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Certification in Wildlife Monitoring

As someone who has always been attracted to hiking, camping and nature I was really interested in this UF extension program developed by the University of Florida. The Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) benefits those interested in learning about Florida's environment. Since Fight For Zero focuses on environment and health I thought this was a great opportunity to help us expand into education programs as volunteers or to even do things like eco tours. 

This month I received a certification in wildlife monitoring. I thoroughly enjoyed this program and learned a great deal. There were great speakers, presentations, educational material and hands on learning. The best part was that we went out in the field which is what really makes this program unique! I am so excited to share some of the things we learned and the journey of this special topic course below.

We spent an entire Saturday from sunrise to sun down at the Barrier Island Education Center.  As we went over how to monitor sea turtles we also learned about the barrier island ecosystem and sea turtle nesting habitats. 

Pictured above is the diamondback terrapin a species of turtle native to the brackish coastal tidal marshes of the eastern and southern United States.

Unfortunately, there are natural threats and human impact to sea turtles.  These eggs were most likely found by turtle predators like raccoons who will dig up nests to devour freshly laid eggs. Other predators include fire ants, crabs, lizards, birds, dogs, coyotes and ghost crabs. 

We went on a 1-mile loop hike through coastal habitats on the Barrier Island Trail. This trail is a lightly trafficked loop that features beautiful wild flowers, pollinators, birds and more. It is open daily at 7 am to dusk (no dogs). 

On our hike we stopped to discuss native plants and little critters we found along the way. These sea snails (conchs) eat algae and the tiny marine plants. It may take a queen conch at least 5 years to reach maturity and conchs produce natural pearls in hues of white, brown, orange and pink. 

We spent time in the field with a FrogWatch volunteer learning how to monitor frogs and toads by ear rather than sight. Frogs play an important role in the field of human medicine and the wetland ecosystems. They are considered indicators of environmental health.

On another field exercise we did a gopher tortoise burrow survey and found 21 active burrows. Gopher tortoises live in scrub habitat where trees aren't too close together. They have front legs that help them to dig and are able to dig deep. Their burrows are used by other species throughout the ecosystem like amphibians, insects and mammals. These animals depend on the burrows as shelter from predators and natural disaster like fires. 

For another hike we went to Viera Wetlands just as the sun was setting. We searched for alligators, held fireflies, and listens for both bats and frogs. 

Did you know that bats are not rodents? The structure of a bat wing is nearly identical to a human hand and they are the only mammals that actually fly and not glide. The best thing about bats is that they eat a lot of mosquitoes, flies, beetles, wasps and ants. They can eat their body-weight in insects every night! 

Then we spent the day at Turkey Creek Sanctuary taking different hikes and listening to various speakers in class. On our walk I snapped a few images of a green lynx spider. This spider doesn't use a web to capture its pretty. They like to hunt prey on vegetation and flowers, and can adjust its body color to match the background. Although they prey on beneficial bugs like butterflies they could be a potential use in agricultural pest management helping manage 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 form 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

There are three core modules: freshwater systems, coastal systems, and upland systems. 

Then there are four special topics: conservation science, environmental interpretation, wildlife monitoring, and habitat evaluation.

To learn more about courses check out the Florida Master Naturalist Program

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