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Refuge celebrating Endangered Species Day virtually all week

By Staff | May 12, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Sea turtles are one species that the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is spotlighting for Endangered Species Week, which it is hosting now through May 15.

With Endangered Species Day set for May 15, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is holding a week’s worth of virtual activities to raise awareness for some local and state animals.

Using its online #DingatHome initiative – a weekly series of learning exercises created for those staying safe at home in light of COVID-19 – it is introducing a daily themed activity from May 11-15 based on one of Florida’s endangered species. Each daily activity is posted on Facebook at 10 a.m.

“The whole mission of the refuge and society (the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge) is to protect and care for not only the wildlife, but their habitat,” refuge Conservation Educator Sara Soderholm said. “So, why not help to bring awareness to these species that need it the most?”

While Endangered Species Day is recognized one day, the refuge wanted to do more.

“Why not spread it out for the whole week and focus on five different species?” she asked.

PHOTO PROVIDED From now through May 15, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is offering a virtual Endangered Species Week through its online #DingatHome initiative.

On May 11, Endangered Species Week kicked off with the #DingatHome’s regular “Movement Monday,” but with a special spotlight on the Florida panther. Soderholm explained that like sea turtles, the panther is one of the more well-known species within the state that people are familiar with.

“We thought we’d focus on one they’re familiar with at the beginning of the week and then go from there,” she said, adding that participants were provided facts and information about the species and the history on how the panther became endangered, as well as ways they can help to protect the big cat.

“Things we can do to hopefully help their numbers and bring them back,” Soderholm said.

For the activity, participants learned to run, stretch and leap like the lithe creature.

“We thought that would be the most fun of the species to do movements with,” she said.

The #DingatHome “Tale Tuesday” on May 12 highlighted the Key deer, which is only found in the Keys. Soderholm reported that a book about the species’ road to recovery was shared with participants, along with information like what is being done to help protect the species and how people can help.

“It’s a very special species,” she said. “They are found nowhere else in the world.”

Mid-week marks “Wildlife Wednesday” for the #DingatHome series. The refuge will share information and discuss the smalltooth sawfish in recognition of Endangered Species Week.

“We’re going to give just a bunch of fun facts,” Soderholm said, explaining that there will also be a specimen of a rostrum – the animal’s teeth-lined nose extension – shared with the participants. “Is it really a shark? Is it a fish? What is it actually related to? It’s just so unique and prehistoric looking.”

The daily activity will likely involve an educational worksheet.

“Again, it’s just bringing awareness to these animals people may not have heard of,” she said.

On May 14, the #DingatHome series will feature “Trail Thursday” with a focus on sea turtles. Participants will track turtle nests on the beaches as part of a virtual scavenger hunt with a staffer.

“Trail Thursday is always accompanied by a scavenger hunt,” Soderholm said, adding that people can follow along and ask questions of the refuge team member. “This one’s going to be on part of the refuge’s beachfront property, at the Perry Tract. Hopefully, we’ll find sea turtle nests during the walk.”

The staffer will talk about the importance of the species and the obstacles they face, not just surviving the nesting period to hatch, but getting from nest to ocean, then growing up to live and reproduce.

Endangered Species Week will wrap up on May 15 with the #DingatHome’s “Fun-Time Friday,” spotlighting the Schaus swallowtail butterfly – likely a surprising endangered species to many. Once spread from the Keys to Miami, the butterflies are now found in only a couple areas in the Keys.

“Did we have any idea that there are actually butterflies that are endangered?” she asked.

“They are so beautiful, and the shape of their wings is unique,” Soderholm noted.

Participants will get to take part in a crafty DIY activity to make a pencil – or anything – holder. It will involve an empty toilet paper roll and a butterfly design that can be printed, colored and decorated.

“I think all ages would benefit from this,” she said of the weeklong activities scheduled. “It’s always important to continue learning, and learning is going to be the key to protecting these species.”

“And, hopefully, bringing their populations back,” Soderholm added.

The public is encouraged to hop online and take part. The week’s videos will be linked on the #DingatHome site at dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/ding-at-home for later access. In addition, there will be specials and discounts to the Refuge Nature Store broadcast at ShopDingDarling.com.

“It’s such an odd time right now, everyone’s trying to find things to do,” Soderholm said. “Not only are we offering that, we’re educating too. Hopefully, we peak their interest and inspire future stewards.”

To take part, visit www.facebook.com/dingdarlingrefuge.

For more information, contact 239-472-1100 ext. 236 or educator@dingdarlingsociety.org.