Monday, April 19, 2021

Teachers of Nature




As we begin a new school year, the air is filled with excitement! Children of all ages are hustling to meet their busses and make new friends. My granddaughter is entering her first year of high school and is buzzing with expectations of what will come.

Outside of the schoolyard, other teachers are fine-tuning their skills in anticipation of a busy tourist season. These talented individuals are not preparing for K-12 classroom settings, but instead, are tightening their shoelaces and boots for a different type of setting, the outdoors.

Many local tour companies pride themselves on knowing as much as they can about their specific fields of interest and, even more so, learning the ability to teach others about our surroundings. For some, being a tour guide is just a job but for others it is a passion.



As a Master Naturalist I found the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) to be a significantly important program for learning how the coastal, uplands and inland areas of this state are all related. This is a great tool for anyone wishing to learn in general how our ecosystems work, then fine tuning knowledge to become an expert in a specific field.

FMNP has produced more than 1,000 certified Master Naturalists and many more individuals have taken classes regarding their areas of interest.

The National Park Service (NPS) prides themselves on educational services for the public, not just from the tours that they offer but providing classes, in the wild, for tour operators as well. NPS is a great resource for everyone to obtain additional information about South Florida, its plant life and its animals.

Programs such as Rookery Bay and the Naples Conservancy have well trained teachers also. Taking care of wildlife is just part of a career path for many of these employees. The opportunity to teach others is a priority with them and they perform their duties with passion as well.

Private organizations such as the Friends of Fakahatchee and the Marco Island

Nature Preserve are on a continuous mission to inform the public by means of volunteers. These special individuals give their time repairing boardwalks, raising funds and teaching others on a daily basis.

As the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours I pride myself on knowing the terrain and the wildlife that is found in Fakahatchee Strand. It is a responsibility that I take seriously in order to transfer information correctly to visitors from around the world. As a naturalist onboard the Dolphin Explorer I, again, feel the obligation to know my surroundings as best as I can.

Many tour owners require that their staff take some type of course to know their craft. It is the same in any other field. Schooling is paramount in order to do your job well, whether you are a nurse, banker, real estate agent or a naturalist. On the other hand some people get into a nature tour business for the sole purpose of making money. For those few, get your act together. Make sure that the information you are giving out is accurate. Learn your trade and join those who are performing their jobs with integrity.

To all of those individuals and organizations mentioned above, hats off to you for doing it right. You are the true embodiment of what Benjamin Franklin once said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Tourism is not just telling or teaching, it is involving people in your passion. The instructor is the key. Congratulations!

Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours and a Naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer. He is also the author of the pictorial book “Beyond The Mangrove Trees,” available locally at several locations or by contacting Bob loves his wife very much!

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