You might be asking yourself… where does the “you” come in as the title of this blog. I promise, I’ll tell you, but you’ll have to keep reading! This past October, your UNF Food Fighters project leaders Leanza Mayo and I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia, PA. to attend the Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE). FNCE is an annual conference where more than 10,000 registered dietitians present new research, network and grow the field of nutrition & dietetics.  Highlights from this conference were the networking sessions and listening to presentations on new research. At one networking session and met an internship director who focused on food sustainability in Pennsylvania. We shared with her about UNF Food Fighters and she was definitely […]

On Tuesday, October 1 Food Fighters held our annual Hunger Dinner for students, faculty and community partners. Every year this event raises awareness about hunger on a global scale and on local levels, such as the Jacksonville area. The Hunger Dinner is a hunger simulation, which includes a presentation by Dr. Lauri Wright and students volunteers who convey facts about food insecurity. Dr. Wright is the founding director for the Center for Nutrition and Food Security in the Brooks College of Health. The Simulation The simulation began with attendees drawing a number at registration to determine which group they would join in the simulation.  If a #1 was drawn, they were individuals who lived in a wealthy, developed country and sat at tables with chairs. […]

Here at UNF, the goal to become more energy efficient and environmentally friendly is always a top priority. Over the past few years, the university has been switching to LED lighting to improve energy efficiency and operating costs. According to Dr. Wallace Harris, associate director for Physical Facilities, the university has already replaced lighting along all streets and parking lots on campus with LEDs, as well as six buildings on campus (buildings 15, 14E, 58, 5, 6, and 4). It will take roughly three years to retrofit the entire campus to LED lighting. We all know LED lighting is a better alternative than traditional fluorescent or incandescent light bulbs, but why? They are allegedly better for the environment, but what exactly is it about LED […]

The final event of Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It took place at the UNF Sawmill Slough Preserve. Jake Tucker, an employee of UNF’s Environmental Center that performs wildlife monitoring in the preserve was the featured speaker for the event. Former UNF President John Delany classified the area as a preserve in 2006. The preserve has almost 400 acres and includes wetlands, sandhills and flat woods regions. The goal that Delany set out to accomplish was to preserve the vital wetlands and natural habitat for the many native plants and animals that live in the preserve. The preserve includes five different trail routes of varying lengths and difficulty levels. Tucker took the group by Lake Oneida – a man made lake that is […]

The February event of Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It featured kayaking with Kelly Patton Thompson from the St. Johns Riverkeeper. The St. Johns Riverkeeper is an organization that works to be the voice of the St. Johns River and the communities that live and work in the watershed. The organization provides educational classes and materials, advocates for environmental policy changes, leads patrols on the river, and investigates issues with the river. The event began at Palmetto Leaves Park which offers a pavilion with picnic tables, a short hiking trail and a kayak launch into Big Davis Creek that flows into Julington Creek. The group met at the pavilion to hear Thompson briefly talk about the work the St. Johns Riverkeeper does as […]

To all that love or appreciate nature, we have some great news on campus! Using a wildlife camera, research assistants from the Environmental Center recently captured day and night photos of a bobcat (Lynx rufus) in the UNF Sawmill Slough Preserve. Bobcats have been spotted in the past but not confirmed since 2014 within the Preserve. This is exciting for the campus as it shows that an important top predator is maintaining itself in the preserve. Additionally, wildlife camera photos of marsh rabbit, raccoon, Virginia opossum, white-tailed deer and armadillo further prove that the Sawmill Slough Preserve is a viable and functioning ecosystem. Bobcats can be fairly common in Florida, although they are rarely seen. This is due to their primarily nocturnal habits and extremely secretive […]

This year, student project leader Katie Vearil led the fourth series of “Beyond the Trail.” After participating in the St. Johns River Experience at UNF, she was inspired to educate others on the historical, scientific, and economic significance of the river.  This inspired her to create, “Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It.” The first event of the series took place in September 2018 at the Theodore Roosevelt Area. Dr. Keith Ashley, a UNF Assistant Professor of Anthropology and National Park Service Ranger Craig Morris were the featured speakers. Ranger Morris discussed the history of the park and talked about the native flora and fauna in the park. Dr. Ashley talked about the first people to inhabit the area around the watershed – the Timucua […]

The January 2019 event in the Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It took place at Friendship Fountain with UNF professor Dr. Charles Closmann. In the early days of settlement in Jacksonville, the St. Johns River played a major role in trade. Goods such as lumber were shipped down the river. Eventually railroads developed alongside the river to make Jacksonville an important location for trade. The expansion of stockyards, slaughterhouses, and the paper and lumber industries created major pollution problems in the St. Johns River during the late 1800s. Initially, the pollution was not considered a problem because of the old phrase, “dilution is the solution to pollution.” Since the river was so large, many thought the pollution would be diluted to a level that […]

The third event in Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It took place in November with the St. Johns River Water Management District. The featured speaker for the event was Jennifer Mitchell, the public communications coordinator of the SJRWMD. The event took place at Julington-Durbin Preserve. The preserve is a quiet getaway filled with diverse ecosystems nestled between suburbs and business offices. Julington and Durbin Creeks flow through the preserve. Both creeks are tributaries to the St. Johns River. They provide a good example of why protecting parks can help protect the river. Mitchell led participants on the 3.9 mile White Blaze Trail. This trail provides a view of the many natural communities that exist in the preserve. From sandhill to flatwood and the wetlands […]

An exciting history of conservation and preservation. The largest urban park system in the United States. Over 51,000 acres of preserved land. Would you guess that all of this is in Jacksonville, Florida? For the past year, I have been speaking with and interviewing individuals who were pertinent to the creation of Preservation Project Jacksonville (PPJ). By hearing directly from those who experienced the project coming to fruition, I have recorded the story of PPJ, and created my own oral history project titled Preservation Project Jacksonville: The Untold Story. This project was created to bring awareness and appreciation for our local parks, which each have a story, and are here for us to enjoy for decades to come. Interviews so far have been held with […]

This post has been curated in conjunction with the “Highlights” section of the 2018 St. Johns River Report bringing attention to bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) inhabitants of the St. Johns River. Bottlenose dolphins utilize areas of the St. Johns River from the mouth to further upriver, going up to 35 miles away. Unfortunately, as human presence increases along the St. Johns River, we bring forth an elevated threat to these creatures, with anthropogenic pollution becoming a major focus as of late. As a marine mammal, bottlenose dolphins can be considered a bioindicator for anthropogenic toxins given their longer life span and ability to accumulate these toxins in their fat stores((Bossart G.D. 2006. Marine mammals as sentinel species for oceans and human health. Oceanography. 19(2): 134-137)). […]

The second event Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It took place in October with Groundwork Jacksonville. The featured speaker was Kay Ehas, the CEO of Groundwork Jacksonville. Groundwork Jacksonville is a local non-profit that focuses its efforts in the historic Springfield area and the Eastside neighborhood towards restoring Hogans and McCoys creeks and creating parks and trails in areas that were previously contaminated land. Recently, the organization has taken on creating the Emerald Necklace – an urban trail system that connects multiple neighborhoods in the urban core of Jacksonville. The emerald necklace was originally thought of for Jacksonville by the famous architect Henry Klutho in the 1900’s. Ehas took participants to a few locations along McCoys Creek including Hollybrook Park and The Times […]

Last Friday, five UNF students joined the ELP’s Preserve Ambassadors Team—partnered with Florida Master Naturalist and artist, Sarah Crooks—on UNF’s nature trails for a botanical illustration workshop. The free event started with a discussion of what botanical illustration is and why it’s used, followed by a guided hike on the trails. From the insight of Ms. Crooks, and project leaders Molly O’Brien and Kyle Kenney, we learned a lot about the flora and fauna of our preserve and how to identify our surroundings. After some inspiration, it was time to put our observation skills to the test with some leaf sketching. Without warning, we were given 2 minutes to sketch our leaves from memory. When we don’t remember every detail of something, our brains will […]

This year, student project leader Katie Vearil took over the fourth series of “Beyond the Trail.” After participating in the St. Johns River Experience at UNF, she was inspired to educate others on the historical, scientific, and economic significance of the river.  This inspiration led her to create “Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It.” The first event of the 2018-2019 series took place in September at the Theodore Roosevelt Area. Many participants had not visited this park before the event. Park Ranger Craig Morris and Dr. Keith Ashley, a UNF professor were the featured speakers. Dr. Ashley educated participants about the Timucuans who first settled in the area. The Timucuans created large middens. These served as a “landfill” site for leftover oyster shells […]

If you’re like me, you were most likely taught to avoid three topics of discussion; sex, politics, and religion. For most occasions, this is sound advice. People tend to have very strong opinions on politics and religion in particular, and questioning those beliefs is considered rude. I shall leave it up to you whether you wish to discuss sex or religion with your friends and colleagues, but I hope this blog offers a different perspective on that forbidden third topic: politics, and why as an environmentalist, political advocacy is critical. Admittedly, it can certainly be uncomfortable, but if we look through our history, the greatest environmental achievements have been made through political action, utilizing our democratic rights to their fullest extent. The question then arises: […]

All over the news and social media, more and more pictures of mass marine die-offs washing up onto shore are popping up. These pictures and videos are indeed scary, however, they do an excellent job in bringing awareness to the red tide crisis occurring in Florida. But what exactly is a “red tide”? Well, the red tides here in Florida are caused by a species of algae called Karenia brevis, a type of red algae, or dinoflagellate. When a “bloom” occurs the water may turn a reddish color, hence the name “red” tide. An algae bloom is a rapid increase of an algae population in an aquatic environment and it is this bloom that is devastating coastal ecosystems in Florida. Fish die at Sanibel Causeway after […]

The ELP fall retreat is a three day event that “kicks-off” the fall semester in which the Environmental Center staff and student project leaders gather to participate in team-building activities, enjoy the natural environment and develop leadership skills. This year’s fall retreat was held at Camp Weed & Cerveny Conference Center in Live Oak, Florida. This “all-inclusive, retreat into nature” provided the project leaders all the comforts of home, including specialized prepared meals, activities and lots of unique places to explore. The theme of this year’s retreat was “Advocacy 101” with a focus on environmental and social justice issues. Jacqueline Crucet, the senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, was our workshop facilitator. She led a very interactive workshop which included role play […]

Inquisitive recyclers from the UNF Environmental Center and Timucuan Parks Foundation embarked on a trip to Republic Services to broaden their knowledge of recycling! We attended this tour so we could further educate ourselves on what is recyclable and what happens after it is collected. For those you who could not attend the tour, you can watch this great video created by a UNF student on the process. The majority of the facilities’ offices were made from recycled materials! The carpeting is made from recycled bottles, and the blinds were made from recycled paper! The facility sells its recycled plastics to companies that repurpose recycled plastics into new things. They receive 250 tons of recycled items per day! During our tour of the facility, it […]

Project Leader Kyle Kenney and 18 other students from colleges and universities from across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassadors orientation and training. In December, Kenney, who is part of the Environmental Leadership Program, applied for and was awarded a grant from Outdoor Nation and the National Park Service that would help fund his project, Preserve Ambassadors. The main goal of his project is to increase student use of public lands and create a volunteer team. In addition, his project focuses on raising awareness and use of the UNF Sawmill Slough Preserve. While in D.C., he met with the Outdoor Foundation, who represents the Outdoor Industries Association and learned about the role they have in reaching youth across the […]

On November 3, 2017, Project Leader Courtney Hogan of the “Food Fighters: Student-Powered Hunger Relief” team attended the second annual Food Recovery Dialogue in Washington, D.C.  This conference brought together the 230 chapters of student-led, food recovery programs from all over the country. The network serves as a coalition of student groups who collect prepared, unserved food from dining halls and food stores on and off campus to be donated to community organizations whose clients are in need of, but do not have access to, daily nutritious meals. The Food Recovery Dialogue was an excellent networking opportunity to connect with other students fighting food waste and hunger at their universities, as well as an experience to learn about various food justice initiatives advancing the movement […]

Historical reenactor Mike Adams stole the show at the first event of “Beyond the Trail: the Art of Science,” held at Palmetto Leaves Regional Park, when he brought to life William Bartram. Participants heard first-hand what it was like for “Billy” to experience Florida in all of its grandeur and mysteriousness as a traveler in the late 1700s: “I heard a noise about 10 feet from where I set up camp; snarling and scratching. I went to investigate but caught just a blurred glimpse. He was big and dog-like, but this was no ordinary dog. He had whiskers, like long needles, jutting out from under his slender nose, and a tail—big and bushy. I creeped over and saw a hole. I got down on all […]

In September, Bella Genta and Thoren Perego, two project leaders from the Environmental Leadership Program, attended the two-day 2017 International Conference on Sustainable Development. The conference took place in New York City and was hosted by the Earth Institute, Columbia University, the Global Association of Masters of Development Practice and the United Nations Development Programme. To learn more about the conference and its international participants, visit The two-day conference featured a number of inspiring and candid speakers including the presidents of Ghana and Colombia, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme and a host of other academics and sustainable development practitioners. In addition, Genta and Perego also attended sessions and panels where they could engage in more personal discussions, covering topics such as, […]

Every fall the Environmental Center starts off the new academic year with the annual Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) fall retreat. This year, the retreat focused on sustainability and community solutions to climate change. The first stop on the retreat was in Orlando to learn more about the Green Works initiative. Ian Lahiff, energy project manager with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Office of Sustainability, gave us a tour of the city’s Fleet & Facilities Complex, including the on-site solar rooftop. After the sustainability tour in Orlando, the group headed to Silver Springs State Park for the remainder of the retreat. Mixing in some fun, the group started Saturday with an early morning hike and also enjoyed a leisurely paddle at the head spring. After lunch, the […]

Come explore the largest urban park system in the United States! Network with Northeast Florida environmental professionals and leaders!  Learn about the history and culture that dates back over 10,000 years! Make new friends on campus and within the community! Through the Environmental Center’s “Environmental Leadership Program,” in 2016, student project leader Renee Hutchins created the original “Beyond the Trail: A Park Discovery.” She wanted to know more about how parks were managed and operated because her passion was to work for the national parks. Renee created four park events that partnered UNF students and community members. Park rangers from the national, state and city parks shared the “back office” stories of how each park system was managed and the unique challenges each faced. In […]