Heading west on State Road 64 over the Braden River, drivers can see three mangrove islands to the right, usually full of common and rare birds, but they’re all vulnerable.
The Dot-Dash-Dit Islands are one of 10 areas around the state identified this month as proposed critical wildlife areas by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
This will be Manatee County’s first CWA, pending authorization from the Department of Environmental Protection. Twenty CWAs already exist around the state, which are in place to protect shorebirds, seabirds or wading birds.
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The islands, owned by the state and managed by Florida Audubon, host the only coastal colony of wood storks in the Tampa Bay area, according to Carli Segelson, FWC habitat and species conservation media contact.
Manatee County Audubon Society secretary Jim Stephenson said about 120 wood storks breed on the islands. They used to be in Corkscrew Swamp in Naples, he said.
A year-round closure with a buffer for the islands is being considered.
Egrets, roseate spoonbills, anhingas and wood storks nest and raise their young on those islands.
“We have a birding paradise here,” Segelson said, noting that the birding industry numbers in the billions of dollars.
Disturbance, like photographers, boaters and fisherman, is one of the factors that negatively impact bird populations. If an adult is disturbed, it typically flies away from the nest and leaves eggs and young exposed to predators and heat.
“We certainly don’t want to discourage people,” Stephenson said, “but it’s important that they not get too close.”
Ann Paul, Tampa Bay area regional coordinator of Florida Audubon, said they approached FWC to suggest the islands for the CWA program earlier this year.
If approved, signs would be placed around the islands, creating a spatial but not physical buffer. Anyone who goes too close, she said, could get a ticket from the sheriff’s office.
“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” Paul said.
A public workshop for the Dot-Dash-Dit Islands will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 21 at the Manatee County Library, 6750 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton.
Sarasota County’s Roberts Bay Islands are also on the list as a potential CWA. The Myakka River CWA, an island already established as a CWA in the middle of a river between two marinas, was requested by FWC staff to be modified, which means a buffer and year-round closure due to a shift in nesting dates.
Dot-Dash-Dit public workshop
Who: FWC and the public
What: A chance for the public to comment about the proposed designation of the Dot-Dash-Dit Islands as a critical wildlife area
Where: Manatee County Library, 6750 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton
When: 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., July 21