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‘Ding’ Darling refuge planning activities for World Oceans Day

By Staff | Jun 6, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED Isabelle Knott, of Georgia, with her turtle sculpture. The life-sized leatherback, made of PVC pipe and wire mesh and filled with trash, is on display at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

In honor of a globally-recognized day set aside to celebrate the oceans, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel will host its first-ever World Oceans Day.

Set for June 8, the day will kick off with a free beach walk and cleanup at 9 a.m. Afterward, the community will find a variety activities at the refuge from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., like upcycled crafts, showings of ocean-related films, a book signing by a local author, new turtle sculpture and more.

“This is our first time celebrating it,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said.

This year’s theme is preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean.

Westland pointed out the refuge’s initiative to “kick plastic” from its premises and its recently completed Learning Lavatories exhibit, which highlights the danger plastic trash poses to wildlife.

PHOTO PROVIDED The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will kick off its World Oceans Day activities with a free beach walk and cleanup for the public at 9 a.m. at Gulfside City Park.

“This has kind of been our fight here for a couple of years,” she said. “Any time we can educate people about the hazards of plastic and trash around the oceans is good – it’s a call to action.”

Open to the public, the beach walk and cleanup will take place at the refuge’s Perry Tract, which is accessible from the Gulfside City Park. While it is free to participate, parking fees will apply.

“This will be the first beach walk for the season,” Westland said.

The guided walk will be led by a ranger and will take about 30 minutes to one hour.

“We’ll go out to the beach and discover what’s out there,” she said.

Participants can help pick up trash along the way.

“Hopefully, we’re teaching them the importance of the live shells and the beach,” Westland said. “It’s kind of a really good educational walk and then there’s the cleanup.”

No registration is required to take part.

Cleanup participants will receive a 10 percent discount coupon for the refuge’s Nature Store.

At the refuge, visitors can make free, earth-friendly upcycled crafts to take home. The projects are ongoing from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. While geared toward children, adults can also participate.

“There’ll be multiple recycled crafts,” she said. “The crafts that we do at all of our events now are all made of recycled things.”

The “anti-plastic film festival” will begin at 11 a.m. with “STRAWS.”

“There’s four films that we’re going to show,” Westland said.

She explained that “STRAWS” examines the demand for plastic straws and the hazards that plastic straws have on wildlife and society, in general. The refuge sells reusable metal straws in its store.

The first 50 people seated will receive a free, reusable stainless steel straw at the end.

At noon, the refuge will show “Addicted to Plastic.”

“It goes through not just plastic straws, but our addiction in society to the amount of plastic we go through in our everyday lives,” Westland said. “Take one day and look at the amount of plastic you use.”

“Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” will air at 1:15 p.m.

The garbage patch is an accumulation of plastic trash between Hawaii and California.

“It used to be the size of Texas and now it’s doubled in size,” she said. “It’s not just trash from the United States, it’s world trash – and they’re finding the sea life is, obviously, ingesting it.”

At 2:30 p.m., “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?” will wrap up the festival.

“It’s really about plastic grocery bags and being able to reuse cloth bags,” Westland said.

The Nature Store will host a special book signing from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with author Charles LeBuff, whose second edition of “The Sea Turtles of Southwest Florida” was released this year. He will also sign copies of his other books, like “Florida’s Crocodile” and “The Sanibel Island Lighthouse.”

Westland explained that LeBuff was a refuge biologist for years.

“He started the sea turtle program on the island,” she said. “And we know that plastics have a direct impact on sea turtles.”

LeBuff’s books will be available for purchase.

In addition, the refuge will show off its new addition to the Visitor & Education Center – a turtle sculpture made from coastal trash. Created by high-schooler Isabelle Knott, of Georgia, for her senior project, the piece is a life-sized leatherback constructed from PVP pipe, wire mesh and found trash.

Westland explained that the theme was “Tomorrow the Impact of Plastics on Oceanology.”

“She filled it with plastics she found and what could impact the ocean,” she said.

Westland noted that Knott will attend Eckerd College for marine biology.

In partnership with the refuge for World Oceans Day, Tarpon Bay Explorers will offer a 25 percent discount on its Nature and Sealife Cruises, set for 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Those interested must mention World Oceans Day to receive the discount. Advance reservations are recommended at 239-472-8900.

“You can get out on the water with a naturalist,” Westland said.

Officials welcomed the community to stop by.

“We celebrate the importance of the oceans every day here at the refuge, but to have a day to celebrate it throughout the world is outstanding,” she said. “Even though it’s the first annual for us, I hope that it becomes a tradition.”

Westland added that the activities are fun – and free.

“Come out and learn something,” she said. “It’s diving deeper into our impact on the ocean and our impact on wildlife.”

For more information, call 239-472-1100 or visit www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive.