Wildlife Monitoring: The Florida Master Naturalist Program


BREVARD COUNTY, FL - The Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) is a remarkable initiative for individuals keen on delving into the wonders of Florida's environment. Given that we oversee a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental and health causes, we instantly recognized the immense potential of this program to broaden our horizons through volunteer work or even engaging in eco-educational tours.

The program boasted exceptional speakers, captivating presentations, enlightening educational resources, and immersive hands-on learning opportunities. Our team recently finished the wildlife monitoring certification program and gained fascinating knowledge in this specialized field. However, the true standout of the entire experience was undoubtedly the exhilarating field trips. Exploring the wilderness firsthand truly elevated this program to a new level of excellence!
 

We had an incredible day at the Barrier Island Education Center, from the break of dawn until the sun dipped below the horizon. Not only did we dive into the fascinating world of sea turtle monitoring, but we also gained valuable insights into the intricate ecosystem of the barrier island and the nesting habitats of these magnificent creatures.


Look at the diamondback terrapin, a turtle that thrives in the brackish coastal tidal marshes of the eastern and southern United States.



Sea turtles face both natural threats and human impacts. These precious eggs often fall victim to cunning predators such as raccoons, who eagerly unearth nests to feast on the freshly laid eggs. Additionally, other predators like fire ants, crabs, lizards, birds, dogs, coyotes, and ghost crabs constantly threaten these vulnerable eggs.





We embarked on a scenic 1-mile loop adventure along the Barrier Island Trail, experiencing the wonders of coastal habitats. This trail offers a tranquil escape with vibrant wildflowers, buzzing pollinators, and enchanting birds. Whether you're an avid nature enthusiast or simply seeking comfort in nature's embrace, this lightly trafficked loop is a perfect choice.



During our hike, we took a break to chat about the fascinating native plants and the adorable little creatures we stumbled upon. These Hermit crabs caught our attention as they mingled with one another and are often found in large groups.



Joining a FrogWatch volunteer in the field, we learned the art of monitoring frogs and toads solely by their distinct calls. These amphibians are vital in human medicine and the delicate balance of wetland ecosystems. They are considered indicators of environmental health.




We conducted a comprehensive survey of gopher tortoise burrows and discovered 21 active ones. Gopher tortoises, fascinating creatures, inhabit a unique scrub habitat where trees are thoughtfully spaced apart. Equipped with their remarkable front legs, they possess an incredible ability to dig deep into the earth. Interestingly, these burrows serve as vital shelters for various species within the ecosystem, including amphibians, insects, and mammals. These remarkable animals heavily rely on these underground sanctuaries to seek refuge from predators and unforeseen calamities such as fires.



As the sun set, we embarked on another thrilling hike at Viera Wetlands. Our mission? Spotting alligators, capturing fireflies, and tuning in to the enchanting symphony of bats and frogs.

Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, bats are not rodents! Their wing structure resembles a human hand, making them unique among mammals as the only ones capable of true flight. But here's the best part about these fascinating creatures: they are voracious insect-eaters! Mosquitoes, flies, beetles, wasps, ants - you name it, bats devour them. Incredibly, they can consume their entire body weight in insects every single night!






We ventured on educational hikes and absorbed knowledge from different class speakers at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Along the way, I couldn't resist capturing a few snapshots of a captivating green lynx spider. This remarkable creature doesn't rely on webs to catch its prey unlike other spiders. Instead, it cunningly hunts vegetation and flowers, skillfully blending in with its surroundings by adjusting its body color. While it may feast on butterflies and other beneficial insects, there's a silver lining: it could assist in agricultural pest management, curbing the population of harmful insects and caterpillars.




We brought out some aggressive Nuthatch birds using a recorded call. Nuthatches will defend their territory throughout the year. They are one of the noisiest woodland birds in the early spring and get their name from the way they crack open seeds.





"We have a responsibility to teach children to respect the environment."


“You won’t save what you don’t love, and you can’t love what you don’t know.” -Unknown




Additional Sources and Reading:

Barrier Island Sanctuary: https://www.brevardfl.gov/EELProgram/Sanctuaries/BarrierIslandSanctuary
Fight for Zero Nonprofit: www.fight4zero.org
FogWatch: https://www.aza.org/frogwatch
Turkey Creek Sanctuary: https://www.palmbayflorida.org/government/city-departments-f-to-z/parks-recreation/turkey-creek-sanctuary

Florida Master Naturalist Program:

There are three core modules: freshwater systems, coastal systems, and upland systems.
There are four special topics: conservation science, environmental interpretation, wildlife monitoring, and habitat evaluation.
Website: https://masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu/

Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey is a community leader committed to environmental justice, protecting service members from toxic exposures, and shielding children from the detrimental effects of pollution. Stel is not only a survivor of cancer but also a mother of two, a prelaw student, a globally-published freelance journalist, a speaker, and an outdoor adventurer. stelbailey.com

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