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Goodwill and Mutual of Omaha Bank Join Forces

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 9:32am


Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, Inc. and Mutual of Omaha Bank have joined forces to provide entrepreneurs from low and moderate income backgrounds the opportunity to develop business skills and receive funding to become more independent and successful.

Through Goodwill’s MicroEnterprise Institute, more than 215 entrepreneurs have received business training and many have successfully started their own business.

MicroEnterprise sessions typically meet for six weeks and cover an array of topics including developing a business plan, feasibility planning and cash flow.  Representatives from Mutual of Omaha Bank and other partners often provide the instruction for the classes.

In addition to providing educational support, Mutual of Omaha Bank has contributed $15,000 to the program.

“Microenterprise businesses are the backbone of our economy,” said Elliott Rittenhouse, Director of the MicroEnterprise Institute for Goodwill. “A microenterprise is a small business with fewer than five employees that requires $35,000 or less of start-up money. They represent 87 percent of all businesses in the United States and currently there are more than 24 million microenterprises throughout the country.”

Participants who complete the MicroEnterprise course are invited to apply for a small character-based micro-loan from Goodwill and lending partners like Mutual of Omaha Bank.

“As a local bank, investing in our community is a key priority for us,” said Tiffany Homuth, Market President for Mutual of Omaha Bank. “We have a special focus on meeting the needs of low and moderate income individuals, so partnering with great community organizations like Goodwill Industries is important to us. Whether it’s a personal or business loan, we finance projects that continue efforts to boost our economy and create affordable living opportunities.”

For more information about MicroEnterprise visit For more information visit For more information about Mutual of Omaha Bank, visit

MIFRD Speaks to MCC

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 9:31am


Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department Chief Mike Murphy and firefighter-paramedic Dustin Beatty recently spoke to the Marco Cruise Club members regarding safety and emergencies at sea.

They detailed “MERT” — the Marine Emergency Response Team — and the new fireboat 50. The rescue boat is 34’3” long, weighs 11,800 pounds and is driven by twin jet drive diesels capable of a speed of 45 miles per hour. It has a flat bottom and can run in water only 12 inches deep. Having a solid stern platform, rescue victims can be easily lifted from the water on to the boat and given emergency first aid. Since its delivery on February 3, the team has answered more than 50 emergency distress calls on the water.

Marco Cruise Club members were given many good tips for practicing and maintaining safety while at sea, and MCC officials and members would like to thank Chief Murphy and Beatty for an excellent presentation.

MCC was founded in 1975 and is one of the oldest boating clubs on Marco Island. Boating enthusiasts are welcome to join. For information, go to, or call Joe Hirschenberger at 239-642-9087 or Commodore Joan Kenney at 239-389-2528.

Manatee Middle School Hurricanes ‘ROAR’

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 9:28am

By Nancy Richie

Azalea Gonzalez presented info on the elusive Ghost Orchid. She said she loved flowers and “my mom named me Azalea!”

At Manatee Middle School, the teachers and sixth-grade students didn’t slow down just because school was winding down for the summer. For eight weeks, they worked hard, researching their own Southwest Florida backyards. This hands-on, end-of-the-school-year research assignment is part of the Collier County Public School (CCPS) Pre-Laureate writing program.

CCPS’s most capable students have the opportunity to pursue an AP Laureate diploma, the most demanding CCPS diploma available. This Laureate Program continues to grow with 80 Laureate graduates from five high schools this past year, compared with just three at one school when the program began 17 years ago. Students begin developing research skills in fourth grade and continue into high school, where they may participate in the Advance Placement (AP) Laureate degree program.

In middle school, the pre-laureate program introduces students to the research-based writing process. The students choose a topic, narrow their focus and style of writing, locate sources, take notes, cite sources and publish a final research paper. The entire process takes six to eight weeks. In addition, the students create a visual presentation and can choose ideas, such as a PowerPoint, Prezi, brochure, or a poster, to display their research in an interesting way. At Manatee Middle School, sixth graders are on the pathway to their AP Laureate diploma.

Jill Baldwin, sixth-grade Language Arts teacher, stated, “This year the Manatee sixth grade teachers chose to research the Everglades and Big Cypress because our students visit the Big Cypress Panther Preserve each year for a science fieldtrip. This was a great opportunity to integrate their research writing skills with their real world experiences.”

Emily Louwsma, sixth-grade teacher and previous Lely High School graduate, contacted her friends at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, and Big Cypress National Preserve, while Baldwin contacted the city of Marco Island’s environmental specialist to visit and view some of the top student’s work. The professional biologists, naturalists and resource managers met the pre-laureate students in a science fair-type atmosphere where the students’ projects were displayed, and they were ready to present one-on-one. The teachers said this event motivated the students to complete their projects and afforded them the opportunity to discuss their research topics with accomplished scientists.

Rookery Bay NERR’s Education Specialist Megan Joyce hears a presentation about Bald Eagles.

Students’ projects focused on endangered species such as the Florida Panther, Manatee and even the Ghost Orchid. Some researched the devastation of the invasive python in the Everglades’ ecosystem. One explored why fire is important in Big Cypress. Each student was enthusiastic to present their research and confidently add their opinions while conversing with the scientists. Other classmates also had the chance to see the topics displayed creatively on posters, on laptops or in hand-drawn graphic brochures.

Concluding the school year while successfully presenting their research to their teachers, peers and scientists was inspiring and meaningful. Many of the students reported they plan to read books this summer about the animals and environment they have learned about and now want to save. The teachers’ high expectations and scholastic skills guiding these students toward the AP Laureate achievement is a win-win for our community and environment in Southwest Florida.

As the school motto says, the Manatee Middle School Hurricanes certainly do “ROAR” — Responsible Organized Accomplished Respected.

The Long Trip Home

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 9:23am

Melinda Gray

The brisk Ohio morning brought some welcome sunshine, and just in time to tackle the last five hour leg of the trip.

The mission: a seemingly impossible road trip with the ultimate goal of packing up the last of my worldly possessions. I’ve got to gather what’s left in Ohio and bring it all back home to Goodland. I hear the “Mission Impossible” theme song in my head every time I think about the gravity of the situation, but it’s time to say goodbye to what was and start laying some permanent roots.

I will admit, in the weeks leading up to this mission I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Ohio. The daunting 24-hour drive promised to be just the beginning of a stressful week of hard labor to follow; and I honestly couldn’t remember needing anything I’d left behind. The part I dreaded most was saying goodbye to my son for the summer and dropping him off with his father. I knew I would cry.

I took solace in my love for a good road trip, knowing from experience that getting there is always half of the fun. If that held true, then this trip would be quite the adventure.

Rain and temperatures below 60 degrees made the drive through West Virginia feel positively serene. PHOTOS BY MELINDA GRAY

I’ve always found that timing is everything when trying to survive such a long trek, which is why I chose to get the flattest part out of the way while I was still fresh off of a good-night’s sleep. I wanted to hit the beautiful, scenic Appalachian Mountains just in time for sunrise, and we did. The cold rain had left ribbons of fluffy fog lying between the peaks and in the valleys. With ups, downs and twisty turns, mountains are always my favorite part of any drive.

My daughter, forever my sidekick, stayed awake with me the entire ride. We snapped hundreds of photos, stopped at way too many rest areas, and sang and danced like delirious, exhausted goofballs.

It was about 18 hours into the journey that I started to feel my aggravation rise in direct proportion to the increased speed and aggressiveness of northern drivers. When we finally passed under the “Welcome to Ohio” sign, I was relieved to see it.

Minutes after we arrived in Madison, Ohio — exactly 24 hours after leaving Goodland — I hit the first bed I could find and slept like a hibernating bear. Over the next few days, I made up half of the two-woman crew charged with packing and moving out of our three-bedroom lake house, filled with years of an eclectic array of accumulated belongings.

Although the trip started as a necessary evil, I’m happy to report that it yielded the desired positive outcome. I found some stuff I would have eventually missed, and more than a few things I really did need. We are coming back with a truck full of odds and ends, a new puppy and a very antisocial cat.

We say goodbye to our Ohio home after a long week of preparing it for sale.

As a bonus, I got to see my two younger brothers; I’ve missed them so much these past few months. They will be joining us soon, though, as they plan to relocate to Southwest Florida before winter. My mom even took me to get my first ever professional massage to work the knots out of my road-weary neck and back. I fear I may be spoiled now; I just might need another one when we get back home.

Most importantly, my kids and I are official Florida residents. Goodland is where I plan to stay and raise them. In contrast to their scholastic struggles in Ohio, they are absolutely thriving in Collier County schools.

I’m surprised to actually be looking forward to that long drive back home, but I miss Goodland. I miss my friends, and I miss my cats. I even miss the heat! So here’s to leaving Ohio in my rear-view mirror and driving off into the sunset. Mission accomplished.


Melinda Gray studied journalism and political science at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Before relocating, she wrote for The Vindicator and The Jambar in Youngstown, and is currently a contributing writer for an emergency preparedness website. Melinda now lives in Goodland with her two children. She can be contacted at or 239-896-0426

You Must Build It Before They Come

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 9:22am

To Your Health
Scott Lowe
CEO, Physicians
Regional-Collier Blvd

For anyone traveling north on Collier Boulevard from Marco to I-75 — or northwest from Port of the Islands toward downtown Naples, one fact is abundantly clear: East Naples is experiencing a major growth spurt.

This renewed development has already provided brand new options for dining out such as Chili’s just south of I-75 on Collier or the new Outback Steak House at US-41 and Collier.

Why? New developments and new homes are popping up everywhere. I have heard Collier County District 1 Commissioner Donna Fiala refer to our region as “The New Naples” on several different occasions.

With good reason…

The Arlington in Lely, a $197 million dollar project, promises to attract thousands of retirees seeking resort-style senior living. In January of 2013, Villa at Terracina Grand will open with a much-needed focus on Memory Care and another assisted-living complex, Discovery Village, is coming soon.

In addition to expansion at Lely, Reflection Lakes and Fiddler’s Creek, there’s Isles of Collier Preserve and Winding Cypress at Verona Walk.

Right in the back yard of our Collier Boulevard Campus, Hacienda Lakes is exploding with more than 1,700 homes and 325,000 square feet of retail/commercial, a hotel and office space.

Though the recent economic downturn delayed much of this development, to many of us, the rise of East Naples was a foregone conclusion.

To borrow a famous line from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

This is precisely why Physicians Regional Healthcare System never stopped looking ahead — never stopped “building.” However, our reasons were different. Medically speaking, you must build it before they come.

Residents may be able to wait for a new restaurant or grocery store, but they cannot want for quality health care.

The 2007 opening of Physicians Regional-Collier Boulevard brought vital and broad general medical/surgical services to East Naples and surrounding communities.

However, our “building” has never stopped.

Our campus now contains a 94,000 square-foot medical office building, Cardiology Center, Women’s Center, 24-hour Emergency Room (ER) services, Hand Surgery Institute, Wound Care Center, Hospice, Sleep Disorders Center and ENT Specialty Care Center. Our outpatient services include radiology, laboratory and rehabilitation.

The past year, we have significantly expanded our orthopedic and bariatric services. We also have our sights set on additional primary care and geriatric care options.

As many have already discovered, the 9,000 square-foot Physicians Regional-Marco Island facility — at the corner of Barfield and San Marco Road — has been successfully serving the public for well over a year now.

The Walk-in Clinic is open 7-days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and serves those seeking immediate (non-emergency) care. This state-of-the-art facility also offers same-day appointments, Primary Care, Physical Therapy, X-Ray and Coumadin Clinic.

Of course, this facility is ideally situated for those living on Marco; however, we have also discovered that East Naples has embraced the clinic due to its comparatively convenient location, hours of operation, appointment availability and breadth of services.

Throughout the years, our commitment to the education of the patient public has remained steadfast. For example, in 2013 alone, Physicians Regional Healthcare System presented over 83 free lectures at our Collier Boulevard and Pine Ridge locations.

Our highly successful partnership with IberiaBank on Marco ultimately led to a county-wide health care lecture series at five different IberiaBank branch locations.

Attendees at these events have gained valuable insight on brain attack (stroke), orthopedic hip/knee/shoulder surgical options, back pain, arthritis, skin cancer and healthy lifestyles.

No matter how much development we see in the years ahead, when it comes to your health care needs, we’re committed to educating you, expanding our service offerings and growing even faster.

Keeping Our Beach Beautiful

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 9:16am

By Nancy Richie

Katie O’Hare (Chamber of Commerce), Ralph Barnhart (City of Marco Island Beach Advisory Committee) and Bernardo Bezos (MICA) pose with the day’s haul of trash.

A beautiful morning unfolded for the last the beach clean-up, Sunday, May 18. Low humidity, mild temperatures, light breezes and blue skies prevailed. Paradise perfection — what we expect on Marco Island!

More than 50 people of all ages met at the South Beach boardwalk access to help clean up the beach. The large group included beach committee members, Marco Island Civic Association (MICA) members, Chamber of Commerce representatives, Publix employees, regular beach goers, residents who couldn’t resist the beach on this beautiful morning and visiting families. It was apparent the wonderful weather and the beauty of the beach gave the group energy; it was quite a boisterous group!

The city of Marco Island’s Beach Advisory Committee members organized this monthly clean-up and coordinated with local Publix Super Marco at Shops of Marco (Store #375 at 175 South Barfield Drive). Managers, employees, their families and friends all came out at 8 AM ready to enjoy a day in the sun and give back to the community. This Publix helps each month with donations of bottled water, bags and gloves; the manpower this month was exceptional.

Beach volunteers gather for the effort. PHOTOS BY NANCY J. RICHIE

It was organized chaos on the sunny beach. The Chamber of Commerce’s — and beach clean-up regular — Katie O’Hara rolled up with her cart of trash grabbers and reusable buckets available for anyone to use. This handy equipment was purchased by donation from Leadership Marco. Bernardo Bezos of MICA, and beach committee member George Schmidt pulled up in MICA’s beach vehicle to assist in trash collection and water bottle handouts for thirsty beach walkers. Beach Advisory Committee members handed out t-shirts donated by local businessman Bruce Gear. The group was ready to clean up the beach.

Lots of wind over the past couple weeks made trash collection in the dunes abundant. Plastic bottles, wrappers, dryer sheets (commonly used as mosquito repellent apparently), Styrofoam food containers, bottle caps and cigarette butts were found in large numbers. Fishing line, crab buoy line, zip ties and more cigarette butts were found in and around the Cape Marco jetties and shoreline. Stray flip flops, swimsuits, crab buoys and broken plastic toys were collected. Straws, straws and more straws are still being collected in our beautiful white sand near the hotels. With a sense of satisfaction, the participants collected all this and more.

Geologist Maddie Richie and Biologist Megan Joyce lend a scientific hand to the clean-up effort.

The next city of Marco Island Beach Clean-Up is scheduled for Sunday, June 22, 8 AM, at the South Beach boardwalk access. Everyone is welcome to participate. If you, your group or business want to sponsor a clean-up, know a student who needs volunteer hours or need more information on the clean-ups, the beach or wildlife, please contact Nancy Richie, environmental specialist with the city of Marco Island at or 239-389-5003.

Thank you for keeping our beach beautiful!

EcoTour Provider Training Series Back at Rookery Bay

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 9:15am


With approximately 97 percent of Southwest Florida’s ocean-based economy coming from tourism and recreation, ecotour professionals serve as ambassadors of local natural areas. These ecotour professionals often rely on their knowledge of natural history to provide clients a memorable experience. In order to meet the growing educational needs of ecotour professionals, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, in partnership with Florida Sea Grant, is offering a series of field and classroom-based programs this summer.

Back by popular demand, the Ecotour Provider Series promotes sustainable tourism practices by providing guides, naturalists and tour operators with information, tips and tools to minimize environmental impacts. It also imparts skills to provide more positive and scientifically accurate tour experiences.

The primary course, “Providing Tours in Southwest Florida’s Protected Coastal Areas,” provides a one-hour overview of local protected areas from the perspective of those whose job it is to manage it. Learn why these areas are protected and how they are managed. Hear local history, stories and understand the biology and ecology of these treasured resources. Get to know the individuals who look after these special places. This course is offered at 6–7 PM, and participants may attend on July 8, August 12 or September 9. The cost is $5.

Estuaries are often called the nurseries of the sea and for good reason. Marine educators will provide a morning of classroom and hands-on field-based instruction during the “Coastal Fish Identification and Biology” course. Get knee-deep in various coastal habitats while learning the biology of coastal fish and other species. The course will begin with one hour of classroom instruction followed by two hours of in-the-water experimental learning from 9 AM-12 PM on July 15, and the cost is $15.

“Our Local Watershed: History, Changes, and Restoration Efforts,” provides an in-depth look at the watersheds in Southwest Florida, which are defined by subtle differences in elevation, hydrology, soils and even wind direction. Hear stories from a team of local experts on how water moves across this flat landscape, how it has changed over time, and what is currently being done to restore watersheds to historic conditions. Learn the connections between inland areas and the coastal waters on which ecotour providers’ livelihoods depend. This course is offered at 2–5 PM on August 21. The cost is $15.

The final course in the series is “Stewardship Best Management Practices: Wildlife Rules and Ethics.” We interact with wildlife every day. Are we treating the animals we encounter fairly, ethically and legally? Join a group of local experts for case studies, lessons learned, and the information you need to conduct business in harmony with coastal wildlife and in compliance with laws and ethics. This course if offered on September 30, 2–5 PM. The cost is $15.

Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is located at 300 Tower Road in Naples. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters between Naples and Everglades National Park. It is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office in cooperation with NOAA. For more information or to register for these courses, visit

The Eagle Has Landed

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 8:57am


The eagle has landed and can be found at its temporary perch outside the city of Marco Island’s Community Room, located at 51 Bald Eagle Drive, behind City Hall.

Standing 9-feet tall, the majestic 800-pound statue of an American Bald Eagle stands sentry there awaiting a move to its eventual home atop the Freedom Fountain that will grace the Veterans’ Memorial at Marco Island’s Veterans’ Community Park.

The Freedom Fountain will be built at the Memorial’s entrance, joining the Flag Plaza where the American, Marco Island, state of Florida and POW/MIA flags proudly wave above an inscribed brick-paver plaza. The plaza is accented by a planter bench at the center and commemorative benches along the perimeter.

A large portion for the cost of the Flag Plaza was contributed by Marco Island residents Bob and Thelma Sargent, while contributions from Mike and Jill Havey of Marco helped secure the eagle.

Funds still are being raised for the Freedom Fountain, with a goal of having it installed by year’s end. Residents, visitors, local organizations and businesses are all able to donate by purchasing commemorative pavers or lines on the fountain. Plans and artist’s renderings of the fountain are on display at City Hall and Mackle Park.

Donation forms to help complete one of Southwest Florida’s most beautiful and inspirational Veteran’s Memorials are available at Mackle Park, city of Marco Island Parks and Recreation Department, or by contacting Patty Mastronardi at 239-389-5035 or Lee Rubenstein at 239-564-9894.

For online information about donating to the fountain or purchasing pavers visit:

All donations are tax deductible.

‘The Odd Couple’: Family Style

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 8:08am

By Noelle H. Lowery

Forget everything you know about the classic 1965 Neil Simon Broadway play — and 1968 film and 1970s television show — “The Odd Couple,” and prepare to be dazzled by the Island Theater Company’s all-student performance of the play this weekend at the Rose History Auditorium on Marco Island.

Cooper Ussery as Felix
Ungar looks none-too
pleased with a peck on the cheek from his slovenly roommate Oscar Madison, played by Luke Sheldon.

Show dates and times are Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14, at 7:30 PM, and Sunday, June 15 at 2:30 PM. Doors open a half-hour prior to performances.

Originally scheduled for April, this kick-off-your-summer-right production is directed by Gina Sisbarro, sponsored by Jump Hair & Nails and hosted by the Marco Island Historical Society. According to Sisbarro, this is the full-version production of “The Odd Couple.” “We hope the island community will come out and support the kids,” she says. “There aren’t that many shows that the whole family can enjoy together. This show is great fun and appropriate for all audiences. The cost was kept low so families can expose their children to live theater right here on Marco Island.”

This classic comedy is a tale of horribly mismatched roommates: the neurotic neat-freak Felix Ungar and the carefree, constantly disheveled Oscar Madison. Felix is a newswriter by trade, who is forced to move in with Oscar — a divorced sportswriter — after his wife throws him out. From the beginning, it is obvious the two men couldn’t be more different. Felix is a fastidious hypochondriac, while Oscar’s apartment could be the site of the world’s largest Petrie dish.

Luke Sheldon takes on the persona of Oscar Madison.

The play opens as a group of “the guys” — Murray, Speed, Vinnie and Roy — have assembled for a card game at Oscar’s apartment. Late to arrive is Felix, none-too-tense, depressed and quick to point out everyone’s shortcomings. As the action unfolds, Oscar soon regrets his decision to room with Felix. He throws Felix out, only to realize that Felix isn’t so bad after all.

Marco Island theater-goers will be quick to recognize the faces in the all-student cast. Fresh from their lead holiday performances in “A Christmas Story,” Cooper Ussery takes on the role of Felix, and Ryan Sullivan portrays Vinnie. Luke Sheldon is Oscar. The cast is rounded out by local children’s theater veterans Eddy Ludwigsen, Josiah Hurtley, Joey Golec, Dylan Rodgers, Abby Martin, Jessica Lang and Marley Wilson.

Tickets for this family production can be purchased at Centennial Bank at 615 Elkcam Circle, at the Marco Island Historical Society Gift Shop at 180 S. Heathwood, or online at Adult tickets are $10 (with discounts for groups), and tickets for children are $5.

For additional information regarding Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” or the Island Theater Company student summer camp to be held in July, contact the ITC office 239-394-0080.

If your children are interested in performing or learning more about live theater, this camp will be a wonderful opportunity and positive experience.

The Cast

Luke Sheldon as Oscar Madison
Cooper Ussery as Felix Unger
Eddy Ludwigsen as Murray
Josiah Hurtley as Speed
Ryan Sullivan as Vinnie
Joey Golec as Roy (on Friday and Sunday)
Dylan Rodgers as Roy (on Saturday)
Abby Martin as Gwendolyn Pigeon
Jessica Lang as Cecily Pigeon (on Friday and Sunday)
Marley Wilson as Cecily Pigeon (on Saturday)


Kids Free Fridays at Rookery Bay

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 6:33am


The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is hosting its annual summer program, “Kids FREE Fridays,” at its Environmental Learning Center through Aug. 1. This summer education program provides free admission for children ages 12 and younger who are accompanied by an adult (up to 5 children per adult). Educators will present a different topic each week following a central theme around the rookery. Lunch will be available for purchase from 11 AM-1 PM.

June 6 and July 11: Water

Let’s begin building a Rookery! We will have to start with water, the most important part of this habitat. When fresh water and salt water mix together, they form a special kind of water called brackish water. Join us for experiments on salinity and an exploration into the world of plankton during this opening week of Kid’s Free Friday.

June 13 and July 18: Oysters

Now that we have the water in our estuary, let’s add some very important filter feeders! Oysters filter the water and provide great hiding places for small crabs in the estuary. This week we will learn all about oysters and their importance in the estuary.

June 20 and July 25: Mangroves

What beautiful oyster beds we have in our brackish water of the estuary! Now the mangrove propagules (seeds) can grow big and strong on the oyster beds to create mangrove islands. Little fish love the roots of the Red Mangrove tree that grow down into the water like a cage. Learn with us this week about mangrove trees in the estuary.

June 27 and August 1: Birds

The mangrove islands formed on top of the oyster beds in our estuary provide a great place to nest and rest for birds…we call this a Rookery! Congratulations! We have made a Rookery and now the birds have a safe place to raise their young and sleep for the night.

Scheduled Activities:

• 10-10:45 AM: Story Time (auditorium)

• 11-1:45 AM: Lab Demonstration (auditorium)

• 11 AM-1 PM: Lunch for Sale (gallery)

• 12:15-1:55 PM: Films from LIFE series (auditorium)

• 2-2:45 PM: IMAX Feature Film (auditorium)


Ongoing activities: (10 AM-2 PM)

• Touch Tank

• Kid’s Crafts


The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is located at 300 Tower Road, one mile south of the intersection of US41 and Collier Boulevard (CR951), less than 10 miles from downtown Naples, on the way to Marco Island. From May 1 through Oct. 30, the center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, adding Saturday hours for Nov. 1 through April 30. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-12 and free for members, unless otherwise noted for special activities. For more information, call 239-530-5977 or visit and

Deciphering Changes to Federal Gulf Fisheries

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 6:25am

By Noelle H. Lowery

Spanish Mackerel

Just as the weather, water and fishing were heating up in the Gulf of Mexico this spring, officials with NOAA Fisheries implemented new recreational fishing closures and accountability measures for six popular Gulf reef species — red snapper, red grouper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, hogfish and Spanish mackerel.

The reason: Federal recreational catch limits in the Gulf were exceeded in 2013 for red snapper, red grouper, gray triggerfish and greater amberjack, while the combined commercial and recreational catch limits for hogfish and Spanish mackerel also were exceeded.

If you are one of the thousands of Southwest Floridians who occasionally enjoy harvesting the Gulf’s bounty or a visitor to the area who wants to take a chance on the water, the changes in the federal regulations may cause you some confusion — and frustration — for several reasons that boil down to one thing: where a fish is caught in the Gulf of Mexico determines whether or not it can be kept.

Gray Triggerfish

First, it is all about knowing the difference between state and federal waters, and knowing where Florida’s state waters in the Gulf end and federal waters begin can be a challenge. State waters stretch from the shore to 9 nautical miles, while federal waters extend from where state waters end out to about 200 nautical miles.

Second, these waters are governed and policed by different entities. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission manages fisheries in state waters, and NOAA Fisheries through the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the Gulf coast of Florida and federal waters off of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Finally, because there are two entities involved, there are times when the regulations and approaches to meeting management goals differ drastically. The FWC has a strong interest in how fish are managed in federal waters and how that management affects Floridians. Its staff serves on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, coordinating with the council to improve fisheries management. The FWC also partners with the council and NOAA Fisheries to collect fishery data, conduct research, assess fish stocks and enforce regulations.


In federal waters, regulations require most federally-managed species to have an annual catch limit, which is the amount of fish that can be caught by fishermen in a fishing year. Most federally-managed species also have accountability measures, which are intended to prevent catch limits from being exceeded and to mitigate overages if they occur. If the catch limit is exceeded, accountability measures are triggered.

Federal regulatory officials employ accountability measures for many Gulf reef species, including shortening the fishing season in the following year if the catch limit is exceeded in the prior year. Annual catch targets are catch levels set below the annual catch limit and are typically used for stocks that are depleted (overfished) and in need of rebuilding. Additionally, some species that are depleted require overages to be paid back in the following fishing year, resulting in catch limits and catch targets being reduced.


The 2014 regulations governing the red snapper recreational season in the Gulf are a prime example of the confusion within the system. In April, FWC and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council had very different reactions to recreational over-fishing in 2013. While both state and federal officials kept the daily recreational bag limit at 2 per person with a 16-inch minimum total length, FWC set the state Gulf recreational red snapper season at 52 days beginning May 24 and closing July 15. In federal waters, though, the recreational season lasted just nine days from June 1 to June 10. Normally, the season is 40 days long.

This protracted season was the result of an emergency rule to revise the recreational accountability measures for red snapper by applying a 20-percent buffer to the recreational quota, which results in a recreational annual catch target of 4.312 million pounds whole weight. This emergency rule will not affect the commercial harvest of red snapper in the reef fish fishery.

Additional confusion has been caused by a subtle change to NOAA Fisheries’ in-season adjustment to the red grouper recreational fishing season. Based on a 2009 stock assessment, red grouper were determined to not be overfished or undergoing overfishing, and the stock was increasing in abundance. As such, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council chose to increase the bag limit from two to four fish beginning in 2012. Landings in 2012 increased substantially compared to previous years, and were 96 percent of the catch limit. Trouble hit in 2013 when landings exceeded the catch limit by 26 percent.

Red Grouper

This year, the red grouper recreational daily bag limit in federal waters was reduced from four fish to three fish (within the current four-fish grouper aggregate bag limit) beginning on May 5, 2014, and the Gulf recreational harvest of red grouper in federal waters will close Sept. 16, to reopen January 1, 2015, unless otherwise changed. Regulations for state waters remained the same with a bag limit of four grouper per person within the four grouper aggregate limit.

Then there are the regulations governing gray triggerfish. The federal recreational gray triggerfish sector has been closed since October of last year, but remained open in state waters through June 1. While the state recreational season will reopen in August, the federal season on gray triggerfish will remain closed.

In addition to monitoring greater amberjack, hogfish and Spanish mackerel, two other species — gag grouper and vermilion snapper — are on the federal watch list. While the recreational annual catch limit for gag grouper was not exceeded last year, recreational landings came within 2 percent of the limit. Recreational accountability measures for gag require NOAA Fisheries to close the recreational sector when the annual catch limit is met or projected to be met. The gag recreational season opens in federal waters on July 1, and will remain open until December 3, unless the 2014 annual catch limit of 1.72 million pounds is met or projected to be met before that date.

Last year, recreational landings of vermilion snapper were much higher than in previous years. Even so, the vermilion snapper recreational sector is not projected to close in 2014 at this time because the combined commercial and recreational annual catch limit for vermilion snapper of 3.42 million pounds was not exceeded. NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor vermilion snapper landings in-season, and if combined commercial and recreational vermilion snapper landings reach or are project to reach the annual catch limit, then NOAA Fisheries will close the commercial and recreational sectors for the remainder of the year.

For more information — and clarification — on fishery regulations, visit or


Who is Quality Enterprises USA?

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 6:18am

Smokehouse Bay Bridge is not the first project Naples-based Quality Enterprises USA Inc. has contracted to do for the city of Marco Island.

“Quality Enterprises USA has been working on contracts and projects for the city since 2002,” says Public Works Director Tim Pinter. “QE has always provided the city with an excellent work product. They have worked with us to overcome several large unforeseen situations with the numerous projects they have completed. They have always been more than professional in their dealings with the city.”

In fact, Quality Enterprises was responsible for the construction of Marco Island Utilities’ high-service pump station, various sidewalk and drainage projects and the three phases of reconstruction of South and North Collier Boulevard.

Still, many in the community may not know Quality Enterprises well, so here is a snapshot of the company that not only will rebuild Smokehouse Bay Bridge but that also currently holds at least some part of the future of the Marco Island Marriot Beach Resort’s $150 million renovation project in its hand.

Quality Enterprises was founded in 1969 by Mr. Howard Murrell, Sr. in Norfolk, Virginia, as Quality Electric Co. The focus of the company then was gas station electrical work in the Mid-Atlantic region. In 1973, the company shifted its business plan to general contracting and petroleum-related service work, and incorporated as Quality Engineering Company Inc.

Over the next 20 years, the company expanded in size, scope and range, working in multiple states and territories. Operations grew to include heavy civil, buildings, utility and mechanical piping installations, and asphalt and concrete paving. With its growing geographical presence and evolution of project experience, the company name changed to Quality Enterprises USA Inc. in 1994.

Today, Quality Enterprises is headed by Mr. Howard Murrell, Jr., and houses its corporate in Naples. It also has a Mid-Atlantic regional office in Chesapeake, Virginia, and a Gulf Coast regional office in Gulfport, Mississippi. It employs more than 200 people and has a modern fleet of more than 500 pieces of heavy construction equipment to perform construction projects involving utilities, petroleum, roadway, earthwork, concrete and asphalt paving, bridges and aviation development. It focuses on major civil, building and specialized construction work for local, state and federal government agencies, as well as private and commercial owners.

City officials are confident they will be able to work with Quality Enterprises and the Marriott to expedite the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project, and now are waiting on a response from Quality Enterprises about an accelerated schedule.

Once the schedule has been hashed out and City Council has made its decision as to whether or not it will approve an expedited process, Quality Enterprises will receive its notice to proceed the initial project phases which will include surveying, protecting adjacent private property, preparing shop drawings, ordering materials, and preparing the site preparation, including confirming utility locations and temporary service relocation for continuity of services.

If the Marriott’s $1 million and an expedited schedule remain in play, Quality Enterprises will have until May 1, 2015, to complete the bridge.

Enforcement Action Filed Against FGG

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 6:07am

By Noelle H. Lowery

Nearly two months ago, bulldozers powered by Florida Georgia Grove LLP (FGG) laid waste to what many considered a historic Indian shell mound on Chokoloskee Island near the Ted Smallwood Store. While FGG spokespeople denied the claim publicly, contending the company did nothing but move dredged spoil, it now appears the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking a closer look into what happened on the island during the last week of April.

Nakeir Nobles, a public affairs representative with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, confirms that the Corps has “an enforcement action out” on the destruction of the shell mound and “is investigating,” but she was not able to comment any further because the investigation is ongoing. Sources close to the investigation, including a Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer with the Florida Department of State, believe the enforcement action involves a possible violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

The news comes during the height of the mediation process between the owners of the Ted Smallwood Store, Collier County and FGG regarding access to Mamie Street. Results from this mediation is expected to go before the Collier County Board of Commissioners in July.

This is the latest development in a decade-long conflict between FGG and the residents of Chokoloskee Island over 4.75 acres of land at the southern tip of the island. It all began in 2004 when FGG bought the property from the Seminole Tribe of Florida for little more than $1.2 million. The reported plan: build a boat ramp.

The tract fronts Chokoloskee Drive on the north end and water on the south end, and Mamie Street crosses diagonally through it. According to a report of observations conducted on the property in 2011 by Preservation Consultant Marsha A. Chance for FGG, the property once had been home to “a small motel, two secondary structures, and at the south end, a small boat basin.

In 2010, FGG received permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Collier County to replace 450 linear feet of seawall, install a boat ramp, dredge about 1,456 cubic yards of material from the basin and replace the wooden boat dock. Chance’s report describes the preparation for the dredging process: “(A) V-shaped trench was excavated approximately midway in the tract. It was approximately six feet deep, 200 feet long and six feet wide. The purpose of the trench was to use the fill removed from it to construct an earthen berm (directly adjacent to the trench) behind which the dredged spoil from the boat basin would be placed to dry.”

In April 2011, the real trouble began, as FGG fenced the perimeter of the property and destroyed parts of Mamie Street in order to begin dredging the basin. Complaints flew in; a lawsuit was filed; and FGG’s progress came to a screeching halt, leaving Mamie Street — or what was left of it — inaccessible. The Ted Smallwood Store was forced to close its doors for six months until FGG received a court order to reopen Mamie Street in October 2011.

The legal battle dragged on until this January when the Board of Collier County Commissioners voted not to vacate its claim to the public right of way on Mamie Street. Prior to this, the BCC considered signing an agreement with FGG that would require Collier County to “vacate” Mamie Street, thereby giving the road to FGG. The settlement agreement also required FGG to provide access to the Ted Smallwood Store, but it would have made Mamie Street a private road giving FGG the option to relocate it.

Fast forward to April 1, and the actions that have sparked the interest of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. FGG applied for a vegetation removal permit from Collier County. The permit was granted on April 2, allowing for the “removal of exotic and invasive species and other non-native plants to allow for finish grading of land.” The work was approved to be completed between April 2 and October 2. The most important condition of this permit included a requirement “that any excavation or vegetation removal be monitored by a certified archeologist.”

FGG proceeded to remove the vegetation and complete the long-awaited seawall work, and between April 24 and May 4, FGG graded the property and moved material from the reported historic shell mound via bulldozer to be used as fill for the marina basin. While this work was not included in the county permit, concerned citizens were told in an email from County Zoning Manager Ray Bellows that County Engineer Jack McKenna said the grading was consistent with the vegetation removal “to stabilize the site and to make it clean of holes and ruts as well as for water management purposes.” Further, FGG’s archaeologist, Dr. Greg C. Smith, did assess the property, but it is unclear if he was on the site during the recent work, per county requirements.

Enter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Stay tuned.

A closer look at the Marriott’s $1 Million Offer

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 5:56am

By Noelle H. Lowery

On June 2, the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort’s $150 million renovation plan cleared another hurdle when City Council approved the amendment to the hotel’s planned unit development and master plan by a vote of 4-2. Councilors Amadeo Petricca and Chuck Kiester voted against the measure, and Councilor Joe Batte was not in attendance. The second reading of the PUD amendment will be held Monday, June 16, at 5:30 PM, during the next regular City Council meeting.

The approval came after nearly six hours of presentations, impassioned community responses, in-depth discussion and a surprise promise from Marriott General Manager Rick Medwedeff. The hotel’s ownership group will kick in $1 million to expedite the renovation of the Smokehouse Bay Bridge. The extra money takes the 18-month bridge project down to 10 months, eliminating any potential overlap between the bridge work and construction at the Marriott while also eliminating the potential need for Marriott construction traffic to use San Marco Road (U.S. 92).

“We were asked to look for yet another benefit to Marco Island, and we took that to heart,” Medwedeff told city councilors. “This would be a significant enhancement to island residents…It would benefit the tax payer because we would fund the $1 million to make that happen.”

Now, it is up to City Manager Roger Hernstadt, city councilors and city staff to get the bridge contractor — Quality Enterprises USA Inc. — on board and make the transaction happen. According to Hernstadt, the city already has requested a revised construction schedule from Quality Enterprises, including all associated conditions such as work hours. This information would come before City Council for approval or rejection.


The Bridge

City Council approved the $7.625 million contract for the Smokehouse Bay Bridge during its May 19 regular meeting. To be sure, it was not a hasty decision, as the city has been wrestling with the prospect of rebuilding the bridge for more than six years. In fact, it has spent upwards of $2 million trying to repair the deteriorating spans, concrete spalls and crumbling seawalls while also designing a replacement bridge.

The real work began about a year ago, though. The bid process fell apart when the price tag for the then-approved suspension bridge design proved a moving target — ranging between $8 million to more than $13.1 million. The four bids received by the city at the time came in between $3.4 million to $5.1 million over original cost estimates.

Public Works Director Tim Pinter and the design engineers from T.Y. Lin International went back to the drawing board, value-engineering the original design. At a little more than $7.2 million, the revised construction cost estimate proved more palatable to city officials, and they sent the bridge back out to bid in February.

According to the bid response from Quality Enterprises, the construction schedule for the four-lane bridge project is set at 18 months. Currently, no closures are scheduled with one southbound and northbound lane remaining open at all times.

During a prior City Council discussion about the project, councilors rejected a couple of alternative schedules that would speed up the construction. Chief among those alternatives was the dismissal of an expanded work day and week, allowing Quality Enterprises to work on the bridge from 7 AM-10 PM, six days a week, and effectively cutting the timeline for the project by eight months.

Councilors were concerned about inconveniences to residents in the area — and the extra $1 million necessary to fund the expedited schedule.


Third-party Funding

Still, the idea gave some city councilors food for thought, and Councilor Kiester openly ruminated on the possibility of a “third-party” funding source for the extra $1 million when it originally surfaced. That’s why city councilors were not necessarily surprised by Medwedeff’s offer for the Marriott to provide the funding.

“I believe this was a very generous offer by the Marriott that is actually beneficial to the entire island community,” said Councilor Bob Brown in an interview after the meeting. “Some have thought that it only helps the Marriott because they need to expedite their time frame, but since there are multiple projects that would affect the island, this actually reduces construction time overall, which is where all Marco Island residents benefit.”

“We’ve identified the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project as critical to the island, and the faster we can get this project done the better it will be for all,” he added.

Still, Brown understands there will be challenges. “That being said we need to be sensitive to those who will be most affected — living near and around the bridge.”

Those challenges surfaced quickly during the June 2 public hearing, as a number of residents — including Bill Harris and former Marco Island city councilor and current member of the Planning Advisory Board Dr. Bill Trotter — voiced their concerns about the impact extended work hours for the bridge would have on the lives of the residents living in the neighborhoods near the bridge, primarily those in The Esplanade.

Councilors Kiester, Petricca and Council Vice Chairman Larry Sacher also expressed unease with expanded work hours. “The whole point of expediting the bridge construction will really cause problems on Collier Boulevard, but to reduce the time involved to 10 months is mutually beneficial to the Marriott and the city,” Councilor Kiester said during the meeting.

Ultimately, though, the decision will be that of city officials and the team from Quality Enterprises, who did not return repeated attempts to contact them. Other options to expedite the project will most likely be explored. “There could be several ways to adjust timing, and that is not necessarily just eliminating all possibility of extended hour(s),” noted Brown.

“It’s a decision the contractor will have to make should Council put limits on hours,” explained Sacher in an interview following the public hearing. “As I understand it, some of the work — especially the prefabrication of materials part — cannot really be accelerated, but actual construction work might be able to be accelerated by hiring more people with the extra money.”

Sacher continued: “I would like to think that the contractor would find the incentive of $1 million extra enough to find a way to work within our parameters to earn the money.”


Approved: 1st Reading of Marriott PUD Amendment

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 8:07pm

By Noelle H. Lowery

Marco Island resident Bob Olson speaks before the Marco Island City Council.

The Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort’s $150 million renovation plan cleared its first hurdle Monday (June 2) night when City Council approved the amendment to the hotel’s planned unit development and master plan by a vote of 4-2. Councilors Amadeo Petricca and Chuck Kiester voted against the measure, and Councilor Joe Batte was not in attendance.

The approval came after nearly six hours of presentations, impassioned community responses, in-depth discussion and a surprise promise from Marriott General Manager Rick Medwedeff. The hotel’s ownership group will kick in $1 million to expedite the renovation of the Smokehouse Bay Bridge. The extra money takes the 18-month bridge project down to 10 months, eliminating any potential overlap between the bridge work and construction at the Marriott while also eliminating the potential need for Marriott construction traffic to use San Marco Road (U.S. 92).

“We were asked to look for yet another benefit to Marco Island, and we took that to heart,” Medwedeff told city councilors. “This would be a significant enhancement to island residents…It would benefit the tax payer because we would fund the $1 million to make that happen.”

At the heart of the discourse were four elements: two PUD amendment requests and two land development code modifications to allow the Marriott to reconfigure their current meeting space, add an additional 26,000 square feet and add a new 84-room guest tower. First, Marriott officials requested an 11-foot variance on the current height limit in its PUD, which would allow the proposed guest tower to reach 111 feet — the exact same height as its current two guest towers. Second, Marriott asked to build a structure on the east side of Collier Boulevard to house its HVAC systems. It would be located north of existing cooling tower.

The land development code modifications sought by the Marriott included adjusting a 10-foot landscape buffer to a 5-foot buffer on the parking lot north of the valet entrance and reducing the number of landscaped islands on the interior of the parking lot.
Marriott officials want

The voices that have spoken the loudest against the Marriott proposal — Bob Olson, Bill Harris, Karina Paape and Dr. Bill Trotter — stood firm, demanding the Marriott be held to the stipulations established in its 2001 PUD. “Gentlemen, I have been forced to live and breathe this issue at a gut level,” Olson said from the podium. “My arguments maybe tainted with emotion, but this is about land use…We need to get this right and get it right right now. I really live this issue. I live right next door.”

“This is not about 84 rooms,” Trotter explained. “It is about intensity and potential intensity…It is about the potential impact on the island.” He urged City Council to slow down and consider how all aspects of the project will change the community.

Supporters of the project focused on the Mackle brothers’ original vision for Marco Island. Local businessman Bill McMullan — who was a friend of the Mackles — read from Deltona Corp.’s 1964 annual report, which depicted Marco Island not as a haven for retirees but as a bastion of “resort leisure living” where “growth will be derived from tourist activities.”

Long-time Marco Island Realtor Jim Prange echoed McMullan: “I would like to remind everybody that the Mackle brothers designed Marco Island to be a year-round community with schools, parks and churches. It is a real shame that the young families of Marco Island are never represented at these meetings. They are too busy trying to survive — many working two jobs, attending and coaching athletic events and raising their children. Many do not have the time or the money to get involved or fill out surveys from the civic association. As a result, you are getting a one-sided answer.”

Representing the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce and the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors, Dick Shanahan reiterated that “any community in this country would welcome the Marriott proposal…There is no perceptible downside to this proposal.”

Marriott General Manager Rick Medwedeff

When the conversation turned to the men behind the dais, Councilor Larry Honig summed up the general consensus of City Council: “This project is reasonable. It is not an overreach, and it won’t worsen the character of the island…This is not a massive construction project on this island.”

Still, there was work to be done, and City Council spent the better part of two hours going over the 17 conditions in the ordinance imposed on the project by the Planning Advisory Board. They hashed out concerns over the 1243 parking spaces, traffic, landscaping and pest control. Councilor Petricca asked a number of times who would be responsible for policing these conditions and how it would be done. Councilors agreed that noncompliance with any of the conditions will result in a fine of $250 for the first violation and $500 per day per violation for repeat violations.

New conditions were discussed as well. Some councilors suggested adding language that would prevent any further changes to the PUD, and City Attorney Burt Saunders is looking into this. Councilor Petricca expressed concerns over out-dated language throughout the PUD ordinance, and he, Saunders and City Manager Roger Hernstadt will be meeting to go over these issues.

Finally, City Council discussed the coordination of the Smokehouse Bay Bridge construction, its completion, the Marriott’s $1 million contribution to the project and the beginning of the Marriott project. Some councilors want to predicate the beginning of the construction on the Marriott on the completion of the bridge work. Chief among the concerns in this conversation was the possibility of extended work hours on the bridge from 7 AM-10 PM.

“The whole point of expediting the bridge construction will really cause problems on Collier Boulevard, but to reduce the time involved to 10 months is mutually beneficial to the Marriott and the city,” said Councilor Kiester.

Councilors agreed that city staff needed to meet with the bridge contractor — Quality Enterprises USA — to discuss the proposed timeline, $1 million contribution and alterations to its $7.625 million contract for the bridge.

With the first public reading and hearing completed and the clock approaching 11 PM, Council Chairman Ken Honecker set the second public hearing and reading of the PUD amendment for June 16, and Councilor Honig summed up the evening: “I think we’ve made tremendous progress tonight.”

Class of 2014: ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ at MIA

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 9:46am

By Noelle H. Lowery

Across the United States this spring, more than 3.3 million high school seniors are donning caps and gowns to do the graduation walk, but few of these soon-to-be graduates will be as proud as the 20 students who make up the first graduating class of the Marco Island Academy. Their graduation ceremony is today — Friday, May 30 — at 6 PM in the Capri Ballroom at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort.

This first graduation ceremony is the culmination of five years of blood, sweat and tears, trials and errors, and ups and downs that go into creating and building a public charter school from scratch. Many in the graduating class have been part of MIA since it started. They watched the campus rise from the ground. They helped create a school crest. They designed the first class ring. They witnessed the gradual birth of what soon will be their alma mater.

It also ushers in the next stage of evolution for the local charter high school. This school year, MIA received it accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accreditation division of AdvancED in the Southern U.S. George Andreozzi stepped down as principal, and in his place is a new administration team headed by Principal Melissa Scott and Assistant Principal Amber Prange. The board hired Tina Nash as director of development to spearhead the school’s next phase of fundraising and growth. MIA also is awaiting the arrival of its new head football coach, Greg Fowler.

With these class of 2014 from the beginning have been MIA founder Jane Watt and Prange. The two women have watched this group of students expand their minds and become the leaders of the MIA family. “All of these students left somewhere — homeschool or another school — to take a chance at our new school and help build it,” Prange says. “Through everything, they have hung in there and are here now to graduate. We are just so proud, and it showcases the fact that we are here and they did it. Every single one them has a plan to pursue something they love in the future, and that is the best we can ask for.”

The magnitude of their graduation — and place in MIA history — is not lost on the students. When asked how they felt about being “the first,” the answers ranged from “honored,” “excited,” “privileged,” “rewarding” and “special” to thoughts about their “amazing journey,” the rewards of being “the start of a new future” and “setting the standard.” One even said coming to MIA “changed her life.”

Senior Jacob Hurtley summed it up best: “To be a pioneer is to be human. This was an interesting and life-changing experience that will impact my future.”

To be sure, the class of 2014 all will miss their friends, teachers and the uniquely tight-nit learning environment at MIA. The students and faculty and staff have fostered close, personal relationships, and it is these relationships that will fuel their future successes.

“The big thing we have been pushing is having the kids get in touch with what they are passionate about,” explains Prange. “Take risks, and don’t be afraid to be brave and courageous in your future.”

Scott, who is a seasoned veteran with 14 years of graduating classes under her belt, believes graduation is a holistic process that “always has to be about the students.” While this first graduation will teach the administration a great deal in preparation for next year’s crop of seniors, those students will be different with different needs, fears and futures.

“What works for one year will not work for the next,” she says. “Every kid is an individual and every class is individualistic. Graduation has to be meaningful to each class, and we as administrators have to take our own risks as well. We need to do the same thing we are encouraging our kids to do…take the same action as we ask of them.”



On the Shady Side

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 9:41am

Mike Malloy


When most of the flowering plants and shrubs are struggling to thrive in the hot summer sun and waiting for the “cooling” afternoon showers, there is a group of plants that might be a little bit smarter. They thrive in the shade. Not only are these shade plants doing just fine, they are blooming.

In Florida, shade takes on a different meaning than the shade “up north.” I don’t think we have the same deep shade areas in Florida as they do up north because the sun is so intense here. It’s lower in the sky, and there are more wide-open spaces with less to distract from or interfere with the sun’s rays and intensity.

When I first moved here more than 20 years ago, I remember driving around looking for a spot where I could wax my car in the shade on public property. Never found one. Try finding a spot where you can park your car without turning you dashboard into a Weber grill.

Shade in Florida is dappled sun that filters through our so-called shade trees. Even the north side of my house is pretty bright a good portion of the day.

Orange Plume (Spicigera)

When most people think of planting in these shady areas, the first things that come to mind are ferns and philodendrons. While both of these are good examples of green plants that will do well, let’s go one step further by thinking of something that not only give different shades of green but also produces flowers.

There are also several groups of plants where the flowers are inconspicuous and the foliage is the attraction because the foliage is so spectacular. Alocasias are one such group in which the foliage comes in many different sizes, shapes and colors. These plants with their colorful tropical leaves can hold their ground with any shade loving flowering plant.

One of the most popular plants for shade is Firebush (Hamelia patens). It blooms year round and is wildlife friendly, attracting hummingbirds and all kinds of birds and butterflies for its berries and nectar. Firebush also does well in medium to bright light.

Brazilian Snow (Ctenanthe lubbersiana)

A couple of years ago I found two new plants that bloom almost continually in the shade on and off all year. The first one is Spicigera. Part of the shrimp plant family (justicia) commonly called orange plume, it is a 5-6-foot shrub which will bloom on and off all year long with orange plume-like flowers. Another is White Candle plant (Whitfieldia elongate). I first saw this plant growing and blooming underneath a stairway. The flowers are white and look like candle tops, while the foliage is a beautiful shiny dark green. This plant not only blooms year round as a container plant on my lanai but has been in bloom for more than three years.

Another is giant White Begonia (Odorata). This plant not only grows and blooms in the shade but does double duty. It also adapts to sunnier locations. It has white flowers and large shiny green foliage. As a matter of fact, almost all begonias will do well in shade.

Farfugium japonicum commonly known as “tractor seat” — its leaves are large and resemble the seat on a tractor — has blooms like a Black-eyed Susan (yellow) that protrude from stalks that can reach 2 feet with each stalk having multiple blooms. Not very common, but if you can purchase one, it is an unusual plant that will bring a lot of inquiries and be a real find for your shade garden.

White Candle (Whitfieldia elongate)

A larger plant for shade is Brazilian Snow (Ctenathe lubbersiana). It will reach 2-4 feet. Leaves are white-to-yellow and green. This one does real well as a container plant and is very showy. Flowers are inconspicuous.

Last but not least are Bromeliads, which are some of the most colorful plants and so easy to care for. Some of their blooms can last for months, and another bonus is they put out pups (new plants) every year. So buy one, get many. It’s the plant that keeps giving. Share them with friends.

These are just some of the shade plants that are out there. Have fun searching for others. KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!

About The Author Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website,

Travel Through Books

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 9:35am

Vickie Kelber

Donna Leon’s series about Guido Brunetti takes place in Venice.

I enjoy reading books that evoke the culture and neighborhoods of places that we have visited. Italy is a popular setting for authors who write mystery series as well as other novels. I’ve written before about my favorite, the Commissario Guido Brunetti books set in Venice by Donna Leon. Her portraits of Venice are so real, the last time we were there and passed by Brunetti’s headquarters, the questura, I had to restrain myself from stopping in to ask to meet him! We did have a coffee at one of his favorite bars, a few doors down from the police station. I was pleased that her twenty third Brunetti mystery, By its Cover, was released this year.

As equally charming as Brunetti are his wife, the very bright and feisty Professoressa Paola and the crafty Signorina Elettra, the person to go to in the questura for information. With Brunetti, expect to stop frequently for un caffé for that, of course, is the Italian way!

Magdalen Nabb has written 14 titles featuring Marshall Salvatore Guarnaccia, a southern born member of the Florence carabinieri, stationed inside the Pitti Palace. Her first book, Death of an Englishman, was published in 1981 and reprinted in 2013. The book presented a good picture of the lives and politics of the Florentines. I was particularly amused by her description of the restaurant, Casalinga, a neighborhood favorite in the Oltrarno district back in the 80s when the book was written; that same establishment was recommended to us by a local more than 30 years later. Death of an Englishman was a short book; one to be savored and not read too quickly. Ms. Nabb passed away in 2007 at the age of 60, so there will be no new titles. Happily, though, her novels are timeless and all of them have recently or will soon be reissued by Soho press.

Florence is a popular setting for many writers. photoS BY VICKIE KELBER

Christobel Kent’s hero, Sandro Cellini, a former policeman turned private eye, has been featured in five books set in and around Florence. Although not the first in the series, my introduction to her writing was with The Drowning River. Much of the action took place both in the neighborhood of an apartment we once rented and near the Boboli garden, which, of course, enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. Perhaps not as charming as and a bit darker than Leon’s Commissario Brunetti, Cellini is an engaging character as is his wife, the low key but sage breast cancer survivor, Luisa. While Leon tends to focus on the frustration of the Venetian justice system, Kent features the darker side of Florentine society. I followed up with Kent’s Dead Season and found it a bit ponderous. I am looking forward, though, to trying her other two earlier novels featuring Cellini, as well as A Darkness Descending, released last year.

Although Katherine Hall Page has written a series featuring Faith Fairchild, the snoopy, can’t-let-it-go caterer and wife of a minister, most of her mysteries are set in New England. The most recent, The Body in the Piazza, takes place in Rome, Florence, and some Tuscan hill towns. I enjoyed this light weight tale more than I thought I would; Page has a good feel for the Italian culture (especially the food portion!) and evokes a strong sense of place. While the book did keep me engaged, I realized it was the description of these beautiful cities that hooked me, not an affinity for the writing style or characters; I have no desire to read other titles in the series.

A work of nonfiction, The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi Preston was written in 2008, but there is a new afterward to the most recent edition. The book is very unsettling, not because of the “Monster” of the title, but because of the machinations of the Italian justice system. The Monster is a serial killer who murdered seven couples during the period of time from the 1960s through the 1980s. It has been claimed that the Monster was one of Thomas Harris’ inspirations in developing the character of Hannibal Lechter.

Much of the action of The Drowning River took place in this Florentine neighborhood where we once rented an apartment.

Preston, an American author who relocated to Florence, and Spezi, an Italian journalist, worked together to try to identify the killer. Soon they became the focus of the investigation; Preston had to flee Italy and Spezi was arrested. The story is an amazing one of corruption, fantastical plot theories, and abuse by the Italian justice system. What was most chilling, however, was finding out in the afterward that Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor whose questionable tactics led to abuse of office charges in the Monster case was the assistant prosecutor in the Amanda Knox case. You might remember that Amanda Knox was the young American charged, acquitted, and then recharged with the murder of her roommate. For me, knowing this about Mignini put the entire Knox case in a new and very frightening perspective.

If you are a Europhile who savors reliving the travel experience or enjoy reading about places you have visited or hope to visit, you will be entertained by Rick Steves’ non fiction work, Postcards from Europe. Written in 1999 and updated in 2009, Steves’ observations and characters are timeless. Vignettes from his travels abroad as well as his signature sense of humor and discrete location chapters make this a good choice for a book you can pick up and read in spare moments. Postcards from Europe also gives insight into how Steves built his career as well as how his TV shows are funded and produced.

About The Author Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Take a Hike: Sand Dollar Island is Waiting for You to Explore

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 9:31am

Nancy Richie

Black Skimmer with newly hatched chick. PHOTO BY JEAN HALL

Take a hike and explore one of the most beautiful ecosystems in southwest Florida, walking from Tigertail Beach Park parking lot on the new boardwalk, through the tunnel of mangroves, around the southern end of the Tigertail Lagoon, then heading north to the very tip of Sand Dollar Island “spit” that curls around toward Hideaway Beach, and then tracing your steps back. It takes almost three hours at a moderate pace; longer if you stop a few times taking in the abundance of wildlife that you can’t help but encounter.

Once out on the “spit,” the area has an official state designation — the “Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area” — but locals know and refer to it as Sand Dollar Island. It was an island, an ephermal sandbar, paralleling the beach off north Marco Island. The sandbar was a popular destination for boaters in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and really was covered in sand dollars by the buckets full, hence its name.

Around 1999, due to currents, storms, sand deposits and erosion cycles typical of inlet pass system dynamics, the Big Marco Pass filled in, and Sand Dollar Island’s southern end connected with the main beach of Marco Island in front of the South Seas condominiums beach. It has remained permanently affixed since, with its shoreline changing through the season, the dune area growing, areas fluxing with erosion and accretion of sand. This connected island, Sand Dollar Island, now a “spit”, has added miles of beach to Marco Island for beach walkers to explore, photographers to focus and shell seekers to wander. There are a handful of regulars that know this secret jewel of Marco Island inside and out. Take a hike, see what is so special “out there.”

Walking along the shoreline, dozens of species of shells can be found from the common scallop, fighting conchs and pen shells to lettered olives, moon snails and lightening whelk. (When collecting shells, please check inside the shell for the mollusk animal; if it’s an empty shell, keep it; if occupied, please leave it on the beach.) Of course, sand dollars are found too — sometimes too many to count. Due to erosion of the shoreline, a few dead, leafless mangroves and sea grapes are found. Now decorated with shells and messages from beach walkers, they have become autograph trees for memories. About a mile up the “spit,” due to erosion, a pathway leads off the shoreline into red mangroves, making one feel they are in a remote paradise taking an adventurous walk, and then all of a sudden the path ends on a wide expanse of beach sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and Tigertail Lagoon. Bird life is abundant in both bodies of water and on the sandy beach. You have reached the heart of the Critical Wildlife Area.

The beginning of May, the first two sea turtle nests were found and protected, thanks to our sea turtle lady Mary Nelson and one of her new volunteers, Ray. The 100 or so hatchlings that will emerge from each of these nests in about 60 days will always call Sand Dollar Island home. It’s their natal beach. The hatchlings that survive will come back one day and create their own nests of sea turtle eggs here on Sand Dollar Island. The Sand Dollar Island “spit” was habitat for more than one-third of the Marco Island sea turtle nests last season.

Aerial photo by Humiston & Moore Engineering Inc. taken September 2013.

In the large expanses of sand between the lagoon and Gulf from April through August, Least Terns and Black Skimmers nest. These shorebirds nest in large congregations, making lots of noise. Due to loss of habitat of sandy open beaches with some amount of vegetation that is not disturbed by upland development, there are fewer beaches along the coasts of the Southeast that satisfy their nesting requirements, but our Sand Dollar Island is perfect. There are large areas of sand, some vegetation for protection, plenty of bait fish in the lagoon and Gulf, and it is relatively quiet. These attributes have attracted more and more Least Terns and Black Skimmers in the past few years. This year looks to be very productive too.

Making just a scrape in the sand for a nest, the eggs are tiny and well camouflaged so very easy to overlook. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation biologists post the nesting areas each spring to protect the fragile nests, eggs and chicks. When walking, don’t stir up the birds (called flushing). They need to stay calm and on their eggs until they hatch and then to protect and feed chicks until they can survive on their own. If the birds are flushed and the fragile eggs and chicks are exposed, they are easily preyed upon by other shorebirds, crows and ghost crabs, and can bake in the sun in minutes. Please be sure to stay as far as possible from the posted area when walking by. When in this area, you may be greeted by a friendly Shorebird Steward — local residents who volunteer for a few hours on the beach near the posted shorebird nesting areas — who provide information on the birds and opportunities to view the birds and chicks through a scope.

Continuing past the shorebird areas to the very northern tip of the “spit,” you will find you can almost walk to Hideaway Beach as the tip curls around and seems to be accreting more sand, stretching the shoreline closer and closer to Hideaway Beach. Look in the waters for dolphins and manatees who commonly swim by in these waters. This area is a very popular boater destination — the historical site of “Coconut Island.” Some Saturday afternoons, there could be dozens of boats beached on the tip and anchored behind Sand Dollar Island enjoying the clear, warm waters. No dogs are allowed on Marco Island’s beaches, and this includes all of Sand Dollar Island. Please keep dogs onboard your boat and help conserve and protect this important, fragile and diverse ecosystem we know as Sand Dollar Island.

Take a hike and explore the rich ecosystem of Sand Dollar Island! Remember to only leave your footsteps in the sand. Don’t leave trash or beach equipment. Take it home! If interested in more information about Marco Island’s beautiful beach and wildlife or would like to volunteer as a Collier County Shorebird Steward, please contact Nancy Richie, the city of Marco Island’s environmental specialist at or 239-389-5003.


For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or

The Gulf Stream: A Migratory Highway

Tue, 06/03/2014 - 9:28am

Stepping Stones
Bob McConville
Master Naturalist

The North Atlantic subtropical current flow. SUBMITTED

Over the next few months, there will be a lot of attention given to the loggerhead turtles that nest on our local beaches. Not so much fuss will be made once the eggs have hatched, but many people are very aware of the absolutely magnificent, nearly impossible journey that these youngsters take. It is nothing short of a miracle.

Some of them will catch the Gulf Stream current just off our shoreline, grab a transfer into the Atlantic Ocean and continue up the coastline until they turn east toward Europe and Africa. But they are not alone. Some scientists estimate the number of marine species utilizing this swift flowing highway to be in the thousands. It is truly one of nature’s major expressways.

The Gulf Stream is a powerful current in the Atlantic Ocean. It starts in the Gulf of Mexico and flows into the Atlantic at the tip of Florida, accelerating along the eastern coastline of the U.S. and Newfoundland. It will then turn east towards Europe and continue down the African coast.

It is part of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, one of five major ocean gyres on the planet. A gyre is a large system of circular currents and powerful winds.

This current was first mentioned by Ponce de Leon on April 22, 1513, and described in one of his voyage logs. He stated that, even though his crew had favorable winds for their sail, the powerful water allowed them no progress.

In 1519, Anton de Alaminos set sail for Spain from Vera Cruz, Mexico, using the Gulf Stream by following the Florida coastline northward until the currents turned him eastward towards Europe. He was a chief pilot for Ponce de Leon and also sailed on Christoph Columbus’ last voyage. He had experience on the open seas and was the first to take advantage of these currents.

Another famous historical figure who showed a keen interest in the North Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns was Benjamin Franklin. As a deputy postmaster of the British American colonies, he was looking for a way to streamline communications between the colonies and England, after receiving numerous complaints regarding overseas mail delivery.

During a 1768 visit to Englalnd, Franklin discovered that it took British mail packets several weeks longer to reach New York than it did for merchant ships to reach Newport, Rhode Island, from England. Franklin’s cousin, Timothy Folger, a Nantucket whaling captain, explained that merchant ships worked with this current while mail packet ships worked against it.

These savvy merchant ship captains tracked whale behavior, measurement of the water’s temperature, the speed of bubbles on the water surface and changes in the water’s color to follow the speedier route. Benjamin Franklin worked with Folger and several ship captains to chart the Gulf Stream, giving it the name it still is known by today.

Franklin’s Gulf Stream chart was published in England in 1770, where it was mainly ignored, and subsequent versions were printed in France in 1778 and in the U.S. in 1786. It would be years before the British finally took Franklin’s advice, shaving two weeks off the sailing time between England and the U.S. — a major stepping stone for better trade relations.

Anton de Alaminos realized that by working with the water flow, even though it was a longer route, he could save time to reach his destinations. Folger tracked whale behavior that led Franklin to determine the path of the Gulf Stream. Two hundred years later, we watch loggerhead turtles utilize this highway, and we are learning that it is also being used by migrating sharks, marlin, tuna and many more marine species that follow food sources, such as plankton and bait fish.

It seems endless, but the Gulf Stream has a beginning point and an end for many species. It has entry points and exits as well. Trade winds off the coast of Africa cause a warm cycle of water that eventually winds through the North Atlantic creating a merry-go-round for us to enjoy. There is an order to things on this earth, and this current is an important one. It’s another major stepping stone in the cycle of life. We should understand and embrace another one of Mother Nature’s wonders.


Bob is a Florida Master Naturalist and owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours. He is also a member of the Dolphin Explorer’s 10,000 Island Dolphin survey team and a member of Florida SEE (Society for Ethical Ecotourism). Bob loves his wife very much!