Leadership Grow experiences all that the Florida environment has to offer
By Alexa Burnston; Photos by Charman Gabriel
Leadership Grow had an amazing learning experience at Environmental Day. We learned about a variety of ways we can help our environment in the community. We were led by Leadership Palm Beach County Alumni: Walter Brown (2016), Caroline Villanueva (2014), Doug Olesen (2016), and Brent Whitfield (2016, who could not be in attendance).
Our first destination was the Solid Waste Authority, led by Aurora Ortiz. While at the Renewable Energy Facility (#2), we were able to tour the certified-platinum education center. We learned that the building is LEAD, which is environment based. Innovations such as the flooring, which is made from reused tires, and the lighting, which is controlled by moving light panels outside the window, demonstrated the versatility of the building. Groups of leaders were brought to another floor, where we were shown the SWA rooftop garden, which only houses plants native to Florida. Groups were then brought to the fourth floor of the facility, where the waste is processed before being burned as a renewable energy resource. We learned that this is considered a renewable source because it is expected that humans will always be producing waste. It was an interesting experience to see how the waste is disposed in the most efficient way. It is expected that the current landfill will close by 2025, and then it is up to the Palm Beach County leaders to handle the waste management. After this tour, the groups were brought back to the first room to engage in a recycling game experience on an electronic touch-screen table. The participants focused on dragging recyclable materials into the appropriate bins. Each recyclable material correctly placed into a bin allowed the participant to receive points. Each round became increasingly more difficult, adding a bin for reusable material, and a hazardous waste bin. If all participants failed to put hazardous material into a hazardous waste bin, the game stopped for three seconds for each player. Through this experience, the leaders learned the four R’s of being environmentally conscious with their waste: reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink.
Our second destination was the Manatee Lagoon, an Eco Discovery Center created by FPL. Our stop was led by Sarah Marmion and Laura McCarthy. We entered into a conference room, where we were presented with a discussion about manatees. We learned that FPL utilizes its release of warm energy from its power facilities in order to attract manatees in the winter months and on chilly days. When the water is too cold, we learned that manatees could die, and so it is beneficial to create a safe location for them to receive warmth. Although manatees have been close to extinction in the not too distant past, they are now growing in population. After this presentation, we were brought on an educational tour, where we learned more about manatees. The guide passed around manatee bones, and showed how strong they are, unless they are injured. Manatee bones do not grow back the same, rather they form large clumps of calcium to create the general shape of their bone. We also learned the great hazard of boat accidents to manatees. We were then fortunate to witness a manatee arrival into the lagoon. We saw the manatee glide through the water, interacting with other native wildlife. It was a beautiful experience, even further enhanced by our opportunity to view the manatee again from a balcony on the second floor. We had a wonderful lunch provided by Florida Crystals, and then proceeded to our third destination.
We arrived to Grassy Waters Everglades Preserve in the early afternoon, and were immediately divided into two groups. The first group took a nature hike. This exposed us to the native flora and fauna in the preserve, and displayed what Florida would have looked like if untouched by man. We were able to view a native bird, the Snail Kite, and learn about the precious relationship between Apple Snails and Snail Kites. The Snail Kites are in danger, due to the introduction of a new species that is very similar to Apple Snails. Snail Kites can only eat Apple Snails, and this new species introduction has caused great harm to the Snail Kites. It was a wonderful opportunity to see these birds in action. The second group was brought on a canoe tour of the preserve. Experienced boaters were placed with new paddlers, and put on a canoe. We learned how to work together to move the canoe through the water trails and across the vegetation. Along the way, our guide provided details about the vegetation we were viewing and the importance of the preserve. It was an eye-opening experience to view the preservation of such a great habitat.
Environmental day was an amazing opportunity to learn about the types of environmental action in the community, and how student leaders can make a tremendous difference.