Bonita Bay, recognizing the delicate ecological balancing act between flora, fauna and human inhabitants, remains steadfast to preserving the vision of its founder – living in harmony with nature.
It’s no secret that Bonita Bay’s foundational credo – living in harmony with nature – began from a single vision of creating an environmentally responsible community. That mantra has become the emotional driver of the actions required to maintain that vision.
The various internal teams work in concert to implement procedures and processes to help control the ecological systems within the property’s 2,400 acres. It’s also imperative to acknowledge that activities outside the borders of the community also greatly affect the internal equilibrium.
According to one online source (WalletHub), Fort Myers is the number one fastest-growing city in the country, which only adds to the intense responsibility to ensure best practices are on point to keep Bonita Bay’s ecosystem in harmony – this includes everything from what roams here, flows here, and finally what grows here.
Ecosystem; a large community of living organisms (plants, animals, and microbes) in a particular area where the living and physical components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. All species are important to keep the ecosystem balanced.
Bonita Bay set aside 1,400 acres of open space which encompasses wetlands, marshes, and sloughs. Within these delicate spaces, the central characters that deem this site home read like a “Who’s-Who” of the animal kingdom – 52 bird species, 17 various reptiles and amphibians, and 13 mammal breeds. Generally speaking, these groups live in “perfect harmony” – unless and until an outside source flagrantly intervenes.
Director of Community Maintenance Operations, Bill Lynn when questioned about the importance of maintaining the delicate eco-balance commented, “We have adopted our founder’s vision and try to keep that philosophy intact in all our efforts.” He further emphasized, “This is such a delicate ecosystem and if you begin to mess with the balance, it disrupts nature’s original framework.” He continues, “For example, the vast majority of snakes on the property are non-venomous. They are extremely beneficial in helping to keep the small rodent population under control.”
Bill is concerned that most outside landscapers who service individual homeowners attempt to do their customers “a favor” by eliminating anything that slithers, which overall does more harm than good. Bill recommends that everyone – from residents to landscapers – learn to recognize which snakes are friendly and non-threatening. Bill notes, “Last spring especially the rabbit population was out of control due to lack of predators.” Any unnecessary species’ removal only further exacerbates the disruption of the ecosystem balance.
To experience the glorified flora of Bonita Bay is to witness an overwhelming display of natural areas, coupled with carefully sculpted spaces that are groomed specifically for the pure aesthetic pleasure of the passersby. This particular aspect of the ecosystem may seem immune from imbalance issues, but sadly, that is a misnomer. Disrupters of the landscaper are numerous and one that is especially problematic of late involves the proliferation of the iguana – an invasive exotic reptile. According to wildlife experts, iguanas reproduce at a rapid rate, and although they pose little threat to humans or pets, they have an enormous ecological impact.
Peggy Kilby, BBCA’s flower technician offers, “I understand this is the first year we’ve experienced such a large volume of iguanas on the property, and as the population grows, the flower and flowering plant upkeep intensifies. With no local predators, the only defense is to plant flowers the iguanas don’t like; Begonias, Alyssum, Geraniums, Angelina, Dusty Miller, or Milkweed are a few they shy away from – as such, we’ve begun to plant more of these varieties.”
Surrounded on three sides by water, Bonita Bay has 80 lakes, of which, only one is native. Further, there is one lake with a particularly spectacular bird population that has even garnered attention from area Audubon specialists. Nestled between Hidden Harbor and Oak Knoll, the body of water otherwise deemed “Lake 31” plays host to over one dozen bird species: namely anhingas, cattle egrets, reddish egrets, snowy egrets, black-crowned night herons, great blue, green, little blue and tri-colored herons, the glossy and white ibis, bitterns and lastly, moorhens.
A few years ago, because of the bird habitat proliferation, Bonita Bay was visited by Audubon Florida personnel. The duo was onsite to perform survey work on the reddish egret, a bird that is considered “near threatened” with less than 100 mating pairs statewide. Yet, Bonita Bay is fortunate to host two pairs of nesting reddish egrets.
According to Ann Paul, Audubon Florida Regional Coordinator, “With regard to ecological balance, it is imperative that proper trimming remains dutifully maintained between the mainland and the closest islands (on Lake 31) to prevent tree-climbing predators from reaching the islands via overhanging or low, overlapping branches. These predators thrive on eggs, chicks, and even adult birds, and include raccoons, iguanas, cats, and even some snakes. Also, maintaining the alligator presence in the lakes helps reduce the interest of these tree-climbing predators from swimming to the islands. Interesting enough, studies by University of Florida researchers have discovered that alligators who live in lakes under bird colonies are healthier than those without!”
It is believed another reason the bird population is so plentiful on the islands of Lake 31 may be due to the addition of birds that would otherwise roost in the Everglades. By following the Bonita Bay birds to their cocooned “safe haven,” the additional birds discover an optimum nesting opportunity; privacy, access to water, and shelter from predators.
Further, an additional major consideration for the increased bird population stems from proper maintenance of the stormwater management system as controlled by the Bonita Bay grounds maintenance department. This is the single largest piece of ecosystem management that can be controlled to achieve any number of desired results. According to Jerry McPherson, Director of Design Review (who incidentally recently celebrated his 30th anniversary at Bonita Bay), “Bonita Bay’s stormwater system was designed to collect rainwater or stormwater runoff in a manner to filter through a series of stepped water retention ponds and lakes to reduce pollutants prior to exiting the property into any one of the three surrounding water resources.”
Florida laws are very strict as to how a community must interact with any water sources and the means by which they are safely and effectively filtered prior to exiting the property. The first inch of rainwater must be kept on the property prior to entering any governing body of water. The very first line of defense enacted onsite to ensure proper water eco-balance is to use a street sweeper to remove various debris particles before they enter the stormwater system in the first place.
The desire for ecologic balance is also the catalyst for a laundry list of restoration projects throughout the community. One prime example stems from the abundance of lakes and the insistence for lake bank stabilization. In fact, in recent years, a program was instituted to plant littorals on lake banks. Not only does this action help prevent algae from forming, but specific littoral planting also gives structure to the lakes, prevents erosion, and provides a much needed natural habitat for numerous fish and wading birds.
It is no easy task to ensure a community like Bonita Bay continues to exist in cooperation with nature. From every angle imaginable, and from every team member, it is the unmistakable intention to promote and continue the founder’s vision of living in harmony with nature that drives every task.
From every seed that is sown to every droplet that ebbs, to the creatures that slither, fly, scurry or burrow herein, every atom matters. Achieving a balanced eco-system is not only a goal but a deliberate intention for a much-desired outcome.
As part of a life-long learning program, the Bonita Bay Community Activities department is offering the following wildlife lectures (please note, these offerings are for Bonita Bay residents only):
Protecting and Living with Florida Panthers, presented by Shawn Clem, Ph. D, research manager of Audubon Florida Western Everglades Center on Friday, March 15th at 2:00 p.m. This event is complimentary.
Living with Black Bears, presented by Wild Heart Ecojourneys on Tuesday, April 2nd at 10:00 a.m. $10 per person.
The Fascinating Life of Bees, presented by Wild Heart Ecojourneys on Wednesday, April 10th at 2:00 p.m. $10 per person.
Celebrate Annual Florida Gopher Tortoise Day, presented by Pamela Jones-Morton, Ph. D. certified Florida master naturalist.
To register for these events, please call 239-390-5550.
Written by Katie L. Walters