Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Putting the Puzzle Together

The 10,000 Islands - a maze of mangroves and mystery. PHOTOS BY NATALIE STROM

The 10,000 Islands – a maze of mangroves and mystery. PHOTOS BY NATALIE STROM

Stepping Stones
Bob McConville

Ah, Florida! Myriad ecosystems working together to bring us all a world of astonishment. From the coastal regions to the rivers, swamps and marshes, to the upland areas, Florida is truly magnificent.

We are privileged to be here and I am honored to work with a team of passionate professionals as a part of the Dolphin Explorer team. These naturalists, environmental scientists and our marine biologist inspired me to improve my knowledge of Marco Island’s coastal region and the 10,000 Islands in order to better serve the public and to complete our team profile.

This led me to the University of Florida’s Master Naturalist Program (FMNP). While in my first module I was again surrounded by passionate individuals. Both in the classroom and on our many field trips the instructors all had the best interest of every student at heart with their teaching skills. It was a life changing experience.

Completing the coastal leg of the FMNP series was just a stepping stone. I now possess, through my own passion, a deeper knowledge of the rest of the state’s areas as well as a desire to connect all pieces of the puzzle. I better understand the “what, why and now what” of our ecosystems. Now, with all three modules concluded, my Master Naturalist title is in hand, and I appreciate the diversity of our habitats much more than I used to.

Whether it is a walk on the shoreline or along a wooded path, we all notice our surroundings, discovering what is there. Some will also beg the question “why do certain plants and animals live in that area?” Just a few will notice that something was there but can no longer be found. What did we lose? Why is it gone? What do we do now? Something’s different!

Since the beginning of time, planet Earth has been a world of perpetual change and Florida has been a state of transitions. One of my favorite phrases is “If there is one

The trees of Big Cypress National Preserve are just another example of the intricacies of Florida’s numerous ecosystems.

The trees of Big Cypress National Preserve are just another example of the intricacies of Florida’s numerous ecosystems.

constant in life, things change.” They certainly do, especially over the last quarter of a million years.

Florida has experienced the results of ice ages and warming periods that have lasted for centuries. If you stand on what are now Marco’s beaches, 200,000 years ago you would have had a twenty mile walk to the shoreline; 50,000 years ago you would be under water and would need to go to the center of the state to stay dry. Things change! During this time, a variety of plants and animals have come and gone. All of this has formed the wonderland we have today. Stepping Stones.

So, is it important to recognize our surroundings now? To know what is here and why? You bet! Our systems are changing as we speak and even more so since the arrival of modern man.

Logging and the dredging of canals in the Everglades, land development along our coasts and the use of chemicals in our upland regions have accelerated the alteration of our landscape and wildlife severely in the last century.

We did it… man did it. Fortunately, we learn from our mistakes. Restoration programs are in place throughout the state to correct our errors, whether they were made unintentionally or on purpose. There is hope!

Upland regions, coastal habitats and our precious freshwater wetlands… three very diverse ecosystems that contain a variety of mini-ecosystems within them. Each area deserves their own degree of attention.

I hope you will join me next time when we address the wonders of our upland areas, the backbone of the state. What happens there has a profound affect on our wetlands and our coastlines. Yes, more change!

Until then please remember… if you come across a rock in your path, it just might be a stepping stone!


Bob is a Florida Master Naturalist and a member of the 10,000 Island Dolphin Project (The Dolphin Explorer) team. He is also a member of Florida SEE (Society for Ethical Ecotourism) and the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce.

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