FGCU goes a step further to ensure that every student who steps foot on campus experiences how unique this location really is. Students are required to take “University Colloquium,” a semester-long class examining sustainability issues and the environmental practices of the university. This course takes students, regardless of their major, out into the conservation areas around the campus and lets them explore areas that some might never otherwise get the opportunity to experience. I often see classes with the Campus Naturalists(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), a student-led organization, wading through flooded cypress domes, chest deep in the water, squealing with nerves and excitement as they walk deeper into the crystal-clear freshwater. As a graduate assistant, I would take my students to the outdoor classroom in an upland oak hammock to learn about the plants around them. I watch their expressions go from fear to fascination as they move further away from the sidewalk, and get to embrace these natural spaces. There are often comments about Jurassic Park as we walk down into the cypress domes, surrounded by towering giant leather fern and alligator flag. These biology students have the rare opportunity to study representative ecosystems and use these environments as an in-person practice exam.
On any given day, I find myself in the campus conservation areas either conducting research, educating students, or just exploring what’s around me through iNaturalist(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), an app that help you identify the natural world around you! You can post photos of your plant, animal, and fungi observations for identification while helping contribute to biodiversity science. The platform shares findings with scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) to help scientists find and use massive amounts of open-source data for research. Just in my free time, while hiking the campus trails, I’ve identified 30 species of fungi. Other days I’m helping with radio telemetry studies of eastern diamondback rattlesnake habitat use on campus. I am part of a group that helps relocate snakes when people in the surrounding area run into them helping to minimize human-wildlife conflicts and take the opportunity to educate the public about the ecosystems around their homes. My research has taken me swimming in cypress sloughs, climbing through cocoa plums and cabbage palms, scratching my legs on saw grass and black needle rush, all while never needing to leave the campus. I aim to teach others that Florida has so much more to offer aside from the beach!
Unpopular opinion: my favorite season in Southwest Florida is summer. While most people are inside, trying to beat the heat, volunteers from FGCU are going wild for frogs. Once a month from June through September, when rainy season downpours leave ephemeral ponds ideal for frog and toad spawning, the Southwest Florida Amphibian Monitoring Network, aka Frog Watch(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), gets together. The group started in 2000 with the aim of learning more about into frogs and toads are affected by habitat loss and hydrology changes due to development, as well as factors such as climate change, drought, and introduction of non-native species. The assessments not only tell us about amphibian health but provide insight into overall ecosystem health as these animals are very susceptible to even small environmental change. Initiatives like this one showcase the unique connections FGCU has with its community. The people of Southwest Florida want to embrace the nature around them in a tangible, hands-on way, and Frog Watch allows them to do just that.
One element of the university and its environmental faculty that continues to inspire faith in this sustainable model is that the school is aware of its own footprint. Teams within FGCU are constantly trying to learn more about the impacts the school has on the environment, while appreciating and celebrating the uniqueness of the campus itself. In efforts to assess our impact on the wildlife around us, campus faculty and staff have been documenting biodiversity on the campus since its inception. To date, we have documented 838 species on campus, some of which are state or federally threatened animals. Many of my days began with class and ended with me dirty and tired after doing data collection in the natural areas around campus.
While this campus is striving to be the model for campus and environmental sustainability, it faces constant development in the surrounding areas. Because of this, environmentalists at the school make it their mission to connect with the community around them to teach sustainable living best practices and habitat conservation. For example, The FGCU Food Forest(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) works to advance the mission of the university through offering unique and innovative educational and service-learning opportunities to promote the awareness of sustainable food production and whole food nutrition. FGCU also has centers around Southwest Florida to assist with research and community engagement. Vestor Marine Station(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), located in Bonita Springs, is in proximity to a variety of water bodies that gives us a unique opportunity for wetland and aquatic ecosystem research. Similarly, Everglades Wetland Research Park(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) (EWRP) is a FGCU campus located within the Kapnick Center’s at the Naples Botanical Garden in Naples, FL. The EWRP provides teaching, research, and service related to wetland, river, coastal science, and ecological engineering.
FGCU’s impact can be felt throughout the state and when you come to Southwest Florida, #OspreyOnCampus often means more than one thing.
Does your campus have easy access to the outdoors? A one-of-a-kind outdoor recreation program? Add the #OspreyOnCampus on Instagram(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) to share your story!