Florida Master Naturalist 20th Anniversary Graduate Spotlight on Bill Gibson, Ecotourism Operator
We’re highlighting all things Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) in 2021 as the program marks its 20th anniversary. Learn more about FMNP, view the first blog post here. This blog features my interview with Bill Gibson, Florida Master Naturalist and co-owner of Motorized Kayak Adventures in Fort Pierce, FL. Bill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. UF/IFAS Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.
Hi Bill. Thanks for helping us celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Master Naturalist Program and for agreeing to this interview. You are co-owner of an ecotourism business, Motorized Kayak Adventures(MKA), located in St. Lucie County. Please describe your eco-tourism business to our readers. My wife Cathy and I and one partner James Burke officially started Motorized Kayak Adventures in November of 2010. James left the company later to focus on building and selling kayak motors. MKA became a full service kayak eco-tour business. We designed and built our own motor systems and eventually hired and trained three guides and a shop person. From the beginning, our goal has been to educate others about our natural environment and how we all can help protect it. We give special focus to kids and to those with physical limitations. That’s very rewarding. It’s been an education for us as well as we have logged thousands of hours with our guests exploring the IRL lagoon and mangrove forests, parts of the Saint Lucie River and the cypress swamp at Blue Cypress Lake during the Osprey nesting season
When and where did you take your FL Master Naturalist courses? Which courses did you take? In 2011, I completed the Coastal Systems course in Martin County and in 2013 I completed the Upland and Freshwater Systems courses in St. Lucie County.
How did participation in the Florida Master Naturalist Program help you? It was the FMNP that really made everything possible. The classes were informative, well developed, and the instructors were amazing. In particular and besides learning the basics about Florida’s 3 major ecosystems, I learned a great deal about how to present useful information to our guests. Will still use the FMNP training materials to create eco tour programs for our guests.
Not only are you a graduate of the Florida Master Naturalist Program, but you are also an assistant instructor. Do you feel connected to a larger community of Florida Master Naturalists and UF? I appreciate the assistant instructor designation and still stay in touch with some of my former classmates. It’s been very useful also to be able to contact experts from the FNMP with questions about some of the things we encounter on our kayak tours.
Can you describe one or two of the most memorable things about your FL Master Naturalist Training? My best memories are about being around fellow nature lovers, and the opportunity to learn about Florida’s diverse ecosystems.
I’ve met the co-owner of your business (your wife Cathy). Would you like to tell readers how wonderful she is? Thanks for mentioning Cathy. I could write volumes about her. She is indeed a full co-owner, and MKA simply could not function without her. Besides being critical to every aspect of our business, she has worked at and has become a recognized and award winning photographer. And shooting from a bouncing kayak, especially at night is no easy task. And guests get hundreds of photos that include wildlife, gorgeous scenic views and plenty of candid photos of everyone. We hope it helps to remind them about the beauty of Florida’s natural ecosystems and how we all can help to preserve it.
The Indian River Lagoon is a place you take kayakers on a regular basis. Why is the Indian River Lagoon so important to you and your business? Most of our tours occur on this diverse, gorgeous and critical waterway where we adventure out about 250 plus days per year and many nights. Cathy and I work hard to try and get our guests to feel the magic of the IRL. We have fallen hopelessly in love with it, especially the birds other creatures many of whom we have come to know on site. And it rubs off on our guests too. Want to help protect and preserve the Lagoon we often say to them, you first have to fall in love with it, and you know your there when you begin randomly picking up trash in a park and from the water without anybody seeing. So teaching others with the tools provided by the FMNP has been great for our business.
After participating in the Florida Master Naturalist Program, can you estimate how many people you’ve been able to teach about the Indian River Lagoon? Between our tours, the conservation organizations we both started or participated in and all the special educational events over the last decade, the number of people reached would easily exceed 12,000. Many are visitors to the area and come from all over North America and even some from as far away as South Africa, Japan, China and Europe.
Do you think you’ve made an impact as an eco-tourism owner and Florida Master Naturalist? Yes. From the beginning we have tried to be a responsible tourism company that respects nature, promotes conservation science and environmental education through interpretation.
The Florida Master Naturalist Program is celebrating its 20 Year Anniversary in 2021. Do you have any comments about this special anniversary? 20 years is a long time, and the commitment of Dr. Main, the FNMP instructors and coordinators has been amazing. In the end education is the key to protecting our environment and FMNP has been the leader in providing it with both class and field training.
Viva Florida Master Naturalist Program!