FWC Volunteer Spotlight Fall-Winter 2020

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Fall-Winter 2020  •  Quarterly Newsletter Celebrating Volunteers

This past decade has brought volunteers of all backgrounds into our FWC family. We are so proud of your work that we focused our agency’s 2019-2020 Volunteer Annual Report on your contribution to conservation over the past ten years. Our report recognizes the success of the FWC’s investment in volunteer management and celebrates the dedicated volunteers who share their time and talents with us. View our Annual Report on the FWC’s website and enjoy a look back as we celebrate a Decade of Volunteer Conservation Action.

Annual Report cover

Featured on the cover of the annual report, Volunteer Aliben Paz collects an adult red drum from hatchery brood stock ponds to be used for marine stock enhancement research. Photo by the FWC.

During the transition from fall to winter, we continued to manage our volunteer projects to ensure your safety. Know that we value recognizing your effort, improving the quality and professionalism of our volunteer management and creating meaningful opportunities for you to engage with the agency in fish and wildlife conservation. We are so grateful for your continued support!

Enjoy this edition of our fall-winter newsletter which shares encouraging volunteer to career and career to volunteer stories as well as habitat restoration projects and wildlife research.

— the FWC's Volunteer Program Team

Project Acorn

By Tessie Offner

A myrtle oak sprout planted in November 2020.

A myrtle oak sprout planted in November 2020. Photo by the FWC.

This past fall acorns from three species of scrub oak were gathered by Ridge Rangers for propagation at the native plant nursery at the Royce unit of the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area. During the fall and winter months Ridge Ranger volunteers who are part of the Lake Placid Garden Club planted acorns and weeded pots from the previous year’s saplings. The myrtle oak, sandhill oak and Chapman oak provide forage and habitat for native wildlife in the scrub ecosystem along the Lake Wales Ridge. In the spring and summer months Ridge Rangers participate in restoration planting activities using these oaks and other Florida native plants as part of Project Acorn. The goal is to improve habitat for the benefit of the Florida scrub-jay. Acorns gathered in the early fall are already beginning to germinate. We thank all the Ridge Rangers volunteers for their dedication to habitat restoration and look forward to planting these trees during a future restoration event.

Scrub oak and native scrub wild olive saplings

Scrub oak and native scrub wild olive saplings ready to be planted during a future restoration event. The acorns and olive fruits were collected by Ridge Rangers and FWC staff and cultivated by Ridge Rangers as part of Project Acorn. Photo by the FWC.

Debris Cleanup

By Andrea Pereyra

FWC staff explained to volunteers the threats debris and litter pose on fish and wildlife. FWC photo.

FWC staff explained to volunteers the threats debris and litter pose on fish and wildlife. Photo by the FWC.

Late fall is a perfect time to enjoy the weather in hot South Florida. In November, the FWC and Fishing with America’s Finest joined forces to clean up a popular spot amongst fishermen and wildlife viewers. The area serviced corresponded to the south border of the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area by Tamiami Trail.

A very diverse pool of volunteers such as families with kids, retirees, Veterans and young professionals came to the rescue of our Florida public lands. Armed with trash grabbers, gloves and even a fishing rod, the group walked a three- mile stretch searching for trash. Most of the items collected were food wrappers, plastic bags, aluminum cans and glass bottles. We also removed fishing line and a bike. We could not have accomplished this without the collaboration of Capt. Neal Stark, President and Founder of Fishing with America’s Finest. Thank you, Capt. Neal and volunteers!

Debris and litter pose a high risk to fish and wildlife through entanglement and ingestion. Please remember to properly dispose your trash after enjoying the outdoors.

Visit https://myfwc.com/boating/stash-the-trash/ for more information on waterway cleanup events and instructions to make your own trash collecting container!

Mother and daughter volunteers gave back to Florida’s public lands. FWC photo.

Mother and daughter volunteers gave back to Florida’s public lands. Photo by the FWC.

Volunteer reeled in a plastic bag floating in the marsh. FWC photo.

Volunteer reeled in a plastic bag floating in the marsh. Photo by the FWC.

Debris 4

Thank you volunteers! Photo by the FWC.

Skunk Observation Project

By Brendan O'Connor

FWC biologists are interested in gathering observations of eastern spotted skunks and striped skunks for the Skunk Observation Project.

FWC biologists are concerned about the eastern spotted skunk because of its decline in other states across its range. The FWC’s Skunk Observation Project is looking to fill potential gaps in location data around the state, especially in areas where skunks are considered rare.

You can report your observations by accessing the survey through your browser at www.myfwc.com/skunksurvey or, alternatively, through the Survey123 app. Both methods allow you to upload any photographs of skunks, as well as confirm the location, time and date of your sighting.

For more information on skunks and this project visit MyFWC.com/skunks.

Striped skunk

Striped skunks are usually black with two white stripes running down their back, have a narrow white stripe down the center of their face and have a long fluffy black tail. Photo by the FWC.

Eastern spotted skunk

Eastern spotted skunks are mainly black with a series of broken-up white stripes, have white downward pointed triangle on the forehead and have a bushy tail that is white underneath and at the tip. Photo by the FWC.

Volunteer to Career

Emily using an orange grease marker to highlight scars for identification.

Emily using an orange grease marker to highlight scars for identification. Activities in this picture were conducted under USFWS permit # MA770191. Photo by Jean Hall.

Volunteering can be a great way to enhance your job search and career. Just ask Emily Davidson who began volunteering with the FWC as a graduate student studying marine mammal science. Here we ask Emily a few questions on her experience of transitioning from a volunteer to a Marine Mammal Research Biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

How did you first become involved in volunteering with the FWC?

I first began volunteering with the FWC as a graduate student  studying marine mammal science. The opportunity to get my feet wet in the field of mammal stranding, while contributing to the overall conservation of marine mammals in my home state of Florida, attracted me to volunteer at the FWC's Southwest Field Lab. As a volunteer, I gained countless skills that I have carried with me as a stranding biologist, such as trailering, photography and necropsy skills, as well as live animal rescue, restraint and transport experience. Arguably more important, I also learned meaningful life lessons in teamwork, creative problem-solving and perseverance.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of volunteering with the FWC/FWRI?

I wish more people were aware  that there is not an educational requirement to volunteer with us. Some of our most valuable volunteers are retired, come from non-science backgrounds, and have learned everything they  know about marine mammals from their time assisting in the field or at the lab. I would highly recommend that anyone interested in conservation volunteer with the FWC/FWRI  lab or program that resonates with them. You truly make a difference.

Do you have any advice for anyone just starting out on their career path?

My advice for anyone just starting out on their career path would be to never turn down an opportunity to gain something new, whether it be a skill, experience, or connection. It is helpful to gain experience across multiple disciplines and learn from as many different people as you can. Do not be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and above all, enjoy the process!

Emily taking a picture of a bottlenose dolphin for photo identification research. FWC photo

Emily taking a picture of a bottlenose dolphin for photo identification research. Photo by the FWC.

Career to Volunteer

Dr. Theresa (Terrie) Bert moved from southeastern Missouri in 1973 to obtain a M.S. degree in Marine Science from the University of South Florida. After attaining that degree, she worked for the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service in Key West for a year, which started her career-long studies of stone crabs

(genus Menippe) and the Florida stone crab fishery. She  obtained her Ph.D. from Yale University, with a dissertation on the ecology and evolution of stone crabs.  During her 32-yr. career as a biologist with the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, she led the Crustacean Research Program and the Molecular Genetics  Program, but her first love was always stone crabs. Terrie’s busy career kept her from publishing all the scientific papers she felt were essential for understanding Florida stone crab ecology and fishery management. Under her supervision, a great deal of valuable long-term field data was collected on stone crabs from throughout Florida Gulf of Mexico waters; so, after she retired, she volunteered to analyze that data and write scientific manuscripts for as long as possible. One of her favorite sayings is, “I went from low pay to no pay!” She continues to write and coauthor scientific papers focused on stone crab biology, ecology, and genetics and on the stone crab fishery. We just want to say thank you, Terrie, for all your continued hard work!

Terrie Bert collecting data on a stone crab. Photo courtesy of Terrie Bert.

Terrie Bert collecting data on a stone crab. Photo courtesy of Terrie Bert.

The Suncoast All-Star

Tom Hillyer is a dedicated FWC volunteer. Photo by the FWC.

Tom Hillyer is a dedicated FWC volunteer. Photo by the FWC.

Tom Hillyer, the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center’s die-hard regular service volunteer, put in nearly 50 hours before COVID slowed down the FWC’s volunteer activities. Tom comes weekly to the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center to fix and maintain rods, reels and all things related to youth fishing programs. He cleans, organizes and repairs anything that needs attention and donates tools to facilitate grounds work.  He keeps our building to-do list up to date. If he can’t find something, he will often build it himself. He must have several patents pending! Tom can’t wait to return, and the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center staff can’t wait to surprise him with the new planter irrigation system so he can stop watering the plants out front by hand each morning upon his arrival. His wife Sally absolutely cannot wait for him to return to “work”. Thank you, Tom!

Regional Connection

Regional Volunteer Program Biologists 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 program biologist.

Brendan O'Connor - Southwest Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Andrea Pereyra - South Region Volunteer Program Biologist

Simon Fitzwilliam - Northeast Region Volunteer Program Biologist


In addition to your generously donated time and talent, we welcome tax-deductible monetary contributions to the FWC Volunteer Program. Visit the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida  to make a donation. 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!