In August 2007, I began a journey of ecological enlightenment in South Florida (FIU’s Ecology of South Florida – EVR 3013/3013Lab). This course took me to the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Jonathan Dickinson National Park, Crandon Park, and Key Largo. The experience made me more aware of my surroundings and brought back memories of my childhood.
Growing up in the famous Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and Grenada, and my 10 year military career, I had the opportunity to travel and explore the natural beauties and wonders of many countries and islands. I was fearless as my twin brother and I braved the heat, insects and rugged terrain to explore new frontiers. I enjoyed exploring new adventures and territories.
This same enthusiasm burst forth as I explored the various ecosystems in South Florida. I braved the same heat, humidity and insects, as well as the gators and other animals of the Everglades National Park. I waded through the marshes and wetlands, walked through the trails of the Pine and Cypress Ecosystems, Hardwood Hammocks, scrubs and coastal dunes, I snorkeled the patch reef of Key Largo where I came face to face with a 4-foot Nurse Shark and a 3-foot Barracuda.
It reminded me of when my grandmother would take us into the woods and teach us about the animals, insects and every tree/plant on the island. She would teach us how to recognize a plant/tree by its leaves, bark or fruits; by sight, taste and smell. She taught us the importance of certain plants – food, medication, etc. The same was taught about the insects and animals of the islands. My mom and dad also taught us how to plant and harvest various crops and also how to dive and fish (see more here).
Similarly, Ecology of South Florida taught me about the soils, plants, insects, and animals, and the important roles they played in maintaining the biodiversity of the Everglades. These Ecosystems are not only important for biodiversity and the environment, but they are also vital to our tourism-based economy.
My mom and dad taught me fishing and agriculture, my grandmother taught me ecology. However, I felt ignorant of the Ecology of South Florida. My first impression of the Everglades was a yucky, sticky, hot and humid place full of mosquitoes. However, having made Miami my home, I wanted to learn more about it. This course proved to be worth more than just a mere requirement for graduation. It bridged the knowledge gap that I was missing. Thanks to Professor Patricia Houle and Alex Chidakel, I can now use this new knowledge to woo friends and family who come to visit as well as to educate others on the importance of these Ecosystems.