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Carl H. Way, Marco Island resident and chairman of Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary, met with Calusa Garden Club at its meeting March 13.

Way presented a slide show with information and potential plans for the nature preserve, and also outlined how the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, Inc. spearheaded the drive to acquire and preserve the property on Tigertail Court on which a pair of bald eagles has nested.

Mature bald eagles are three feet tall with a wingspan of six or seven feet. Since the eagles’ wingspan is so wide, these large raptors require for nesting tall trees that are not within a forest, and they prefer to build their nests within a half mile of water. Their nests are made of sticks and branches and can weigh up to one ton, so the trees on which they nest must be sturdy. Bald eagles nest near water because they eat fish as well as small animals.

While bald eagles were plentiful in the continental United States during pre-colonial times, with an estimated 50,000 nesting pairs, during the 1960s that number decreased to 400 nesting pairs. Concerned citizen groups and state and federal governments took action to protect endangered species, and today it is estimated that there are about 4,500 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.  Bald eagles are abundant in Alaska and Canada and are not included in that number.

The Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary comprises 11.7 acres and was formerly owned by Collier County School District. A bald eagle pair has nested on the site for several years – the birds mate for life and use the same nest year after year. When the school district changed its plans for building on the site, Way and others formed the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, Inc. with the goal of preserving this 11.7 acres as a nesting site for the bald eagles. But leaving the site alone and preventing development on it will not be enough to preserve the site as an eagle nesting place.  Why?  Because trees can die, and natural disasters can demolish existing vegetation and wildlife, and the bald eagles currently nesting on the site may be injured or die. The only way to preserve the site is through careful planning.

Therefore Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary, working with community partners including Florida Gulf Coast University, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Naples Botanical Gardens and Everglades National Park, has determined that its goal is to make the Marco island Nature Preserve a true piece of preserved natural land, with plants and animals living there as they existed before Marco Island was developed. Accomplishing that goal will require establishing a succession plan for trees and plants, removing non-native plants, and planting trees that will grow to replace the tall pines the bald eagles currently use for their nest. The Nature Preserve has already planted about 20 new trees, including slash pine trees, buttonwood trees and live oaks.

In addition to talking about the plans for the physical site, Way discussed the Nature Preserve’s plans for community involvement and education, including working with school children to educate them about the need for the Nature Preserve and encouraging participation in planning for and establishing the physical features of the Nature Preserve. The Nature Preserve’s plans include a learning center with virtual interactive classrooms, an “eagle cam” and a 1,800 linear foot walkway around and through the Nature Preserve.

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