Love the outdoors and preach that love to everyone you know.
We have made it through our second week here in crazy Miami. Since we last wrote, we have done what feels like a million things: explored alligator holes, visited with Nancy Marshall again, and listened to countless amazing people from all different backgrounds speak about their relationship with The Everglades–just to name a few.
Last Friday seems like a very long time ago, but there’s no way we can skip over telling you guys about Everglades National Park. Our Fearless Leader Kristie drove us through the park, stopping the car every few minutes to show us something new. The most memorable of the stops was when we trudged out to a tree island in the middle of the swamp and stood up to our knees in the water of an alligator hole. Kristie pointed out the vegetation and the past water lines on the cypress trees while we swatted mosquitoes. On our way back to the car, the sky opened up above us and it began pouring. By the time we got back to the car, we were soaked to the bone and couldn’t stop laughing. It was probably one of the best adventures of the trip so far.
To begin the new week, we started by meeting with Shannon Estenoz, an employee of the U.S.Department of the Interior. Shannon is the director for the Office of Everglades Restoration Initiatives. We listened to her informative perspective of the Everglades Restoration Project and concerns for the Seaside Sparrow, a species of rare birds within the Everglades. Later that day, we went to Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens. We took a shuttle tour of the historic garden, learned about the organization’s “Million Orchid Project,” and viewed the garden’s butterfly exhibit. The “Million Orchid Project” was extremely interesting! Through this project, several middle school students around the state, enter a bus and plant orchids. This project educates kids about gardening and helps restore the population of orchids in South Florida. The butterfly exhibit had several species of butterflies and beautiful displays. We got to hold butterflies and feel their tiny legs tickle our fingers. Later that day, we went to a symposium that was hosted by Kristie at the gardens. Students and professors from Florida International University discussed their research projects and proposals. After a day of discussions, tours and presentations, we needed to rest and to prepare for the next day’s adventures!
We started out our next day’s adventure early by heading to Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. We got a bit lost on the way but managed to find the visitor’s center. We all agreed that it was beautifully designed (by Nancy Marshall, no wonder!) with its interactive activities from the Everglades at night to an airboat “ride” on a screen. Later on, we had lunch with Stan Bronson and Bill Whitfort, who spoke to us about the development and design of the land surrounding the Everglades and the other economic standpoints. They were very laid back and informative in their perspectives. Our last event for the evening was our etiquette lesson with Barbara Wymer. We were all a bit nervous at first, but our laughter during that hour could probably have been heard down the hall. We learned proper table setting and greeting, both of which are important in establishing a good impression on others. When we were finished, we headed to Nancy Marshall’s house for cake and ice cream and a lovely chat about our latest adventures. We also held a small belated birthday celebration for Barbara. It was a lovely evening.
The morning began with heavy rain but ended with clear skies and salty breezes in Florida Bay. Tom Frackovich from the National Park Service and Pete Frezza from Audubon were up early to greet us at the Key Largo Ranger Station where we prepared to take our first dive (literally!) into the bay. Florida Bay is the last receiver of water in the Everglades ecosystem, freshwater that reaches the bay mediates salinity levels and helps support a diversity of marine life. However, it is starving for water. Seagrass die-offs due to mismanagement in 1987 and 2015 have left the bay in a delicate condition and boat captains in the Florida Keys have been fighting to help restore the bay. However, they expressed their frustrations to the interns while having dinner with us at Lorelei. Many of the boat captains led the charge in getting Florida Senate Bill 10 passed. SB 10 will build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to send water towards Florida Bay and Everglades National Park during dry periods; however, many captains believe that we can get more done and faster. Despite their frustrations, Captain Mark gave us one final piece of advice, “Love the outdoors and preach that love to everyone you know.” If Florida is going to remain a healthy state, that may be the most important formula to follow.
Until next time,