For decades, Seahorse Key has been a protected way station for nesting bird colonies. Thousands of brown pelicans, little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, and cormorants would gather along the 150-acre mangrove-covered dune off Florida's Gulf Coast. However, the birds mysteriously disappeared last year on April 20, leaving behind eggs and an eerie silence.
Since then, the bird disappearance has taken a toll on the snakes - who would once feast on fish remnants that fell from the nests. Now, UF Ph.D student Mark Sandfoss spends his time researching the body conditions of these cottonmouth snakes. After capturing the snakes, he brings them back to the UF laboratory to measure their mass and length. Today, he released six of those captured snakes in their original locations.
"The birds and snakes on this island have a unique relationship where the snakes seem to be very dependent on the birds," Sandfoss said. No longer being able to depend on nesting birds for food, these snakes have resorted to cannibalizing one another.
To this day, scientists are still baffled by the birds' disappearance. Although one thing is certain - the abandonment concerns biologists because of its ripple effect.
Captain Ken McCain decided to show us an island with a different outcome. Since the disappearance of nesting birds on Seahorse Key, a portion of these birds fled to nearby islands like Snake Key. There, we saw a myriad of birds, like the roseate spoonbill, bringing nesting materials to their new nests.