Picking up trash from beaches. Teaching at-risk youth how to fish. Manning event tables to teach the public about manatees. These are a few of the marine volunteer activities available to South Florida residents and visitors alike. Here is a sampling of several ways you can get involved depending on your time and skills.
Choose Your Time Commitment
If you only have a few hours one day annually to volunteer, choose the Broward County Waterway Cleanup. Set for March 2, 2019, participants clean inland waterways either by boat or on land at any one of 36 different locations. No skills are needed, except enthusiasm, and past volunteers have ranged from age 5 to 100 years of age. The four-hour clean-up is followed by the annual Trash Bash, an outdoor party. This year, nearly 1,300 marine volunteers and over 100 boats collected 31 tons of trash.
“Two marine volunteers, Joan and Pete Sheridan, have participated in the Cleanup for 37 years,” says Kelly Skidmore, public relations manager for the Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF), which organizes the event. “What they both enjoy most is teaching young people how important it is to preserve our environment, our water quality and all our precious resources through volunteering each year.”
Flex-time is what makes it easy for 250-plus people to volunteer with the Florida Oceanographic Society and its Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, a 57-acre marine life nature center on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, FL Opportunities include: exhibit guides-volunteers; researchers to assist with oyster, seagrass and living shoreline habitat restoration projects; water quality testers; gardeners; and helpers for special events and outreach programs.
“Each month we list public marine volunteer events on our calendar,” says Rosemary Badger, volunteer coordinator. “If an event fits into someone’s schedule, they can RSVP.”
A six-month commitment is required for marine volunteers at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a sea turtle hospital located in Juno Beach, FL. Ways to volunteer include: leading guided tours, assisting staff in the hospital, leading outreaches in the community, working on and creating new conservation projects and welcoming guests to the center. Another is volunteering as an education docent.
“Education docents serve as ambassador for sea turtles by educating visitors about our mission, current sea turtle patients, interactive displays and aquaria,” says Carla Mroz, public relations and communications manager. “There are many additional opportunities for education docents to be trained on programs including Fish Feedings, Junior Vet Labs, Guided Tours, Turtle Walks, Public Hatchling Releases and attending outreaches.”
No Skills Required & Skills Welcome
No special skills are required to be a do-gooder with the Save the Manatee Club, a conservation organization for these threatened marine mammals established by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. You don’t have to leave the house or even live in Florida to volunteer. For example, opportunities include writing or emailing policy makers to support manatee protection measures. Beyond this, everything from office assistance in the Maitland, FL-headquarters to field sightings by those who live near rivers, estuaries, canals and coastal areas are valuable.
“Volunteers like Tim and Tamara Carroll from Brevard County enjoy setting up education tables for the Club in their community and also giving presentations at schools and other venues,” tells Janice Nearing, director of public relations.
Some organizations do seek out individuals with special skills. For example, Captain Rich Brochu, founder of the Riviera Beach, FL-based, Florida Fishing Academy, an organization that empowers at-risk youth though positive life skills such as fishing, seeks volunteers for fundraising/community outreach and assistant educators.
“Fundraising/community outreach volunteers assist in development and help form connections with local donors,” says Brochu. “Assistant educators, who should have basic knowledge of Florida economy, aid with our Mobile Marine Lab exhibit.”
Finally, recreational scuba divers can use their talents to assist the Tavernier, FL-headquartered Coral Restoration Foundation. This group was founded to protect the Florida Reef Tract, the third largest barrier reef in the world and the only barrier reef in the Continental United States.
“Our public Dive Programs are for those visiting the area and are adventurous in restoration,” invites Alice Grainger, communications director. The programs start at 9 a.m. at the Foundation’s Exploration Center in Key Largo for hands-on training in nursery work, outplanting on the reef and monitoring the health of previously outplanted corals, with afternoon dives from 1 to 5 p.m. “Dive Programs can also be scheduled privately with friends or as a dive group.”
For those who love the sea and its environs, giving-back through volunteering is a great way to help sustain as well as enjoy this precious marine resource.