Ask the Expert

Florida Bay is a truly complex ecological treasure. Has exploration of this site or your own first-hand encounters led you to a specific question or concern? We are happy to assist those digging deeper in their quest for knowledge about restoration of the Everglades and Florida Bay.

Even after decades of collecting and analyzing data in Florida Bay, Audubon biologists do not have all the answers. However, our team of scientists and policy staff will do our best to answer your questions and if we cannot, we will try to refer you to a source that might.

 

Dear Expert,

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Recent Questions and Answers:

Dear Expert:

It would seem to me that if there was more flow of salt water from the north Card Sound & Barnes Sound that the bay would flush itself in doing so the water quality would take care of itself. I have lived in the Tavernier area for 43 years fishing boating. Thank You.

-Retired concerned citizen

Answer from Pete Frezza, Audubon Florida Research Manager, Everglades Region: 
 

Indeed more flow of salt water into Florida Bay from Card and Barnes Sounds could potentially help flush the bay and could likely improve water quality.  However, this could never happen for a couple reasons.  A good example of why it wouldn’t work is with what happened after the 18 mile stretch was rebuilt a few years back. During the reconstruction of the stretch, about a dozen new culverts and a new MUCH larger bridge at Manatee Creek were placed through the road. This had the effect of increasing the flow into Long Sound and NE Florida Bay quite dramatically. After this, Long Sound became much saltier and much more inundated with tide from Barnes Sound via southern Biscayne Bay. However, even with these new and fairly major improvements to flow under the bridge, it did very little to change the flow regime in Florida Bay itself. There is just not enough flow capacity to make a very big difference to the bay, because of its large size. Even if the entire road were elevated and all that flow from Barnes Sound passed into Long Sound and the Blackwater Sounds, it probably would not make that much of a difference to the flow through the entirety of Florida Bay.  Second, you could never get water managers and decision makers to buy into your idea here. A major point of Everglades Restoration is to improve water quality in the bay by increasing freshwater flow (not sWhy-You-Love-FL-Bayaltwater) via the central Everglades. There are already billions of dollars invested in this approach and it would take a couple lifetimes to change this mindset. The rationale is that this was the natural system and we are trying to bring that back. Florida Bay was historically an estuary, not a saltwater lagoon like it is for the most part is now.   Hope this helps.  Thanks for the question.

__________

Dear Expert:

What is the longest period of decreased nesting and the longest period of increased nesting relating to the Roseate Spoonbills in Florida Bay?

Answer from Dr. Jerry Lorenz, Audubon Florida State Director of Research:

Spoonbills steadily increased from the time Everglades National Park was established in 1948 until the early 1980’s when there were an estimated 1258 nests. Following 1984, the expansion of canals and change of water management practices began to directly impact Spoonbills nesting in Florida Bay by diminishing, redirecting and disrupting the timing of freshwater inflows.

After 1984, numbers steadily declined to a low of 87 nests in 2010-2011 nesting season. However, it is important to note that statewide, Spoonbill numbers and nesting locations are actually on the rise and we estimate state wide nesting to be about 1250-1500 nests.

Because Spoonbills are nesting in other areas, it is a clear indication that the Florida Bay birds are greatly impacted by manmade changes to their foraging wetlands in the Everglades.

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Dear Expert:
Where are all the crocodiles? We hear there are plenty that inhabit the offshore islands, but we haven’t seen any. There are plenty of iguanas though. Are they considered pests?

-Captain Billy

Answer 1 from Pete Frezza, Audubon Florida Research Manager, Everglades Region:

While we do have an increasing crocodile population living within Florida Bay and the southern Everglades, keep in mind that there are relatively very few still living in this region compared to their historic numbers. The current population is estimated at somewhere between 1500-2000 adults spread across a large geographic area. It was only 4 years ago that the American crocodile was taken off the endangered species list. They are currently still listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. American crocodiles are a very secretive, reclusive animal. Unlike their African and Australian relatives, they shy away from almost any contact with humans. Hence, they are not seen very often in Florida Bay because they often hear you coming and slip out of sight into the water if they feel at all vulnerable. While crocodiles are very difficult to find in Florida Bay, they are quite readily seen in the Cape Sable region, west of Flamingo.

Answer 2 from Dr. Jerry Lorenz, Audubon Florida State Director of Research:

Although the prevalence of iguanas in south Florida as a non-native species is worrisome and they are certainly considered pests by some, I am not as concerned about them as other invasive species when it comes to wading birds. Iguanas were common in the wading bird colonies of Sian Ka’an when I surveyed them, which contained the same wading bird species found in Florida. Since we know that there is genetic communication between the Yucatan and Florida, I suspect our birds may be genetically predisposed to deal with their presence. This does not mean the iguanas won’t ever cause a problem given the stressed nature of our wading bird populations, but compared to other stresses, I think this probability is low. Also, I don’t think the real danger posed by iguanas is predation of eggs by juveniles, but rather the heavy and lumbering adults that can inadvertently destroy wading bird nests.

Answer 3 from Megan Tinsley, Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Associate:

Audubon maintains that prevention of the establishment of exotic species is the best way to reduce threats posed by invaders to our native ecosystems and species.

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Dear Expert:

Despite being a symbol of Florida, the wild flamingo is very difficult to find around here! I usually tell people that Florida Bay is their best chance to see an actual Greater Flamingo, however even there they are hard to come by and only rarely spotted. I’ve never seen one myself, aside from captive animals or the plastic variety. Do you know what the flamingo population actually is, and was it greater in the past? Why are they a symbol of Florida if they’re so hard to find?!

Melissa

Answer by Pete Frezza, Audubon Florida Research Manager, Everglades Region

Melissa,

The flamingos in Florida are a part of the Caribbean group that now has the common name ‘American Flamingo’. They range throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. The birds we see in Florida are Caribbean wanderers most likely from the Bahamas, Cuba, and Mexico – in that order of likelihood. I have little knowledge regarding what the population of the species is across its entire range, but they are not considered threatened and are designated as a species of least concern in terms of population numbers. There is no 100% confirmed known breeding ever to have taken place in North America. There are some unverified references to flamingo mounds in the Cape Sable region published in some of the very first Auk journals in the late 1800’s. Regardless if they ever nested in Florida or not, their numbers in Florida used to be MUCH greater, which means that most likely the entire population used to be much greater, like many other species. There are reports from John James Audubon and others in the mid – late 1800’s of hundreds and hundreds, even thousands of flamingos in the Flamingo/Cape Sable region. Flamingos pretty much show up every year, throughout the year, in the Everglades. They like remote places, though, far away from people, which is why not many people see them. There was a group of 15-20 in the Glades during the 2012 winter, and as of late March they were still there. I have seen them every year for the past 12 years in various places, noticing some slight patterns to their whereabouts but there are no rules for when they show up and leave or where they decide to show up. The greatest number in the past 12 years to have been observed in the Glades was 57. Perhaps they are a symbol of Florida because those interested in gaining a profit by travel to our state used them as a tourist attractant. Their beauty and grace, as well as their preference for remoteness and solitude, make them a fantastic symbol of the Everglades. A true prize if you can ever manage to catch a glimpse of one!

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