarpon Bay that currently houses the Marine Laboratory was first dedicated as a research facility and served as the hub for water quality and wildlife studies. Barn owls, ospreys, gopher tortoises, water quality, small mammals and live shells were subjects of Foundation research.
Landscaping for Wildlife connected backyards, people and a place for wildlife through this very popular education program. SCCF opened its Butterfly House.
Freshwater wetland water sampling and analysis were begun.
A partnership began with Captiva Cruises, which has been invaluable in reaching an average of 25,000 people each year through SCCF docent-narrated cruises.
Land acquisition: 360 acres. An additional 63 acres were acquired between 1969 - 1987 in three subdivisions: Sanibel Gardens, Tarpon Bay Subdivision and Sanibel Highlands.
1997 - 2006
Land acquisition accelerated during this decade. In just six months, SCCF raised over $3 million for the purchase of Frannie's Preserve.
SCCF, working with the Calusa Land Trust, acquired York and Coconut islands along with the mangrove fringe on the southwest shore of Pine Island.
SCCF's Marine Laboratory was formally established in 2002, with funds from a single donor enabling the hiring of a full-time director and several field staffers. Its goal was to investigate status and trends and promote the health of the habitat and fauna within the marine nursery areas.
Butterfly outreach to Lee County schools was begun in 2000
SCCF hosted the Estuarine Indicators Conference, bringing together marine scientists from across the country to discuss methods of analysis and study regarding the health of estuaries.
Shorebird surveys and snowy plover research were added to Foundation programs monitoring the use of island beaches by wildlife.
2004's Hurricane Charley brought challenges as well as the opportunity to study the impact of hurricanes on island ecology.
In 2006, SCCF added a full-time Natural Resource Policy Director to help keep members up-to-date on local policy issues and to provide a regular voice for the Foundation.
The Pick Preserve, across the street from The Sanibel School, was restored and enhanced for the use of students. SCCF Educator Richard Finkel works with children from kindergarten to eighth grade, sharing the wonders of Sanibel's wetlands.
A relationship with the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Association of Realtors began with a simple workshop on gopher tortoises. It has resulted in the establishment of a state-accredited, 14-hour class on the conservation history of the islands. Attendance is required for new realtors, and new owners are given welcome packages and encouraged to participate in SCCF's Resident Environmental Overview program.
Land acquisition: 752 acres.
2007 and Beyond
The new Wildlife Habitat Management facility was dedicated on October 26, 2007.
Restoration of the hammock in Periwinkle Preserve was completed.
SCCF continued working with the City on Nile monitor lizard and green iguana control.
The RECON network is currently being deployed, and will provide real-time water quality monitoring at locations spanning the Moore Haven lock to the Gulf of Mexico. SCCF will also be undertaking more aggressive marine research and water quality monitoring.
Land acquisition: 27 acres. Total acreage owned by SCCF: 1,828.
Mission Statement & Goals
In order to achieve its mission, the Conservation Foundation strives to attain the following goals:
- Ensure the protection of land for wildlife habitat.
- Enhance the ecological integrity of island habitats and quality of surrounding waters through responsible stewardship.
- Inspire the community to increase its dedication to the preservation and stewardship of natural resources and wildlife habitat.
- Enhance the capacity of the organization to achieve its mission.
In order to attain its goals, the Conservation Foundation, is implementing the following strategies:
Land Protection Strategies
- Acquire land and interests in land to ensure its protection.
- Serve as a catalyst to support land protection efforts that influence our region.
- Work with government agencies and conservation groups to facilitate land protection on and around the islands.
Resource Management Strategies
- Implement a land-management program on SCCF land that can serve as a model for effective stewardship.
- Facilitate effective stewardship of private lands to support wildlife habitat.
- Work with government agencies, businesses, and private individuals to develop an integrated management approach to lands on the islands - both developed and undeveloped.
- Conduct directed research on resource management issues affecting the integrity and sustainability of the Charlotte Harbor Estuarine System, including coastal habitats.
- Positively influence public officials, resource managers, and regulatory officials in making decisions affecting the Charlotte Harbor Estuarine System through the collection and dissemination of scientific knowledge and data.
Environmental Education Strategies
- Engage the island community and visitors in experiences designed to increase their awareness and understanding of the natural world and participation in its preservation.
- Create and maintain partnerships with businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions to promote environmental education and stewardship activities.
- Integrate education programs with other activities of the Foundation.
- Undertake onging research to assess the educational effectiveness of programs at SCCF.
Capacity Building Strategies
- Expand membership support of the Foundation.
- Create a stable and dependable base of funding.
- Develop the human resources needed to support the organization.
- Create financial and administrative systems to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.
- Build awareness and support of the Foundation among our primary constituents.
- Engage disengaged residents and business owners.