Sanibel Reinstates Removal Program for Invasive Species

by SC Reporter Reese Holiday

Green Iguanas are an invasive species to Florida and have an abundant population on the Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Photo by Kyle Sweet

The Green Iguana Removal Program, which was previously suspended earlier this year in March due to city budget concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, has been reinstated as of Thursday, Sept. 17 by the Sanibel City Council, according to the city’s official website.

The Green Iguanas are an invasive species to Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) official website, and have an abundant population on both the Sanibel and Captiva islands.

An invasive species, according to the FWC’s website, is one that is introduced to a different ecosystem that is not their natural area and causes negative impacts on the natural wildlife. It is also a species that can “overpopulate and become out of control,” said Chris Lechowicz, the Program Director of Wildlife & Habitat Management at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF).

In the case of the Green Iguana, it doesn’t pose as much of a threat to the natural wildlife on the island compared to other invasive species in Florida, like the Burmese Python found in the Everglades.

“When we talk about pythons, we talk about them eating all kinds of native wildlife,” Lechowicz said. “We’re talking about a lizard that eats plants.”

However, the scaly, green reptiles can still cause problems to both human and wildlife island goers as they can be found digging large burrows, typically in dirt, so that they can lay their eggs in the spring.

“Anywhere that you have piles of dirt or if your house is up high, they’ll dig into the side of it,” Lechowicz said. “They dig these massive burrows in order to lay their eggs.”

They can also cause problems for homeowners and businesses as their diet consists of grass, flowers, leaves and fruits, according to the FWC’s Iguana Posters. These are typically found in the front yards of Sanibel properties, along with exotic plants, which can attract more and more iguanas.

“They tend to congregate in the areas around houses and businesses because a lot of the native vegetation is not there anymore,” Lechowicz said. “They’re really attracted to exotic things like hibiscus and all of the pretty flowers that you buy at Home Depot.”

Along with the reinstatement of the Green Iguana Removal Program, there are many ways to prevent Green Iguanas from digging burrows and eating exotic plants.

According to the FWC’s Iguana Posters, citizens are encouraged not to feed iguanas, to remove fallen fruit from the ground, install sheet metal around trees to prevent climbing, and enclose any valuable plants in a screen cage to attract less iguanas.

It is also legal to remove and kill any Green Iguanas that are caught on private property with the homeowner’s permission, according to the FWC’s Iguana Posters. However, the live transportation of Green Iguanas is not permitted without a permit.

These prevention methods are not new, however, as the Green Iguana Removal Program was originally started in 2007, according to Lechowicz. This was due to the abundance of Green Iguanas on the island at the time, which was originally caused by their initial introduction to the United States through pet-trade.

“They were imported into the United States in very large numbers for the pet trade through Miami and just from some mis-handling,” Lechowicz said. “They occupy the east coast, and some got over to the west coast from shipments as pets or reptile distributers on our coast. Evidently, some got out and they just survived down here.”

The Green Iguanas are native to Central and South America, according to the FWC’s Iguana Posters, but the climate of the Sanibel and Captiva islands is perfect for their survival.

“Sanibel and Captiva are islands, so we’re naturally warmer,” Lechowicz said. “We’re more sheltered from the cold weather, so iguanas do much better here than they do on the mainland.”
Despite them being able to thrive in the island’s climate, Green Iguanas are still invasive and can cause problems for homeowners, businesses, and wildlife.

With the Green Iguana Removal Program’s reinstatement, the City of Sanibel is currently taking requests for Green Iguana control on their official website. The city also reminds citizens that they can hire a private trapper for Green Iguana control at any time as well.

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