FWC's Volunteer Spotlight - Panhandle Strong

Volunteer Identifier



Panhandle Strong

Fall 2018  •  Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers

Our hearts go out to our neighbors, volunteers, staff and friends who were affected by Hurricane Michael. This storm, one of the worst to hit the United States, has forever changed the Florida panhandle. While it will take a long time to recover, we know that Floridians are resilient, strong and can overcome this hardship. We are here to support your recovery in any way we can!

There are still many avenues and opportunities to help. Please consider visiting Volunteer Florida if you would like to volunteer your time or donate to hurricane relief efforts. Please also consider donating to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Michael Recovery & Relief Fund to help affected FWC staff continue to recover from the impact of this storm.

— FWC's Volunteer Team

FWC hosts first annual scallop rodeos

By Emily Hardin, Northwest Region Volunteer Coordinator

Cameron Baxley

Cameron Baxley, FWRI staff, gets help from volunteers during the St. Joseph Bay Scallop Rodeo. Photo courtesy of Emily Hardin, FWC.

When you first hear the words “scallop rodeo,” it may conjure up images of someone riding a bucking scallop or racing a scallop around a trio of barrels. While no one was riding scallops at these rodeos, you could say that scallops were being lassoed and rounded up.

Scallop populations in St. Joseph and St. Andrews Bays (Gulf and Bay counties, respectively) have decreased over the past several years. In response, the FWC’s Fish & Wildlife Research Institute initiated an effort to restore bay scallop populations. Part of this effort involves Scallop Sitter volunteers, who “babysit” a cage of scallops throughout their life cycle. The other part of this effort involves the Scallop Rodeos.

The first official Scallop Rodeos were held this past July and August, wherein hundreds of volunteers assisted in gathering up scallops from St. Joseph and St. Andrews Bays. Volunteers came out in droves to enjoy a day on the water with their friends and families while practicing their scalloping techniques. Volunteers collected up to 50 scallops each, which they returned alive to FWC staff. At the end of the rodeo, FWC staff placed the scallops in predator-exclusion cages and then back into the bay.

The cages, approximately 3 feet x 3 feet, house up to 200 scallops each. Inside the cages, the scallops are safe from predation and have an increased chance of successful reproduction. Scallops are broadcast spawners, meaning they release egg and sperm into the water column and “hope for the best.” Individuals are often too far apart from each other, leading to unsuccessful reproduction and low numbers of scallops in the bay. The cages keep the scallops close together, thereby increasing the chances that juvenile scallops will soon populate the bay.

St. Andrews Bay has not had an open recreational scallop harvesting season in several years, as populations have been deemed too low to allow for harvesting. For the Scallop Rodeo, 553 scallops were collected over the course of several hours by a total of 57 volunteers. St. Joseph Bay does still have an open scallop season; however, in recent years, the season has only been open for about a month. The St. Joseph rodeo was held just prior to the opening of the 2018 scallop season. Over 100 volunteers helped to collect 1,123 scallops that will now remain in the bay through the open season and into the spawning season.

While Hurricane Michael may have impacted the effects from these rodeos, we hope to hold more in the future to further increase the scallop populations in the bays. Thank you to all the volunteers who not only helped to collect scallops, but also to those who assisted in constructing the predator-exclusion cages and made the rodeos possible!

Bay Scallops

Collected bay scallops. Photo courtesy of the FWC.

Another oyster season on the books

By Emily Hardin, Northwest Region Volunteer Coordinator

St. Andrew's Bay

Volunteers assist with oyster restoration surveys in St. Andrews Bay. Photo courtesy of Emily Hardin, FWC.

A little over two years ago, the FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration section received funding to restore oyster and seagrass habitat in St. Andrews Bay (Bay County). Since then, 67 individual oyster reefs covering over four acres have been installed in the western portion of the bay. Each August through October, FWC biologists and several volunteers survey the reefs and monitor the progress.

This season, 20 volunteers donated 261 hours of their time to assist in these surveys. Volunteers help in many aspects of the project. For some surveys, volunteers spend the entire day snorkeling along the reefs to assess the percentage of the reef that is covered in oysters. On other days, volunteers brave the heat and remain topside to measure the size of spat found on oyster shells within specific sampling areas. Every day is long and tiring, but also fun and rewarding!

With so much surveying to be completed during the late summer and into fall, our dedicated volunteers make this project possible. Because of you, quality data is collected and utilized to improve the bay ecosystem! We would like to give a special thanks to Vernon Todd, Mark Hyman, Kat Orr and Victoria Strange for their incredible dedication to this project.

National Public Lands Day

By Emily Hardin, Northwest Region Volunteer Coordinator

National Public Lands Day, established in 1994, encourages people across the nation to celebrate their nearby public lands, whether they are managed by local, state or federal agencies. It has become tradition for land managers to host volunteer work days on or around this day, which is celebrated on the fourth Saturday of September. The goal is to inspire people to enjoy nature and gain an appreciation for all the opportunities that public lands provide.

The FWC’s Regional Volunteer Programs took part in celebrating National Public Lands Day by hosting work days across the state. Overall, 27 volunteers contributed about 94 hours to projects geared towards improving public lands for the benefit of people, plants, and wildlife.

NW Bog Frog

Northwest Region volunteers remove hardwood growth from a Florida bog frog restoration site. Photo courtesy of Emily Hardin, FWC.

In the Northwest Region, volunteers assisted staff with a habitat restoration project in the Yellow River Wildlife Management Area. Volunteers hand cleared overstory growth and vegetation from a site to restore the habitat for the Florida bog frog, a rare amphibian found only in three counties in the Florida panhandle. Three volunteers braved the heat to contribute over 10 hours of work clearing over 1,000 square meters of area.

NE Natal Grass

Northeast Region volunteers remove invasive natal grass at the Cross Florida Greenway. Photo courtesy of Logan McDonald, FWC.

In the Northeast Region, fifteen volunteers from the FWC and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection removed nonnative natal grass from the Cross Florida Greenway. The natal grass was encroaching on habitat of the endangered longspurred mint and the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay. Volunteers removed 43 bags of the non-native grass!

SW Rattlebox

Southwest Region volunteers remove invasive rattlebox from Big Pine WEA. Photo courtesy of Brendan O'Connor, FWC.

Volunteers in the Southwest Region spent the day removing invasive showy rattlebox from Big Pine and Chinsegut Wildlife Environmental Area. This invasive plant outcompetes native plants and disturbs natural communities. Six volunteers joined staff to remove the species from approximately four acres and contributed 23 hours.

South Debris

South Region volunteers and FWC staff remove debris from the Keys WEA. Photo courtesy of Andrea Pereyra, FWC.

In the South Region, volunteers removed marine debris from the Florida Keys Wildlife Environmental Area. Marine debris poses a high risk to wildlife through entanglement and ingestion, which can lead to starvation, entrapment and death. Three volunteers, along with staff, removed 880 lbs. of trash from a two-acre area.

It's a First!

MF Interns

Thalia Fletcher and Nicole Blank, the DMF's first interns! Photo courtesy of Melissa Crouch, FWC.

The FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management (DMF) hosted its first semester of internships this year! Interns, Thalia Fletcher and Nicole Blank, assisted the DMF in a number of different capacities. Each intern also worked on a semester-long individual project. Nicole created a database of contacts throughout Florida for use in advertisement and networking opportunities with the FWC. Thalia compiled data for a “Where to Fish” map for the FWC website, as well as created content for a “How to Get Started Fishing” webpage. In the photo below, Nicole and Thalia use a seine net to collect small fish and invertebrates to be used in a touch tank display at an FWC Kids’ Saltwater Fishing Clinic.

MF Interns_2

Nicole Blank and Thalia Fletcher, DMF interns, seine net to collect specimens. Photo courtesy of Melissa Crouch, FWC.

Volunteers Love Wildlife


FWC staff and five volunteers installed 48 BearWise retro-fit hasp kits onto garbage cans in the Holley by the Sea community in Navarre. These kits will make garbage cans inaccessible to bears and hopefully decrease human-bear interactions in this busy community.

Jay Watch

Twenty-five volunteers completed approximately 1,390 hours of Florida Scrub-Jay surveys in the Northeast Region this fiscal year. What an amazing, hardworking group of volunteers!

Jay Watch

Carey LaRosa and Josie Muncy conduct Jay Watch surveys in the Northeast Region. Photo courtesy of Logan McDonald, FWC.


Volunteers in the Northeast and Southwest Regions joined forces to make 47 nest boxes for the Southeastern American Kestrel. The 12 volunteers met over two days at the Chinsegut Conservation Center in Brooksville, Florida to build the nest boxes for the small falcons. As cavity nesters, these birds have experienced a reduction in habitat due to the removal of old trees. The nest boxes made by the volunteers will provide suitable nesting cavities for kestrels across Florida.


Volunteers from the Northeast and Southwest Regions constructed 47 kestrel nest boxes. Photo courtesy of Logan McDonald, FWC.


In 2018, Florida Shorebird Alliance volunteers in the North Central and Northeast Regions spent countless hours protecting imperiled shorebirds and seabirds along the Atlantic Coast. These dedicated volunteers played an integral role in posting sensitive habitat, monitoring nesting success and educating the public about beach-nesting birds. Community support is crucial for the survival of these species and we are incredibly grateful for their help!


Volunteers rope off and post shorebird areas. Photo courtesy of Jean Olbert, FWC.

Tortoise Taxi

Northeast Region volunteers (Marty Chastain, Steve Bernath and Dave Lapham) transported gopher tortoises from a development site with an incidental take permit in Leesburg to their recipient site at Eglin Air Force Base, in partnership with United States Fish and Wildlife Service volunteers.

Tortoise Taxi

Gopher tortoise being transported. Photo courtesy of Logan McDonald, FWC.

Volunteers and Careers

Victoria Strange and Danielle Devine were both exceptional FWC volunteers. They have recently joined the FWC team as Fish & Wildlife Biologists, both at J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area in the South Region!

As a volunteer in the Northwest Region, Victoria volunteered with the Bear Management Program, participated in monitoring surveys for the FWC’s oyster reef restoration program in St. Andrews Bay and helped to analyze Florida bog frog call data.

In the South Region, Danielle assisted staff with activities such as habitat enhancement, monitoring of burrowing owls, management of nonnative species, native plantings and removal of exotic plant species.

We wish them both the best of luck in their new positions!

Volunteer Successes

Steve and Judi Bernath completed another season of bluebird nest box monitoring at Ross Prairie State Forest.

Brinda Curran and Virginia Hall assisted with banding Florida Scrub-Jays at the Cross Florida Greenway.

Brinda Curran

Brinda Curran holds a Florida Scrub-Jay while scientists band it. Photo courtesy of Logan McDonald, FWC.

Explore Your Florida

Liz Schold

Liz Schold. Photo courtesy of the FWC.

We would like to introduce Liz Schold, the new coordinator of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail! Liz hails from Massachusetts, where she grew up watching birds in the forests and farmlands around her home. She recently finished her master’s degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was fortunate enough to work with Golden-winged, Cerulean, and Prothonotary Warblers. Liz is incredibly excited to be carrying her love for our feathered friends into her new role as she promotes wildlife viewing across the state!

The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a set of over 500 sites across the state of Florida selected for their stunning wildlife and natural beauty. If you see the sign with the Swallow-tailed Kite, you know you’re headed in the right direction! You can also learn more about the trail on our website, sign up for our newsletter, check out wildlife-related public events across the state, and get started planning your trip to a trail site near you!

If you have a public event related to birds or wildlife that you would like us to share on our website, please contact Liz at Liz.Schold@MyFWC.com.


Bee on Passion flower. Photo courtesy of Gina Long, FWC.

The Public Access Services Office at FWC is busy implementing a brand new program called Backyards and Beyond. This program encourages Florida’s citizens to enhance wildlife habitat in their yards by creating additional food, water, shelter, and space resources, using Planting a Refuge for Wildlife as a guide. In addition, they have created several Florida Nature Trackers projects to allow people to submit observations from their yards and keep track of the changes that they see over time. You can even create your own iNaturalist project for your yard! For more information, check out this article.

Regional Connection

Our Regional Volunteer Coordinators are specialists who bring their biological and citizen science expertise to recruit, train and manage volunteers for research, habitat enhancement and stewardship projects throughout Florida. Click here to locate your region to identify your regional coordinator.

Brendan O'Connor - Southwest Region Volunteer Coordinator

Andrea Pereyra - South Region Volunteer Coordinator

Logan McDonald - Northeast Region Volunteer Coordinator

Emily Hardin - Northwest Region Volunteer Coordinator


In addition to your generously donated time and talent, we welcome tax-deductible monetary contributions. Visit the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida to make a donation. Indicate FWC Volunteer Programs under the subheading Donation on behalf of / In Memory of within the section Make a Tribute or Memorial Gift. Your support will help us expand volunteer opportunities as we work to foster a statewide network of conservation volunteers. Thank you for supporting Florida's fish and wildlife resources!