Guest opinion: When it comes to our wildlife, ‘I am your canary in the coal mine’

Our commissioners disregard the natural resources that are the most defining asset of…

I am your canary in the coal mine, a harbinger of things ahead. Our housing market booms and our Commissioners issue building permits like potato chips, demolishing habitat to accommodate growth and regentrify the economy.  If revenues move upward and tourists crowd the beaches, they are a happy bunch. What we really need is deliberate growth with planning, considerate of conservation.  Our commissioners disregard the natural resources that are the most defining asset of Florida. What is this place with an empty Ding Darling or Sanibel, no migratory birds or manatees? Our tourists expect iconic pelicans and flocks of shorebirds. Yet both are beleaguered populations and dwindling.  Soon, our tourist revenues will too.

Last week, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) tied a dolphin killed by boat injuries to our piers, allowing its family time to grieve and mourn.  Did you somehow escape seeing the scores of dead terns on our causeway recently? Our snowy plovers and sea turtle species are declining and threatened by disruption of their nests and red tide.

CROW Clinic and Sanibel Captive Conservation Foundation’s (SCCF) staff has long said our wildlife is under increasing pressure, and the number of wildlife injuries and deaths is increasing. Fishing hook and line damage rises unabated, with pelicans the most blatant victim. Together with organizations like Captains for Clean Water and Mind Your Line, these groups are our last defense. Our commissioners will not join this effort, they inexplicably believe adding a handful more rangers will somehow suffice.

I frequent Punta Rassa Pier to do my part to help here. Some days, the stench from rotting fish is overwhelming while tourists await their boat tours. Some tour operators throw pelicans fish parts to amuse tourists, knowing it is illegal. They domesticate this species by doing so, the pelican loses its instinct to hunt.

I watched with shock last week as one teenager deliberately hooked and reeled in a pelican I was targeting for rescue.  He had clearly done this before and often. I left for CROW with 3 injured pelicans, several more remained behind with injuries.  Our boat captains ask me repeatedly: “Can you please help? This is ruining our businesses and wildlife.” The pressure on wildlife here is rising as we build more densely and disregard conservation.

More: Boaters’ cleanup is latest citizen-led effort to help improve SW Florida’s water quality

Tragically, CROW is left to clean up the damage as best it can.  Do we honestly expect a handful of organizations to offset the damage of ever-increasing density and 70,000 fishing licenses issued by FWS last year?

In contrast, Naples is an exemplary city showing what a joint public/ private effort can accomplish in conservation.  It takes pride in clean beaches and piers, and has well-trained staff actively engaged in public outreach and education, coaching responsible fishing, and managing wildlife rescue.  It has operated a joint public/ private venture for over 7 years. It is now replicated at several other Florida locations, using minimal taxpayer funds that is applied with stunning efficiency.  The results are beautifully obvious, and their tourism flourishes.  Fishermen and conservationists peacefully coexist in a better, cleaner environment. In Naples, pelicans fly and are self-sustaining, and wildlife damage is reduced. Tourists and residents alike love the partnership.

Guest opinion: When it comes to our wildlife, 'I am your canary in the coal mine' 1

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Death by fishing line: Abandoned line kills birds

Every year, abandoned fishing line kills thousands of wading and diving birds.

Kevin Lollar, Fort Myers News-Press

We measure our legacy in dollars, stocks and bonds. But what do you want your grandchildren’s world to look like? We are only temporary stewards of this earth, and we are performing poorly. Be the change. One hook and line at a time, one boat, bird or tree at a time. Support conservation. And vote with it in mind.

Barb Kavanagh worked for the federal government unwinding economic disasters and then in the private sector doing the same.  reverse engineered the Enron transactions, and was a consultant to the Swiss Banking Commission, amongst other clients. 


Fort Myers resident Barb Kavanagh is a former Federal Reserve executive and studied at the University of Chicago.

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