Florida Wildlife Refuges, One Goal

While I enjoy shooting, fishing, photography and many other outdoor facets of fun, one of my personal goals through my education in Conservation Biology is to insure the survival of endangered species through the support of proper management and well-being of all native, wild species.  Early in January, I had the chance to travel south to Ft. Myers in Florida and visit my grandparents, so of course, I took the opportunity to journey to a few wildlife sanctuaries, both public and private.  There are multiple sanctuaries, dotted not only around Port Charlotte and Ft. Myers, but around all of southwest Florida.

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The privately funded refuge called the Peace River Wildlife Center is a humble organization with a simple goal, “Dedicated to the care, preservation, and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife.”  With the limited supplies they have, they re-enable injured wildlife for return to the wild.  If the injuries are too severe, however, the animals stay at the center and are open for the public to see and learn from.  They manage their operation and keep it running through private donations, volunteer services, paid sponsor memberships and a recycling program.  The public is invited to contribute from near and far at http://peaceriverwildlifecenter.org.  Their inhabitants are mostly birds, including pelicans, ducks, red-tailed hawks, even some bald eagles.

The publicly funded refuge we visited was the J.N. Ding Darling wildlife refuge.  It is one of the 550 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  J. N. Ding is a vast national wildlife refuge, covering almost the entire half of the luxurious vacation site, Sanibel Island.  This well-organized site promotes natural habitat restoration of the mangroves, which many fish, wildlife and animals depend on for survival as a food source and a habitat.  Although it is home to many native birds, amphibians, alligators, fish, and countless insects.  One of the most important functions at J. N. Ding is that it provides place for migratory birds to nest in the winter.  The other half of the island is occupied by shops, hotels, and vast homes on five-star sandy island countryside.  The refuge is also on 5-star real estate acreage; luckily the founder, J.N Ding, bought the 6400 acres of land in 1945, and it has become a vital place where mangrove forests, seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammocks are safe from realtors.  For more on J. N. Ding, see their website: http://www.fws.gov/dingdarling/VisitorInformation.html.

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J.N Ding not only saved a spot for migratory birds to have a place to rest on their journey, but it is also an elemental part of the rare estuarine ecosystem, which is an area that freshwater and saltwater mix together.  These estuaries located here provide an abundance of resources for many fish and wildlife species, from providing habitats to attracting prey for the multiple species of birds to feed on.  They also provide nesting and resting areas for manatees and sea turtles where these species can feed on the abundant seagrass beds.

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All in all, the privately funded site was a rehabilitation center adjacent to a refuge area, while the publicly funded site provided a museum-like tour (free) and was a refuge with a drive-through park-like area that protected a whole ecosystem. Although very different in their funding sources and the functions of their establishments, they both have one goal in mind, the protection, management and well-being of all native, wild species.

-By Kiley Voss, student at SUNY college of Environmental Science and Forestry