When MDC Naturalists Offer Helping Hands To Lagoon Species

When MDC Naturalists Offer Helping Hands To Lagoon Species

When MDC Naturalists Offer Helping Hands To Lagoon Species

by Lisa D. Mickey

Lisa D. Mickey

As naturalists at the Marine Discovery Center, it’s common to encounter wildlife on our eco-tours. Guests love it and we do, too!

But sometimes we encounter wildlife in need during our tours as we paddle in kayaks or cruise past mangrove trees on the Discovery boat. We often see dolphins and birds entangled in monofilament fishing line. Sometimes we see stranded manatees stuck on sandbars.

As the rookery islands were springing to life earlier this year with nests of various bird species, I encountered a baby pelican on the ground during one of my tours. That chick had fallen out of its nest and was dragging a bloody wing.

It’s not uncommon for birds to fall from their nests or even be pushed from the nests by their siblings. When that happens, we monitor those grounded birds to make sure their parents are still feeding them. Most of the time, these chicks are just fine. Once they have matured and grow enough feathers to fly, they quickly learn to feed themselves and no longer depend on their parents for meals.

However, adults were not tending the chick with the injured wing. I observed the baby on three different occasions and on my last observation, I decided to hop off the Discovery boat, wrap the chick in a large towel and drive it up to the bird rehab hospital at the Marine Science Center. At their vet’s office, I was told the chick had suffered a broken wing. I left the baby at the hospital for treatment and hopefully, eventual release.

More recently, I was on a kayak tour with two guests. As we paddled around the back of the rookery islands, I was telling them about the different bird species that nest there and how we were at the end of the nesting season. There were only a few stragglers still on nests, I told them.

About that time, I looked up inside the westernmost island and saw a chick hanging upside down from a nest. There was a very large adult black-crown night heron standing on the nest and the chick was dangling precariously by one leg. Its tiny wings flapped helplessly as it remained suspended above the mucky floor of the mangrove island.

I pulled my kayak over to the mangrove trees and got out of my boat. Walking below the nest underneath the trees, I could see that the tiny struggling chick had caught its foot in the nesting materials. At that point, I summoned the gentleman on my tour and asked if he would assist me with the rescue. Out came the gloves and carefully the plump little heron chick was lifted back into its nest. With the baby safely back in its nest, we quickly left the rookery island so the parent could return.

The next day, I saw the adult heron sitting on the same nest, presumably with the rescued chick comfortably underneath its mom. I spied another black-crown night heron nest not too far away, indicating that either these birds had renested because their first attempt was unsuccessful earlier in the year or that they had produced a second brood within the same nesting season.

To be clear, all of the naturalists at the Marine Discovery Center have helped rescue various species here in the Indian River Lagoon at some point in time. We clear fishing line from the rookery island mangrove trees on a regular basis. We respond to stranding calls. We watch for creatures in need.

Sometimes, we ask our guests if they want to assist, which enables us to help the animals more quickly. When that happens, it gives our guests a personal understanding of the challenges these creatures face every day living in a busy place surrounded by humans, boats, fishing gear and other species.

In an ideal world, we would only observe the beauty of the birds, the athleticism of the dolphins, the lumbering leisure of the manatees and the surprising appearance of sea turtles. We would never touch them.

But sometimes when we have to reach out, it’s to offer a helping hand to these creatures, safely returning them to their natural habitat in a shared space we all call home.

NSB High School Excavation Materials Become New Reefs

NSB High School Excavation Materials Become New Reefs

Osprey Nesting Platform

by Lisa D. Mickey

When the Marine Discovery Center cleared the site previously occupied by New Smyrna Beach High School in the summer of 2014, a unique kind of “harvest” took place as the five-acre salt marsh was restored.

All of the concrete and structural debris from the high school demolition was removed and salvaged as the Mosquito Lagoon Marine Enhancement Center took shape. In recent weeks, those same materials have been deployed offshore to build artificial reefs for fish and various marine species.


“Elements we had to excavate to build the marsh are now truly the home of the barracuda,” said Chad Truxall, executive director at the center, enjoying a reference to both a native marine fish species, as well as the New Smyrna Beach High School mascot.

“These elements have enabled us to create a habitat offshore that can be used for commercial and recreational fishing and diving,” Truxall added. “Any time you can repurpose a structure and not add to landfill space, there’s a benefit.”

According to Volusia County Coastal Construction Manager Joe Nolin, approximately 90,000 pounds of materials unearthed during construction of the MDC restored saltmarsh area were deployed by barge to the Atlantic Ocean on July 31.

A barge loaded with 350-450 tons of clean concrete culverts, structures, jersey barriers and concrete utility poles were hauled offshore to the reef construction area by an ocean-going tugboat. Nolin said the material was methodically deployed onto the seafloor and eight deployments were made this summer in the 1,500-foot by 1,500-foot Flagler nearshore reef construction area.

“[The materials were deployed] in a tight pile creating an artificial reef habitat with remarkable spatial complexity that is attractive to a wide range of fish, shrimp, crabs and marine bio-fouling invertebrates that carpet the exposed concrete surfaces,” said Nolin.

“The objective is to support the regional boating, fishing and diving marine industry,” Nolin added. “We want to create marine wildlife and artificial fishing reef habitat on the nearshore Continental Shelf in areas where no natural reef habitat exists.”

The nearshore Flagler Avenue reef construction, located approximately 2.5 miles south of Ponce de Leon Inlet and one mile offshore from Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach, created multiple reef placements approximately 70 feet wide by 100 feet long and approximately 10 feet high from the seabed. The site depth is about 40 feet.

A second reef was created offshore from Sunglow Pier in Daytona Shores, again using a barge load of 325 tons of clean concrete culverts, concrete structures of varying size and jersey barriers. Those materials were tightly stacked 10 feet high and 90 feet long at a depth of approximately 50 feet.
The artificial reefs are the first deployed by Volusia County that are located within one mile of the shoreline, said Truxall. The close proximity to the shoreline is designed to make the reefs more accessible by boat for local anglers, divers, kayakers and paddleboard enthusiasts.

“The artificial reef sites have become a focal point for both the diving and fishing communities, as well as a new home for fish and coral,” said Gary Kessler, a Marine Discovery Center boat captain and a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Master SCUBA diver trainer.

“Divers on the reefs routinely see many varieties of life, from Goliath Grouper and sharks to sting rays and snapper,” Kessler added. “The new sites, although less than a month old, have already started to attract fish.”

According to a county website (www.volusiareefs.org), Volusia County’s “artificial reef program began in the late 1970s when local fishermen approached the Volusia County Commission with a request for the county to obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to construct artificial reefs.”

The county’s first four artificial reefs were constructed in 1979. In 2014, a total of 14 barge loads of clean culverts and concrete structures were deposited onto new locations to benefit local fishing and diving. To date, 13 artificial reefs have been constructed in 2015.

“It has been satisfying to recycle large, heavy concrete materials that would otherwise have been disposed of in the county landfill,” added Nolin. “These reefs will attract a wide range of pelagic species, such as cobia, tripletail, king mackerel and barracuda, along with numerous other fish species, such as flounder, redfish, sea trout, snook, mangrove snapper and black sea bass.”

“We have created a marine habitat that will function for decades forward and these reefs will increase the carrying capacity for reef species in our region,” Nolin added.

For an update on the reefs, check out http://www.volusiareefs.org/reefsiteinfo.htm.

Contact: Lisa Mickey at lisa@marinediscoverycenter.org

Osprey Nesting Platform At MDC

Osprey Nesting Platform At MDC

Osprey Nesting Platform

osprey nesting platform

by Lisa D. Mickey

Tom Draus and Susan Fetter experienced the usual dilemma of students enrolled in Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) classes: What would be their required project?

Both were enrolled in the FMNP Coastal Naturalist class at the Marine Discovery Center (MDC) in New Smyrna Beach during autumn 2014. Draus and Fetter sat beside each other in the class and many days, they could hear ospreys outside the classroom. Fetter suggested they team up and build an osprey-nesting platform as a joint project.

As the two researched their intended project, they learned it would take more time and materials than they had before the class ended to build the nesting platform. At the end of the six-week course, they gave their presentation on ospreys, along with information about a plan to build an actual nesting platform on the back property bordering estuarine water at the Marine Discovery Center.

“I like building things and Susan is a really good project manager,” said Draus, who spent 32 years at NASA as a hypergolic systems engineer. “So we made this a go-forward plan even though we had completed the requirements for our Coastal Naturalist class.”

By mid-January 2015, Fetter got the ball rolling again. She viewed osprey and eagle nests on webcams and learned about grants for webcams through the Hancock Wildlife Foundation. She also researched the price for materials. The two quickly decided $3,000 to build a platform was cost-prohibitive.

Instead, Draus knew he would build what he could and Fetter would reach out for help from others for the additional building materials. Fetter contacted Chad Truxall, executive director at the Marine Discovery Center and teacher of her coastal class, for help with the City of New Smyrna Beach, along with the local utilities commission. The idea was to get the city and the local power company to donate a pole and labor for the nesting platform.

Old utility poles typically cost around $400, with another $1,000 to get a pole installed, noted Fetter. By working through Truxall and his connections with the City of New Smyrna Beach, the students were relieved the pole for their osprey nest would be free – they just had to wait for one to become available.

Draus went to work on the platform, using pressure-treated wood to build a 40 x 40 square-inch nesting area with two perches. For the bottom part of the nest, he was able to obtain a vinyl-coated square of chain-link fence from a local business, which he secured with heavy-duty support straps.

“For the space shuttle, you try to make everything lightweight,” said the former NASA aerospace engineer. “For this project, you want it to be heavy-duty to last and to survive the weather outdoors.”

Draus had the 60-pound nesting platform built by February 5. The students met with the city’s utilities commission in early March, and on April 2, a 40-foot pole was dropped off at the Marine Discovery Center.

Draus and Fetter had two more things to do before the platform was raised. They placed nesting materials on the platform, inserting “starter” moss and sticks into the fence on the bottom of the nesting area. They also added an aluminum band around the pole about two feet below the nesting platform to serve as a deterrent to raccoons.

Finally, after months of planning and networking with others who could help them, Draus and Fetter watched on April 7, as a New Smyrna Beach city truck and backhoe lifted the pole with its attached osprey nesting platform and positioned it into the ground. Following one hour of installation, the osprey-nesting platform was in place.

“We were standing at the bottom and it was so cool to watch it go up,” said Fetter. “I had a big smile on my face.”

“I was sweating a little bit,” admitted Draus. “I was afraid they’d drop it as they put the pole into the ground. It’s great to see that it all finally worked out.”

Fetter hopes that when ospreys discover the platform and begin nesting, the birds will educate the public about their species, as well as “help people get more passionate about conservation causes.”

“There’s so much these birds have to do to be successful with their families,” added Fetter, a computer consultant. “It’s a fragile process.”

As for Draus, he couldn’t help but compare the osprey nest project to his past professional life at Kennedy Space Center.

“I feel like we spent a lot of time getting ready for our launch day,” he said. “Both the space shuttles I used to work on and the osprey nest we just built go off the ground, but our nest is happily positioned at 33 feet above ground instead of 150 miles above earth. I’m just happy it was a successful launch.”