Tag Archives: Conservation

Power of Parks: Surface 71

Welcome to Power of Parks, a podcast produced by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, where we share inspiring stories from people who have benefited from nature, parks and recreation. Episode 11 features Emily Briceno, Jemma Currie, and Marina Barto. They’re students who lead a group called Surface 71, a non-profit organization that helps keep our oceans and communities clean by raising awareness of plastic pollution, hosting and participating in cleanup events in parks and beaches, and working to get other students involved in their efforts.

PBC Parks Participates in ‘Parks for Pollinators Bioblitz’

The Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department (PBC Parks) participated in the national Parks for Pollinators campaign, which was aimed at raising public awareness of the importance of pollinators and positioning parks as national leaders in advancing pollinator health. Organized by the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation, the Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz event was held during the month of September.

PBC Parks created a project – named Parks for Pollinators 2020: Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation – in the iNaturalist app, which was shared with NRPA and added to the national campaign. Participants used the iNaturalist app and website to record and identify observations of various plant and animal pollinators found in parks, natural areas, backyards, and other locations throughout the county.

The PBC Parks project recorded about 1,000 observations, more than 370 species, more than 100 identifiers, and nearly 150 observers on the iNaturalist app.

“Participating in the NRPA Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz was a really fun way to engage our community to support pollinators and to draw attention to the importance of our park system’s wildlife habitat,” said Jennifer Cirillo, PBC Parks’ Assistant Director.

Parks play a key role in protecting and preserving pollinators and their habitats, and BioBlitz events are designed to create a literal snapshot of plants, insects and animals to see what wildlife is present in local parks. The activity not only let participants safely explore their local parks and learn more about the species through the iNaturalist mobile app, the information gathered also provided specific data on the species located in the parks — which can help park and recreation professionals manage those spaces for biological diversity and build ecological resilience. 

In addition to featuring the project and link on the PBC Parks website, additional BioBlitz activities were included, in order to provide the community with more ways to understand the importance of pollinators and their impact on the environment.

The PBC Parks project can be found here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/parks-for-pollinators-2020-palm-beach-county-parks-and-recreation

Energy-Efficient LED Lighting installed at pbcParks

LED lighting is installed at a ballfield located inside Juno Park, as well as at 44 other facilities throughout pbcParks. (Photo Credit: Musco Lighting)

$15 Million in Infrastructure Surtax funding was allocated over a seven-year period towards the conversion of sports field lighting from traditional metal halide bulbs to LEDs at 45 facilities managed by Palm Beach County.

LED lighting is more energy efficient, requires less maintenance and lasts longer than standard bulb lighting. The Musco LED fixtures utilized by the County provide a focused beam on the playing surface that, through additional shielding, eliminates much of the spillover light that can negatively impact surrounding homes and businesses.  LED lights also provide the additional benefit of being activated immediately, eliminating the long warm-up time currently needed for traditional bulb lighting.

Grant award provides an opportunity for artistic expression at Okeeheelee Nature Center

Okeeheelee Nature Center, through the Friends of ONC, was recently honored to receive a grant from the Gopher Tortoise Council. The Donna J. Heinrich Environmental Education Grant was established to support organizations committed to developing educational projects about the gopher tortoise and the fascinating world in which it lives. Gopher tortoises are protected in Florida, and are considered a keystone species because the burrows they dig provide shelter to many other animals. Over 350 commensal species have been recorded in gopher tortoise burrows, especially during the periodic wildfires that are part of life in gopher tortoise habitats.

Protecting gopher tortoises, and teaching visitors about them, has always been an important part of ONC’s educational mission. Gopher tortoises have been living at Okeeheelee Nature Center since 1985, when 83 tortoises were relocated to the nature center’s pine flatwood forest from a retail construction site. Today, there are 90 to 100 gopher tortoises living in ONC’s preserve, including many of the original tortoises from the 1980s. They are commonly encountered by hikers and other nature center visitors, so education is key to ensuring that the tortoises and their habitat are respected.

Alex Melligon has been an Assistant Naturalist at Okeeheelee Nature Center since February of 2019. Her regular duties include animal care, teaching school and public programs, creating educational content, and interacting with visitors. When asked what she likes best about her job, Alex said, “I like that we can follow our curiosity. If we have an idea for a program or project, we are able to use our talents and creativity to explore, incorporate our interests and reach new audiences.” Since COVID-19 has put ONC’s in-person programming on hiatus and closed the nature center building, special project work has become the focus.

As luck would have it, the proposal for the Gopher Tortoise Council grant included two projects that were planned with Alex’s special talents in mind. You see, in addition to her skills as a naturalist, Alex is also a gifted artist! Since childhood, she has been interested in arts and crafts, including drawing, jewelry making, ceramics, and textiles. Alex explained, “To me, art is a fun way to express myself, and it’s a good feeling to create something with my hands, especially if it’s something useful.”

The first grant-funded project Alex took on was to design an educational gopher tortoise booklet for children. The ONC team helped brainstorm ideas for activities and content, and then Alex researched tortoise facts, wrote the text and drew all of the pages by hand. Through puzzles, games, reading, and coloring, the booklet helps children learn about the importance of gopher tortoises and how they can help protect them.

When asked what aspect of the project she was most proud of, Alex said, “I think the best part of the activity book is that it gives simple, concrete things for people to do to help tortoises, while also providing the whys behind it, and still being fun and engaging for kids.” The activity book will be available to children visiting the nature center and participating in any special programs that focus on gopher tortoises.

Alex’s second artistic endeavor took her a bit further out of her comfort zone. Another component of the grant was to create a 10 x 4.5 foot mural depicting life inside a gopher tortoise burrow. Alex said it was a challenge because, although she has always loved doing art, “I didn’t really consider myself a painter, and I had certainly never attempted a large mural.” However, she still remembers being fascinated by the beautiful ecosystem murals at her local nature center while growing up in New Jersey, so she was hopeful that she could create art that would have a similar lasting impact on Okeeheelee’s visitors.

Looking at how well the project turned out, no one would ever guess that this was her first attempt at a large scale painting! The mural features a tortoise at the entrance of a burrow that is opened in cross-section to show the burrow structure. It also highlights key features of tortoise habitat, including beneficial native plant species, and shows several commensal animal species that can be found inside tortoise burrows.

The mural provides a unique glimpse into the underground life of a gopher tortoise and the ecosystem it helps support. Since it is a visual education piece, it will spark curiosity and convey information to all ages and all types of learners. It will be displayed in ONC’s Children’s Discovery Zone, but it will also be mobile so it can be featured during programs and special events.

Alex explains that, “Teaching children about nature is important to me because I believe it is our best chance to keep our environment safe and maybe even make it better in the future.” She hopes these gopher tortoise projects inspire the next generation of young artists and conservationists in the same way she was inspired by the murals she saw as a child. Alex brings so much passion for the environment to Okeeheelee Nature Center, whether she is teaching, caring for animals, supporting operations, or contributing through her artistic talents.

All of her coworkers and volunteers feel very fortunate to have her as part of the ONC team!

Submitted by: Heather Moody, Okeeheelee Nature Center Manager

Volunteer Spotlight: Carlos “Carlito” Nerys

Carlito was a Green Cay Nature Center Volunteer for more than 7 years

Carlito was known to “do it all”. He not only helped everyday at Green Cay Nature Center maintaining the boardwalk, cleaning, landscaping and more, but he was always willing to lend a hand with animal care and
special projects, and he became a very strong advocate for wildlife conservation. Carlito attended every special event, and was at the nature center every single day.

Being at Green Cay for over 7 years and dedicating nearly 6,500 hours of service, there is so much that Carlito needs be recognized for. He was always dependable and would show up every single day to assist in maintenance of Green Cay Nature Center. No physical task was too much. He would always enthusiastically lend a helping hand. Whether it was fixing something, installing a new nest box, or cleaning up trash in the entire parking lot, Carlito became an asset to our volunteer family.

Always smiling and willing to share with others his latest wildlife discovery, he loved nature and loved to share this passion with every visitor. Carlito was never afraid to get his hands dirty! Working at a nature center is tough work! It is very physically demanding at times,
working in the Florida sun for hours cutting back trees and debris; it is no easy task. Carlito completed these tasks along with positively interacting with the public. He loved taking photographs of reptiles, birds, bobcats, and the staff members daily! Carlito would love helping out with all of our animal ambassadors at Green Cay, but his favorite, of course, is Oliver the Eastern Screech-Owl.

He was high energy, hard working, dependable, and honest. Carlito has all the qualities ideal in a volunteer and will be truly missed!

What is the biggest personal benefit he received as a volunteer with our department? “Working with great people everyday, especially the other volunteers, has built friendships and experiences that will be remembered always. All the experiences I have had with the animal ambassadors and wildlife has built my appreciation for them as well as the importance of sharing with others how we all benefit by protecting them.”

Interesting facts about Carlito: Carlito is unique in the fact that he is a Deaf individual, proud of his culture. Working as a volunteer at Green Cay, we see that this is no obstacle or something to overcome, but simply a part of his personality. He has never held back expressing himself and communicating with staff, volunteers, or visitors. Carlito loved to teach us Sign and we tried to learn a few things each day. He is high energy! And always smiling! And we see how much he absolutely enjoyed coming to Green Cay daily. He has moved to Puerto Rico with his dad, Carlos Padilla, who recently retired from Green Cay Nature Center. Carlito has set a high bar for our future maintenance volunteers! We wish him all the best in his new adventure and thank him ever so much for his dedication to Green Cay Nature Center.