Sunday afternoon, after three exceptionally full days of tours, presentations, panels, and plenaries at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami, 20-some of us intrepid SEJ-ers boarded a bus for the Florida Keys, not for some post-conference R&R, but to take a more in-depth look at the ecology and issues unique to this region.
Our itinerary was ambitious: in two and a half days, we visited ecological centers, state parks, a marine protected area, a coral nursery, a coral out-planting site, and a turtle hospital. We heard from marine scientists, wildlife biologists, conservationists, park rangers, fellow journalists, and local residents. And we learned about everything from pelagic seabirds and leatherback sea turtles to endangered elk horn coral and pine rocklands.
And that’s just a sampling.
If you think the tour was a series of information-intense presentations and discussions, you would be right. And wrong.
It wasn’t just a chance to collect facts. It was also an opportunity to sink our feet into the spongy seaweed that lines the shores of Bahia State Park and snorkel over fields of sea grass and feel the salt crusting the leaves of a mangrove tree. It was an opportunity to help carry an endangered loggerhead sea turtle to the ocean and watch it scrape its flippers against the front of its bin and try to climb out, somehow sensing salt water and impending freedom. And it was an opportunity to hear from countless people who are passionate about this beautiful and fragile place. It was an opportunity to experience the Keys in a way that goes far beyond facts and numbers.
Throughout our travels, we received one consistent message: The Florida Keys are unique and beautiful, but they are also vulnerable. This magical place faces numerous challenges and could easily disappear.
As this busload of writers heads back toward the “real world” though, we carry an understanding of a place that you can get only by going and smelling, tasting, touching. We carry the Keys’ stories with us. We carry stories that will help readers of all stripes, old and young (my personal audience), rich and poor, well-traveled and homebodies, to fall in love with a locale that they may never have seen.
That’s why 20-some SEJ-ers spent two and a half days swimming through a flood tide of information and images to gather stories, because stories are our most powerful weapons against threats such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution. #
Cheryl M. Reifsnyder, Ph.D.
Freelance Science and Medical Writer
Member AMWA, SEJ, SCBWI