Ways You Can Help - FCIS

Get involved with Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries

Project ColonyWatch

Download the ColonyWatch Handbook

What do birdwatchers do best? Watch birds, of course! Project ColonyWatch uses volunteer birders to adopt and protect local bird colonies. Because a bird colony is a small site where many birds come to nest, it is extremely vulnerable to disturbance during nesting by humans, dogs, and natural predators. A badly timed intrusion can cause the loss of an entire colony's nesting efforts. Fortunately, for the same reason, well-designed protective measures can safeguard hundreds or thousands of nests. By recruiting and training volunteers to become the local "wardens", biologists, and advocates for a nesting colony, we can increase the effectiveness of our colony protection efforts across Florida.

To date, volunteers from Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Venice Area, Indian River, Apalachee, Kissimmee Valley, Manatee County, and Citrus County Audubon Societies have participated in Project ColonyWatch, with important and significant wildlife protection results. A Project ColonyWatch Handbook to instruct volunteers on colony protection needs, census techniques, agency outreach, media tips, etc. is available, published in cooperation with the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program.

Alafia River Watershed Area Restoration Effort (AWARE)

AWARE identifies habitat restoration opportunities, presents them to appropriate agencies, finds funding for restoration, habitat enhancement, and land acquisition, and improves habitat protection permanently in the Alafia River watershed. In so doing we hope to benefit fisheries, water quality, upland habitats, seagrasses, and freshwater inflows to the estuary. To date, over 500 acres near the Alafia Bank Bird Colony have been acquired and more than $1 million funneled toward the restoration of these acres through the efforts of the AWARE program.

AWARE is an environmental education and habitat restoration program focusing on the area surrounding the Alafia Bank Sanctuary. This colony, our flagship sanctuary, is listed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as the most important colony in Florida and is among the largest and most diverse "mixed-species" colonies in the continental United States. Between 8,000-18,000 pairs of birds nest there each year, of 16-20 species. AWARE recognizes that, while the nesting colony is secure, the birds’ foraging areas are not. Successful nesting depends on the availability of prey for birds to feed their young.

AWARE also works with local citizens organizations and volunteers to build public awareness of and support for these projects, and for the protection of wildlife habitat in their communities. AWARE Outreach involves talks to local community groups, conservation organizations, civic committees, social clubs, and the creation of the Alafia River Basin Stewardship Council, a river landowners activist organization. Volunteers have collected trash, eradicated non-native plants from upland habitats, conducted wildlife and vegetation surveys, and developed restoration and habitat enhancement project suggestions. All these activities increase local understanding of land management needs to foster a healthy environment.

Monofilament Cleanup

Seasonally, in October, when the birds are not nesting, Coastal Islands Sanctuary volunteers coordinate in cooperation with Tampa BayWatch and visit over 50 colony islands in Tampa Bay, Clearwater Harbor, and Sarasota Bay to remove fishing line and other materials which could trap birds and wildlife. Fishing line has been identified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as the predominant mortality factor for adult Brown Pelicans. Persisting in the colony, a piece of fishing line can kill one bird after another. Removal of the line aids the survival of healthy wild birds, especially breeding adults. We estimate that this project saves the lives of 200-300 adult birds each year. The most vulnerable species, and therefore, the most likely beneficiaries of removal of monofilament from nesting islands, are pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets, gulls, terns, and skimmers.

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How you can help, right now