On Monday, five threatened black skimmers were killed in a horrific incident on Marco Island when a JW Marriott employee drove a golf cart recklessly through a flock of the birds resting on the beach.
According to Marco Island Police, 24-year-old Renardo Stewart was detained and admitted to driving the cart in an irresponsible manner.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) responded to the scene around 2 p.m. and set up caution tape around the dead birds before launching an investigation. Brad Cornell, Audubon Western Everglades’ SWFL Policy Associate, expressed his shock and sadness over the incident.
“Beaches are popular places in Florida so there are very, very few places for these birds to rest and gain weight for the breeding season,” Cornell said. “Unbelievable and heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see the unnecessary death of these threatened species.”
Making the situation even more tragic, one of the five skimmers had been tagged for research purposes by Eckerd College in the Tampa Bay Area. The bird was identified as part of Dr. Beth Forys’ research and she was horrified to learn of its death.
Canadian vacationer Jennifer Gingrich, who witnessed the aftermath. “We noticed the caution tape going up, and then a bunch of police cars arriving and heard that the five birds had… that were banned had been hit,” Gingrich said. “It’s a bit surprising, because I know they’re a protected species, and I just hope that they… You know, not sure what happened, but I hope that it wasn’t any intent in it or anything like that. You hope that everyone is OK, and it’s sad that the birds got hit and they died.”
Black skimmers, a threatened species in Florida, rely on the state’s sandy beaches to nest and rest. They are named for how they skim along the surface of the water to forage for fish, dragging their long lower bill in the water. When resting, skimmers lay their entire bodies on the sand to give their neck muscles a break after foraging, a behavior called loafing. Tragically, five of these birds were killed by a Marriot employee on Monday.
The FWC is handling the investigation with assistance from MIPD. Stewart faces five misdemeanor charges for violations against an endangered or threatened species. The incident has been met with shock and sadness by locals and vacationers alike, and it serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting these fragile species from human-caused destruction.