The Florida Files

Florida – Day seven: Part one 🇺🇸

We arrived at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a non profitable organisation located in South-West Florida, at 8:15am. After an hours drive was required to reach our destination.

The Wildlife Refuge is located on Sanibel Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, Southwestern Florida and is compromised of 6400 acres.

We are a nonprofit that financially supports nature conservation, wildlife protection and education efforts for J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Southwest Florida.

The refuge gained its name after a local cartoonist (Jay Norwood Ding Darling) who prevented the land from being sold which was due to be used for other purposes. The conservationists remained well known for the creation of his duck stamps, essential stamps that have to be purchased in order to enter the refuge.

Jerry (a current volunteer at Ding Darling) presented a factual powerpoint presentation giving an indication into the past and present history of The Wildlife Refuge. The talk was both authentic and inspiring and allowed us to consider the activities we could engage in to better our planet, and to occupy conservation efforts. Jerry also, mercifully, introduced us to his wife – Belinda, who was also a current volunteer at the refuge.

Jay Norwood Darling blocked the sale of the environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island. Darling also convinced the President at the time (President Truman) to sign an executive order to create the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge rewinding back to 1945. Moreover, the refuge changed the name to ‘JN Ding Darling’ in 1967.

Profits made at the refuge following visitor entrance fees and gift shop purchases, amongst generous public donations, is put towards conservation efforts that are carried out throughout the entirety of Ding Darling. Alas, the refuge alarmingly receives no Government funding, but works entirely to protect species and to encourage the next generations with their creditable efforts and high work ethics.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society pays for essentials that The US Government fails to prioritise. The money is raised through various fundraising activities, aswell as through the visitor centre.

Carolina Parakeet: This species is the only species of parakeet that lives in The US. However, the species went extinct back in 1939, and the last known species tragically passed away in captivity (Simpsonati Zoo).

Passenger Pigeon: This species passed away in the same cage as the late Carolina Parakeet, though during the sooner date of 1914. Passenger pigeons are reliant on forests to aid their survival, but the species struggled to adapt to changing environmental conditions due to market hunting which wiped out the forests.

Moran and aesthetic nature preservation: John Muir is the President of the Sierra Club, who composed that ‘Nature deserves to exist for its own sake regardless of the degree of usefulness to humans’. The preservation exists and helped to establish The National Park Service in 1916.

Modern environmentalism: The industrial explosion occurring as a result of WW2 added new environmental concerns, which therefore allowed the Environmental Agenda to be expanded in both 1960 and 1970 to begin to include: Atomic weapons testing, fossil fuel issues, air and water pollution and wilderness protection.

The first National Earth Day began in the 1970’s as a result of an establishment of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Global concerns have increased over time, due to an expansion of greater technology and communications alongside a better understanding surrounding different concepts and ideas, with previously little information available in relation to them. Environmental events and concerns are now reported Worldwide, therefore we gain an understanding into issues and improvements occurring around The World. The events also reported both locally and regionally.

Environmental issues include: Climate change, energy, biodiversity, human rights, agriculture/food, population, water and consumerism.

The refuge allows visitors to view a vast selection of animals in their natural environment, including 245 bird species which occupy a larger diversity throughout migratory seasons (January-April).

We walked around the refuge, witnessing charismatic red mangroves which gain their distinctive redness due to a lack of oxygen. The mangroves appeared to be home to bird species, including the white ibis perching upon a mangrove branch.

A normal, unharmed, manatee bone typically weighs roughly 2lbs, but with damage, the bone’s weight suffers an increase of a dangerous 6lbs.

We read the tragic story of a glorious manatee named J.Mullett, who became known during her first sighting on March 11th, 1996, whilst understanding the causes of her unfortunate mortality. Mullett first became sighted in Crystal River, FL and was easily identifiable because of the healing wound located behind her head, amongst significant propeller wounds from her mid-tail to tail base.

She also had a pit tag fitted beneath her skin to help locate and identify her.

The case of J.Mullett: Named J as she was found in the month of January, and Mullett, as the location she was found in had the name of ‘Mullett’s Gullett’.

The manatee was released back into the wild (Crystal River) on December 5th 2000, after 2 years of seeking rehabilitation (starting January 2nd 1999) at Lowry Park Zoo for her noted injuries.

Mullett suffered abnormal signs of breakage in her ribs, therefore developing an abnormal growth following an impact with a boat. (Air boats are popularly used throughout The Everglades, despite not being very environmentally or wildlife friendly, to encompass a range of species).

Manatees often appear in areas of human activity, which have big associations with the numbers of declining manatee in The World, often becoming injured from boat propellers, which can cause swelling in the muscles surrounding the tailbone, which negatively impacts the manatees abilities to swim efficiently, and without difficulties.

A necropsy case file revealed the avoidable causes of Mullett’s death. She received multiple strikes from passing by boats in the area she was inhabiting, which caused abnormal bone growth in both her ribs and her skeleton. The findings also informed us that a discarded fishing line was found located in her small intestine and colon, again, highlighting the human impacts upon marine life. The fishing line caused multiple injuries, including internal damage and the blockage of her intestines, which fabricated eating, digesting and defecating difficulties.

Devastatingly, Mullett had given birth to her calf and was said to be nursing her just 6 days before she gruesomely died.

How did J.Mullett die?

  • Watercraft: Collision with hull and/or propeller or any type of watercraft.
  • Crushed/drowned in a floodgate or a canal lock.
  • Perinatal: Death of a newborn manatee less than 5 feet long.
  • Death due to cold weather exposure.
  • Other natural causes: Infection, disease, birth complications, natural accidents or natural events (such as red tide poisoning).
  • Unfortunately, the causes of death have had no success in being determined.

The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Five 🇺🇸

Our fifth day in Florida was spent in Naples, where we experienced the exciting privilege of visiting the FCGU (Florida Golf Coast University) research centre, visiting the majestic, stunning botanical gardens and driving our way to The Everglades.

We first stopped at the research centre. Listening to three different, informative, talks about different kinds of research carried out: including information about water flow and the movement of water in the wetlands, presented from a former masters student at the university and a bubbly lecturer from Spain.

After a morning spent in the research centre, we then proceeded to spend two hours roaming freely around the magnificent botanical gardens, viewing hundreds of unique, colourful plant and tree species. Some native to Florida, and others that were not – but gorgeous all the same. I thoroughly enjoyed the Botanical gardens and quickly became mesmerised by the vast amount of breathtakingly bright, beautiful and colourful sights and flowers around.

I even witnessed a plant therapy section of the garden, which I found to be an amazing idea. I hadn’t heard of plant therapy prior to this, so it was thrilling to expand upon my knowledge and understanding in that given area.

I could’ve happily spent an entire day in the gardens, simply strolling along and appreciating the natural beauty of nature.

The gardens were magical, peaceful and very scenic. I enjoyed the visit and I would definitely recommend it to other people. I loved witnessing new species I hadn’t previously encountered, alongside gaining further knowledge, such as vanilla being derived from orchid plants. (Vanilla being my favourite scent!) And embracing another stunning Floridan attraction.

The drive to The Everglades took approximately two hours from the botanical gardens, which I can confirm was completely worth it since it stood as a highly enjoyable, and unforgettable, experience, especially because we took loop road: A popular site to view wide abundance’s of wildlife – including alligators.

We made a few stops and eagerly left the mini buses to gain a closer look at the animals spotted along the way. We spotted alligators (including a juvenile on a log) anoles, and a range of bird species, like egrets. Spending time in Florida studying animals meant I was gaining more knowledge (and confidence) with identifying bird species!

We arrived at Coopertown Air-boat Tour, which I’d firstly like to admit I personally didn’t find a very pleasurable experience, from both an animal welfare and a personal perspective. And I can confirm that other students shared my unfortunate views of the attraction. However, I did feel that the experience was important as it allowed me to understand more about animal ethics in different parts of The World I hadn’t previously encountered.

Whilst visiting Coopertown, I found that the information issued to the public by workers wasn’t always accurate and could therefore be very misleading. The animals had very little space to roam around freely throughout their enclosures, especially the snakes, and they didn’t replicate their natural environment even in the slightest way, which was extremely disheartening to see.

Since a selection of the animals at the centre were invasive species, it became apparent that their welfare wasn’t really adhered. These animals are viewed as pests and tactics are routinely carried out in order to unkindly remove them, which I feel contributed to the unreasonable conditions the animals were kept in.

Our group and one of our lecturers took a ride on an air boat – a popular tourist attraction in Florida. It was loud, and disturbing to the animals inhabiting the surroundings, causing them unnecessary stress. Which, as Zoologists, we didn’t particularly admire. I personally believe that other, kinder, ways could be carried out in order to view animals up close, but in a way to reduce unnecessary stress to animals.

Additionally, at the end of the boat ride a worker proudly appeared in front of the small crowd armed with a tiny, juvenile alligator with the encouragement of getting people to have their photos taken with it. I strongly disagreed with this and believed that this shouldn’t have been carried out at all, never mind just for the sole purpose of entertainment. In my opinion, the rights of the animal weren’t taken into consideration and I believe it wasn’t a mindful idea to be handling a knowingly dangerous predator in front of visitors.

The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Three 🇺🇸

Today, we ventured out at 8:45am, filling our backpacks with cameras, swimwear, binoculars and (of course) plenty of water, amongst other zoologist necessities. Essential in the dazzling 40°c heat!

The day was spent at Lovers Key, a barrier island consisting of three islands (Lovers Key, Inner Island and Black Island) – approximately a ten minute, scenic, drive from our accommodation where we saw unique mailboxes, ranging from dolphin and manatee themed to mermaid themed.

Evidently, Americans truly embrace their individualities and it was a delight to see.

Following a talk from our fabulous Lecturer, Christian, about Lovers Key, mangroves and fascinating barrier islands we perched ourselves excitedly on the bridge, keen to witness manatees in their natural environment, following the success of other students in previous years.

Binoculars at the ready, hopes running high, it wasn’t long before we joyfully encountered a manatee swimming elegantly in the distance. My first manatee sighting! Unfortunately not close enough for a high quality photograph, but enough for a breathtaking experience and long lasting memory. We manoeuvred quickly to another area close by and luckily witnessed another manatee within close proximity of us.

We walked for roughly 4 hours around Lovers Key, embracing high abundance’s of the stunning nature (including mangroves – which consist of 3 types) we had the privilege of experiencing. Also spotting more gopher tortoises, a juvenile included, anoles, butterflies and dolphins. I adored seeing such a wide diversity of animals up close, Florida is blessed with such fascinating wildlife!

We then made our way to the beach, accidentally becoming caught up in a man’s fishing net, to his disapproval, and being taken in by the biggest crashing waves.

Later on in the evening, promised a good view of the sunset, we made our way to the beach, walking the short route together as a friendly group of 16 students. The sky was a very pale pink and the bright sun was heading down, approaching it’s setting. I loved spending time with friends, whilst embracing our surroundings and having thrilling conversations. The sunset was truly stunning and an exceptional way to end another magical, fulfilling day.

We spent a while on the beach, relaxing and laughing. It was great fun!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Manatee
  • Dolphin
  • Brown anole
  • Turkey vulture
  • Black vulture
  • Black racer snake
  • Orange barred butterfly
  • Mangrove crab
The Florida Files, University

Florida – Day Two 🇺🇸

BAREFOOT BEACH RESERVE

Following a well needed sleep after a lengthy (though enjoyable) travelling period, we were ready to embrace our first full day in Florida, whilst fending off jet lag!

Meeting at 8am, lathered in sun cream and covered in protective gear, filling two buses we eagerly headed off to The Barefoot Beach Reserve. The drastic temperature increase was a delight, the sun was beaming down blissfully. Although it felt odd to be wearing minimal layers after succumbing to Bangor’s identifiable declining temperatures.

We had a scheduled talk from Jimmie Trulock – an (extremely knowledgeable) ex park ranger at The Everglades and a current volunteer at the reserve. And Florida’s Master Naturalist.

Jimmie kindly guided us around the reserve, showing us an array of beautiful fauna and tree species, aswell as telling us about their histories and their uses. Ie: some trees being used for pharmaceutical purposes. The talk was super interesting and Jimmie displayed a strong passion for nature and his work, which we made notes about in preparation for our assessed blog posts.

We were blessed to see animals freely inhabiting their natural environments, some of which included stunning gopher tortoises, brown anoles, raccoons and feeding pelicans.

We then had another lecture, listening to another naturalist talking about sound pollution, the different types of sound and the ways in which we can be kinder to our senses.

Following a few insightful hours at the reserve, we had 3/4 of an hour free time to roam around the reserve as we pleased. The majority of us headed to the beach, captivated by the stunning, soft, white sand and the dashingly beautiful blue water. We swam, splashed, and experienced animals feeding naturally – and peering for fish, whilst laughing lots and creating wonderful new memories.

Canoe time! We paired up and ventured out on the canoes, it was my first time canoeing so I was a little rusty; I soon grasped the concept of manoeuvring around the peaceful reserve, after frightening Carla a handful of times with my unpredictable steering methods (oops!) and it turned out to be a pleasurable experience, navigating around mangroves and embracing our surroundings.

Rowing our way eagerly around the calm waters, we witnessed gorgeous dolphins (my favourite marine mammal!) swimming both elegantly and closely to our canoes. The experience was incredible, it felt magical and captivating – to say the least. We also saw a number of magnificent bird and fish species, boats, and bubbly Americans.

Our accommodation gratefully has a pool, which we all went in afterwards for a swim and a cool down, before a debriefing about the day we’d experienced and the plans for the upcoming day. It was incredible to spend a day with wonderful people who share my passions and my admiration of animals, whilst experiencing new things and visiting new places!

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY

  • Dolphins
  • Gopher tortoise
  • Brown anole
  • Ospreys
  • Red breasted woodpecker
  • Cuban tree frog
  • Raccoon
  • Ant lion
The Florida Files, University

Day one – Arriving in Florida 🇺🇸

Arriving at the meeting point following an agonising wait for the day to arrive, it was finally time to head to Florida, ready to engage in an incredible field course, offering new experiences and unforgettable memories.

With it also being my first time in The US!

6am sharp, we were packed up and rearing to go. Handing the bus driver my luggage proceeding to sit comfortably on the mini bus, gently wrapped up in my oversized fleece to accommodate the typical British weather. Freezing. It was dark, it was cold. But I was excited. All 16 students (myself included) alongside 3 of our wonderful tutors were set to go on a big American adventure!

We arrived at Manchester airport at approximately 8:30am, approaching check in, handing over our passports for checks and receiving seat numbers and boarding passes in return. The wait wasn’t too lengthy. And after successfully passing through security checks, my friends (Beth, Annabel, Carla, Beth, Georgina) and I wandered through to some shops, passing the time before boarding time approached.

Our trip to Florida consisted of two exciting plane journeys.

Plane one was our trip from Manchester to Philadelphia, lasting roughly 8 hours. To my amazement, we were issued individual televisions with a vast selection of movies, tv programmes, games and music. And watching Mamma Mia Here We Go Again millions of feet in the air, wrapped in a blanket and rested on a pillow, made me incredibly happy. The airline staff were wonderfully kind and accommodating throughout the journey, which definitely kick started my first American trip as a delightful one.

8 hours later…yay! We arrived in Philadelphia, undoubtedly restless but ready to collect our luggage so we could check it in for the next flight. The time difference already began to confuse me, but I remained confident I’d adjust in no time.

The second flight (Philadelphia to Fort Myers) lasted approximately 3 hours. In comparison to the earlier flight, time *literally* flew by and we arrived in next to no time. All of us feeling the exhaustion, but also the contentment of finally landing in our destination.

After locating and reuniting with our luggage, we headed over to the bus hire centre in order to receive the vehicle we required for our transportation to our accommodation – Vester Marine Field Station. We waited patiently and chatted away with minimal energy after a lengthy day spent travelling.

We finally reached our destination which was set to be our home for the upcoming 10 days. After a 30 minute drive, we unloaded the bus and chose our preferred rooms with the people we’d opted to stay with, afterwards packing and making our beds in preparation to fend off jet leg and to welcome our first full day in Florida.