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Author to speak on history of nonnatives on Captiva, Sanibel

By Staff | Mar 21, 2018

Charles Sobczak

Author Charles Sobczak will discuss how escaped and introduced species have impacted Florida’s indigenous flora, fauna and sea life at a presentation put on by the Captiva Memorial Library.

He will present “The Great Florida Invasion: From pepper to pythons” on March 28 at 2 p.m.

“If you’re interested in Florida wildlife and the chaos that these other animals have wreaked on our ecosystems, this is a lecture you really want to attend,” Sobczak said.

The program will take place in the Civic Center room, adjacent to the main library.

It is free and open to the public; no reservations are required.

The presentation will take a look at the invasive species that have arrived in Florida throughout recorded history. From the medieval swine abandoned in 1521, to the recent introduction of Burmese pythons into the Everglades, it will cover the environmental and financial costs of these exotics.

The program encompasses mammals, birds, insects and fish, as well as plants.

“I talk about how each one has impact us and how many actually make it,” Sobczak said.

He added that only about 1 percent to 2 percent of invasives survive.

In the present times, one of the nonnative species found on Captiva are the green iguana. Sobczak reported that the species originally came from Central America or Mexico and lives in burrows.

“They tend to burrow under sidewalks and foundation,” he said.

Known for eating ornamentals and native plants, green iguanas may carry diseases.

“But, it’s not as bad as the black spiny-tailed iguana,” Sobczak said.

Found on Boca Grande, black spiny-tailed iguanas eat turtle and bird eggs, as well as plants.

“They just don’t belong here is what it boils down to,” he said.

In terms of fauna, one invasive that can be found on the island is the Australian pine.

“It’s the one that’s prone to blowing down in hurricanes,” Sobczak said. “They have shallow root systems.”

He noted that Sanibel lost an estimated 10,000 of the trees in Hurricane Charley.

“Their biggest negative impact is their propensity to blow over during storms,” Sobczak said, noting that they can cause damage to homes and property.

On Sanibel, the cane toad can be found. Brought over by cane farmers to help control the insect populations in the sugar cane fields, he explained that the species “got away” from the fields.

“They can grow to six pounds,” Sobczak said. “They’re the largest toad in the world.”

Cane toads are known to eat native amphibians and lizards, like frogs and the anoles.

For fauna, Sanibel is faced with the Brazilian pepper.

“We spend at least $1 million alone on Sanibel trying to eradicate Brazilian peppers,” he said.

Established plants create a canopy and monoculture, where nothing can grow under it.

One painful, and potentially deadly, non-native is the fire ant.

“More than 80 people have been killed by fire ants since their arrival,” Sobczak said.

He explained that they came via Mobile, Alabama, in 1931, and have spread all the way to Oregon.

“They’re terribly good at killing anoles. If they can, they’ll kill snakes,” Sobczak said. “They’ll kill anything they can inject their venom in.”

During the presentation, attendees are directed to resources where they can find specific information on how to keep invasives in check. One cited is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“There are so many, and there’s so many nuances to each one,” he said.

However, all exotics seem to have one thing in common.

“One of the most important things is, at the end, I focus on us as being the catalyst for all of them, no matter how they got here,” Sobczak said. “We basically brought them here one way or another.”

He added that he aims to keep his programs educational but entertaining.

“The problem with some of them (other lectures), especially the science ones, they get really bogged down in graphs and charts and projections,” Sobczak said.

He explained that he uses those tools, but also relies on animation, video and humor.

“It’s humorous at times,” Sobczak said of his presentations. “It captures audiences much better than that dry formal approach.”

Following the program, there will be a question-and-answer session.

Sobczak will have copies of two of his books available, “Living Sanibel: A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands” for $30 and “The Living Gulf Coast: A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida” for $20.

A Sanibel resident, Sobczak has appeared on National Book TV and has lectured on various nature topics to the Road Scholar organization, Audubon and Sierra Club groups. In 2017, he was a featured speaker on the Celebrity Equinox. His book, “The Living Gulf Coast,” won the gold medal Presidents Award in 2011 in the category of adult non-fiction from the Florida Publisher’s Association.

For more information, call 239-533-4890.

The Captiva Memorial Library is at 11560 Chapin Lane.