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Creative teamwork is the key to conservation

By Staff | Aug 26, 2009

How do you gather the information necessary to make informed management decisions when your area of responsibility covers approximately 5.8 million acres of land and almost 6,000 square miles of water?

Well, if you are the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), not only do you depend on a well-trained and dedicated staff, you also form a variety of partnerships, coordinate with a network of volunteers and depend on the voluntary efforts of Florida’s residents and visitors.

Conserving and protecting Florida’s fish and wildlife can be a daunting task one that is bigger than just one agency.

Collaboration is a concept that extends throughout the FWC. Agency staff members regularly cross internal lines to form teams. Bringing the agency’s best expertise together helps the FWC more effectively address the conservation challenges that face our state.

This collaborative approach goes beyond the internal procedures of the FWC. To help accomplish common goals, the FWC forms and sustains relationships with outside entities and individuals. While the reason for collaborating may often be quite clear, sometimes creativity plays a role in aligning the FWC with another group or individual to focus on a conservation issue.

At the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), the research arm of the agency, scientists understand the importance of developing creative partnerships and working with the public to leverage their reach. Whether for land, marine or freshwater -based research, scientists pursue a variety of opportunities to form collaborative relationships. Linking FWRI’s research expertise with private sector businesses, non-governmental organizations and public entities helps accomplish goals that benefit all those involved.

With a study area the size of Florida, it isn’t too surprising that FWRI researchers conducting surveillance for avian influenza in wild bird populations have incorporated public participation into their work. As it is in everyone’s best interest to collect the information necessary to monitor for the disease effectively, citizens readily report their observations of dead birds through the agency’s online reporting system at MyFWC.com/bird. In addition, many of Florida’s hunters voluntarily participate by allowing scientists to collect samples from the ducks they harvest.

The size of the study area is also a challenge when you consider the vastness of Florida’s marine and coastal waters. Given this challenge and the need to enhance their sampling coverage, FWRI scientists established the volunteer-based Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program. The program’s purpose is to help monitor and detect red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida’s waters. Scientists rely on volunteers of all kinds charter boat captains, commercial fishermen, private citizens, divers and more to collect water samples from offshore areas by boat. This program provides increased coverage of the Gulf of Mexico and enables the potential for early warning of offshore algal blooms.

As citizen scientists, FWC’s volunteers and partners not only contribute to science, but also learn from their experiences. This is especially true in the FWC’s collaboration with SCUBAnauts International, a youth education organization. This summer, Dr. David Palandro, an FWRI research scientist who volunteers as Chief Scientist for SCUBAnauts International, accompanied some of the group’s students to Key Largo to participate in a coral reef research project.

Working hand in hand with scientists from the FWC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the students made a discovery that was the first of its kind. The students documented the spawning of farm-raised staghorn coral that had been transplanted in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, proving that the transplanted coral is doing well. The students described the experience as “a great honor” and “awesome” and discussed how they would share what they had learned when they returned to school.

Sometimes volunteers walk away from assisting a research project with more than just the satisfaction of helping out and gaining a better understanding of the science. Sometimes volunteers can benefit from an additional incentive. This was the case this past year for anglers fishing in Lake Griffin. Anglers fishing this lake had the opportunity to assist biologists with the research necessary to manage the black crappie fishery. In doing so, anglers also had the chance to receive a monetary reward.

As part of the study, FWRI scientists placed tags on hundreds of fish in the lake. Each tag was marked with a monetary value. Anglers who caught the tagged fish provided details about their catch and in return received the assigned reward.

Creative collaboration enhances the FWC’s ability to gather the information needed to form sound management decisions for the conservation of Florida’s fish and wildlife. We hope you will consider how you can become involved.

To learn more about these and other FWRI research projects, visit http://research.MyFWC.com.