This was an exciting beginning of the year for me as I co-lead my very first Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) course. With the unwavering support from my co-instructor and colleague Karen Solms of the Deering Estate, we planned content, coordinated guest speakers, and plotted two field trips for the participants of the class.
Students came from a variety of backgrounds and educational experiences. Some took the class for personal educational advancement, others for professional development. In addition to plant, invertebrate, fish, and reptile species identification, the students learned about hydrological history of the Everglades, and current projects taking place in local freshwater systems, including but not limited to: alligators and crocodiles as climate change indicators, amphibian research, peat science in the Everglades, various conservation initiatives, and a stimulating bird identification presentation. Additionally, Deering Estate staff offered a hands-on activity in which many of the students were able to safely and respectively handle snake species that are housed at Deering for educational purposes.
The Deering Estate hosted the course, providing an excellent facility for classroom learning but also granting front-door access to several habitats for one of the class field trips. The first field trip at Deering Estate introduced the class to herbaceous wetlands, pine rocklands, and tropical hardwood hammock habitats. While the focus of the class was freshwater systems (as opposed to uplands habitats), the excursion demonstrated just how inter-connected all of the habitats are, and how they work together to support the ecosystems and species that depend on them. The class was also treated to a presentation about the Deering pump station, a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program.
Field trip #2 took the group to the quintessential Florida wetland—Everglades National Park. The students were treated to a special guest trip leader: Jeff Wasielewski, the Commercial Tropical Fruit Extension Agent for Miami-Dade County Extension, as well as Everglades guru and narrator extraordinaire. Jeff and I planned an outing that included a slough slog (a waist-high wade through a forested wetland) in a bald cypress dome, a lunch and discussion at Long Pine Key, and an Anhinga Trail photo scavenger hunt. Throughout the day, the students participated in a mini BioBlitz activity (an event that focuses on identifying and recording as many species as possible in a given time period, and/or given area), keeping track of all species they observed in the Park.
This class received a special treat, a visit from the creator of the FMNP, Dr. Marty Main. Dr. Main graciously agreed to attend the class and give a lecture. The students engaged Dr. Main with thoughtful questions and discussion. Both students and instructors left that evening’s class inspired and motivated.
The course culminated the final project presentation, a requirement to graduate from the module. Final projects served as a demonstration of the information/concepts/species learned in the course, presented in each student’s unique way. Projects were as varied as educational lectures, games, sensory experiences, artistic renderings, and hands-on activities. At the end of the night, all 13 students graduated from the Freshwater Systems module, and two of those students officially became “Florida Master Naturalists,” having completed all three of the Core Modules.
Want to Become a Florida Master Naturalist?
The FMNP is an adult education UF/IFAS Extension program developed by the University of Florida and provided by many Extension offices and participating organizations throughout the state of Florida. The mission of the FMNP is to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors.
For more information, please visit the Florida Master Naturalist Program web page.