The Sand Spur Removal Project


(By Robert Howell) A few weeks ago the Audubon society requested volunteers to collect Sand Spurs from the south beach of Estero Island. Led by the Audubon’s Brad Cornell, many volunteers showed up to help for the project. folks from Turtle Time came out, local residents helped, there was even a class from the Lee County school district. All pulling together to help with this cause.

Sand Spurs are a native natural plant and not endangered. The reason we remove them is to help the odds for all the shore bird chicks that hatch on the south end of the island each year, specifically the Black Skimmers. As the chicks grow and start to walk they will occasionally step on the spurs and that alone may hinder their ability for mobility. If they’re too injured and unable to walk or fly they may not make it to adulthood. The Black Skimmer is a protected shore bird.

This removal is just step 1 of a 3 step plan to try and thin out the Sand Spur population. Step two is to rake the area to clear it of any remaining plants. Step three will be to spray the area to stop the seeds from germinating next year.

These plants only live one season but can produce hundreds of spurs. If you’ve ever gotten one of these spurs in your clothing or on your skin you know what a nuisance they can be.

One growing concern for these birds is a new bacteria the chicks are becoming infected with and some scientists believe the bacteria is entering the blood of these animals through the wounds they receive form the spurs. There’s still a great deal of work to be done to determine the type of bacteria and how the birds are truly being affected by the bacteria and how they’re becoming infected. At this time this is the leading theory and a big reason we need to thin out the spur population.

During the cleanup the volunteers were asked a lot of questions by people walking along the beach. Brad Cornell took the time to educate anyone willing to learn. The removal went on for two days. Being part of this effort was an amazing and humbling experience even though I was only able to help one morning.

Ranger Rob Howell can be reached on Instagram at RangerRobFMB, Facebook: Ranger Rob FMB or by e-mail at