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USFSP adding master's program in conservation biology

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg is launching a master’s degree program in Conservation Biology in the fall 2017, in an attempt to fill a void in the state university system for the thesis-based biology degree.

“We looked at our faculty research base and realized this was ... a degree that was really missing from this area,” says Dr. Melanie Riedinger-Whitmore, who prepared the proposal for the program.

The degree program is being developed in connection with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The university also reached out to representatives of city and state government, as well as environmental consulting firms.

“It is important ... especially for coastal populations to address those issues that are affected by climate change and the environment,” says Dr. Martin Tadlock, USFSP’s Regional Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs.

He adds that society likely will be looking for leadership on conservation issues such as reducing waste, improving living conditions, and having a positive or at least neutral impact on the environment.

“The goal really is to meet the demand in the region and in the state for individuals in the field to assume leadership roles,” he says.

The Master of Science degree would prepare students to be conservation biologists, conservation specialists, wildlife biologists as well as to fill other positions requiring a strong biology background to deal with wildlife.

“Students who have a degree in this program hopefully will be broadly trained,” Riedinger-Whitmore says. “They’re going to be learning the latest techniques.”

The average mean wage in 2015 for conservation scientists in Florida was $70,000-$90,220, among the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dr. Riedinger-Whitmore, who will teach a core course in conservation biology theory, says the university already has had students express an interest in the program. “We had a lot of students participate in undergraduate research,” she explains. “A lot are excited they can continue on progress they’ve started as undergraduates.”

Initially the graduate program is expected to have 15, a figure determined by funding. “We wanted to make sure we had a small cohort we all could work with,” she says.

More information will be available at the Graduate Program’s Open House from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. April 8 at USFSP’s downtown St. Petersburg campus. Interested persons can apply to the program here.

The popular biology undergraduate program has more than 750 students. Since the university opened the undergraduate program in the College of Arts and Science in 2012, it has become the largest major in that department.

Students are expected to have access to newly renovated labs as well as being involved in the community and workplace, Tadlock says.

Spending time in nature is part of the program. “Being out in nature is going to be a big part of this degree. I think our focus initially is going to be the aquatic and terrestrial and coastal communities of west Central Florida,” Riedinger-Whitmore says.

USFSP will be looking to provide internship opportunities at local agencies that deal with conservation, as well as state, regional and private consulting firms.

It also will be soliciting instructors from the professional community. “We like doing this. It really introduces students to potential employers,” she says. “They get to interact with someone that is in the workforce.”


Sarasota County launches solar energy co-op program for homeowners

The sun began to peek through the clouds on an overcast morning at the Florida House Institute, where solar advocates gathered in early January to launch a new solar energy co-op program in Sarasota County. 

Representatives from the Sarasota League of Women Voters, Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL SUN), and the Florida House Institute met with Sarasota County homeowners to explore ways to add solar energy to their homes at a discount by sharing solar panel purchasing power -- and knowledge -- in bulk. 

Solar co-ops is a competitive bidding process to select a single company to install solar panels in participating homes, providing a discount of up to 20 percent for homeowners who participate in the program. Each person signs his or her own contract with the installer, and the entire group not only receives the discount, but also benefits from sharing knowledge about the process of transitioning to a solar-powered lifestyle. 

Jon Thaxton, Senior VP for Community Investment with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, a FL SUN Sarasota partner, cites a report the GCCF issued on affordable housing in 2015. The housing report states that over 43,000 households in Sarasota County pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing--forcing them to make difficult decisions as to how they will afford food, transportation and childcare, Thaxton notes. 

"This initiative has promised to reduce the energy cost in these households, and thus reduce the financial strain on the budget on these service workers," Thaxton says, citing low income neighborhoods in Sarasota Springs, south Venice, Englewood and North Port.

"We are talking about, in terms of affordable housing, bringing not only hundreds, but thousands of these 43,000 cash-strapped households into a more sustainable situation with this initiative," Thaxton says. 

Phyllis Vogel, President of the Sarasota League of Women Voters, says that Florida currently lags behind other states in utilizing solar energy, and that programs like the FL SUN Sarasota co-op are critical to the Sunshine State's future. 

"Consider this: Florida, the Sunshine State, currently gets less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its energy from solar power," Vogel says. 

But recent public interest in solar energy is a catalyst for change.

"The defeat of Amendment One in the recent election is an indication that Floridians are ready to increase the use of solar power in our communities. We know it's cost effective, it's good for our local economy, and it's necessary for our future resilience as a coastal community," Vogel says.

Of the solar co-op initiative, Vogel states, "not only will it save homeowners and businesses money, but it will infuse our economy with a growth industry of well-paying green jobs. The League believes that solar energy takes a free market approach to putting power, literally and figuratively, into the hands of the people."

FL SUN Sarasota partners include The League of Women Voters, the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, Sierra Club of Manatee-Sarasota, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Florida House Institute, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, and FL SUN. 

To learn more about the co-op, Join FL Sun Sarasota for one of three upcoming information sessions:

Jan. 18, 1 p.m.
Venice Community Center
326 South Nokomis Avenue, Venice
RSVP here

Jan. 19, 5 p.m.
Selby Library
1331 1st Street, Sarasota
RSVP here

Feb. 24, 11 a.m.
Twin Lakes Park
6700 Clark Road, Sarasota
RSVP here

Restaurateur encourages patrons to skip the straw

Drinking straws are standard fare at most restaurants. Whenever we order a cold beverage, it usually comes with a straw, and we use it to slurp our water, teas or sodas in a matter of minutes. Afterwards, the straws end up littering our beaches and landfills.
 
“We see those [straws] out on the beach everywhere, those and cracker wrappers,” says Ed Chiles, owner of Chiles Restaurant Group.
 
So Chiles decided to do something about it. He has quit serving “old-style,” non-biodegradable plastic beverage straws.
 
“If they want a straw they’re going to get a straw. We’ve got a good [biodegradable] backup,” says Chiles, who owns Ana Maria’s Sandbar, Bradenton Beach’s Beach House and Longboat Key’s Mar Vista Dockside restaurants.
 
Chiles is partnering with the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy to educate the public about the single-use plastic straws and protect our oceans. According to the Conservancy, straws are one of the top 10 items collected during cleanups.
 
Chiles’ campaign includes green messages encouraging customers to “Skip the Straw.”  So far, it has been working.
 
“I think it has gone very well overall. I think people understand. At first, there’s that little pause. They think about it and they get it,” Chiles says.
 
His servers are on board. “Our people have embraced it. If your servers aren’t behind it, you’ve got a problem,” he explains.
 
Chiles calls removing the plastic beverage straw “one small step.” He’s already ditched plastic cups and individually wrapped crackers, opting for glasses and sleeves of crackers. Plans include a complete line of eco-friendly “to go” containers and reusable packing crates.
 
He has gardens to grow their own herbs and spices. “The kitchen guys go out and work it,” says Chiles, an honorary faculty member of the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability. “We are all about local sustainable.”
 
Although his menus feature seafood, you also may find wild boar, considered an invasive species. “We take lemons and make limoncello,” he quips. “People think they [wild boars] are not any good, but they’re wrong. It’s fabulous. It’s one of my favorite meats.”
 
Even his parking lots are environmentally friendly. For the last decade, he has been a leader in pervious or porous parking lots, setting an example about how to deal with stormwater on commercial properties.
 
Chiles isn’t stopping with the beverage straw. Now he’s looking for a bio-degradable cocktail straw.

BLUE Ocean Film Festival: Whales, oil spills & oceans at risk

“If the boat is sinking, we will all have to sink together,” Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, tells Actor Leonard DiCaprio in the movie, “Before the Flood.”   

The movie documents DiCaprio’s three-year journey around the planet exploring the impact of climate change and the potential consequences for the oceans -- and the world, without a dramatic course-correct.

A screening of that film will kick-off the international BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit, which takes place this year in St. Petersburg from November 11-13.

Over four days, in venues ranging from the Palladium Theatre to the Mahaffey Theater and Sundial Muvico, 90 award-winning environmental films from 24 countries will be shown to the public.

Some of the films are awe-inspiring and adventurous, like The Kiteboard Legacy. Others, like Killer Whales: The Mega Hunt might make you want to never swim in the ocean again, at least off the southern tip of Africa. 

But most of the films, like “Dispatches from the Gulf”, about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or Coral Reefs: Trouble in Paradise are both beautiful visually and deeply disturbing. They’re meant to be. 

BLUE is on a mission to use “film and visual media to raise awareness and inspire ocean stewardship around the globe.” It’s all about creating a dialogue, separate from politics, about what can be done to solve pressing worldwide environmental issues.  

It might be easy to overlook news stories about the health of the world’s oceans or the dangers of climate change, but nothing beats the power of the visual to convert the skeptic. 

For example, were you aware that “whales can’t turn the volume down?” Escalating levels of man-made sound in the oceans are harming marine life and damaging the oceans. Watch Sonic Sea to learn more.

Launched in 2009, BLUE Ocean supports a number of initiatives, including the film festival, which rotates each year between the small principality of Monaco on the French Riviera and St. Petersburg, Fl. In 2015, co-Founders Debbie and Charles Kinder, decided to make St. Petersburg BLUE Ocean’s home base. 

Marine-related issues and concerns are a natural fit for St. Petersburg. The city is home to what local leaders call the Ocean Team, a consortium for marine science, oceanographic and environmental research agencies and educational organizations that include the University of South Florida’s Center for Marine Science.  

According to the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, St. Petersburg is considered to be one of the top marine-affiliated industry clusters in the nation.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker will be among the keynote speakers for the BLUE Ocean film festival’s opening night at the Mahaffey Theater on Nov. 10. For a schedule of events and ticket prices, follow this link to the festival’s website.

USF celebrates record year for cultivating startups, new products

USF’s success with transferring ideas and patents into products results in a record year.
 
With nine startups and 113 license and option agreements executed this fiscal year, the university is celebrating a 12-percent increase over fiscal year 2015. This success brings USF in the top 10 nationally among public universities for generating new inventions, according to the annual ranking by the Intellectual Property Owners/National Academy of Inventors.
 
“We are one of the nation’s largest public research universities and we play a leading role in growing and elevating the Tampa Bay Region’s economy through our discoveries,” USF System President Judy Genshaft states in a news release. “Through innovation and invention, our talented faculty and students are at the forefront of projects that are producing new technologies, developing new cures, and making life better for others.”
 
There is a common thread of making life better for others that is woven among all of the startups coming out of USF this year. Moterum is one of those new companies. With its clinical grade MTip Crutch Tip, the startup hopes to improve walking assistance, gait and control of post-stroke patients. Another startup, Depression Army, is working to remove the stigma revolved around depression through its sale of T-shirts and other merchandise. Meanwhile, Culture Biosystems is an innovative concept that reduces the cost of harvesting algae with the use of technology to enable large-scale production for biofuels, aviation fuels, proteins and nutraceuticals.
 
“At the end of the day, we are passionate about helping create products and businesses that will help people,” says Valerie McDevitt, Associate VP for Technology Transfer and Business Principles at USF.
 
Many of the startups created at USF get help from the university’s Seed Capital Accelerator Program, which was founded in 2013. The program helps startups launch their businesses from the university to the marketplace. Earlier this year, USF created another program to help innovators and inventors earlier on in the start up phase. The Bull Ring Accelerator Grant Program (BRAG) provides $25,000 of grant funding to early stage companies, providing infrastructure, training and resources to entrepreneurial teams helping them translate their ideas into viable products and companies.
 
“We have had great success this year due to our focus and prioritization on cultivating startups,” McDevitt says. “With the increased amount of license and option agreements we had this year over last, I know if we continue that focus we will have an even better year ahead.”

How to design a street banner for Clearwater

As the city of Clearwater continues its redevelopment plans, it has put out a call to artists to design a banner that will run the length of Cleveland Street between North Lincoln Avenue and North Betty Lane, along the fence that borders a “thriving community garden.” The winning artist will be compensated with an honorarium of $500 for the design.  Artist proposals are due by Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. 

“Our mission is to revitalize the downtown area. So this particular project helps us fulfill our mission as it is beautifying a stretch of Cleveland Street that is right now lacking in any sort of visual interest,” says Seth Taylor, Director of the Community Redevelopment Agency. “We saw this as an opportunity to have a big impact on the streetscape.”

Public art is just one facet of the plans “to help lift up the community,” notes Taylor. 

“We are working with our engineering and planning department to improve the entire streetscape along Cleveland Street,” says Taylor. Among other things a “road diet” is planned -- reducing the current five lanes to three, incorporating bicycle lanes, pedestrian walkways, landscaping and horticulture as well as space for retail. Conceptual design is underway and Taylor hopes that after community presentations, construction will begin by late 2017.

“Bright and Beautiful • Bay to Beach” is the city of Clearwater’s new brand and tagline and thus the theme of the artwork. Artists are to submit designs that would be rendered to a scale of approximately 400 linear feet by about six feet tall (click here for specifics), connecting visually to the neighborhood and also to “what bright and beautiful means to them,” Taylor says. Artists are strongly encouraged to visit the site “to get a feel for the landscape of the neighborhood.” He says it is a terrific opportunity for artist’s work to be showcased in the public realm.

Solar co-op arrives in St. Petersburg, Sunshine City

Residents of St. Peterburg are serious about solar energy.

The city is the first in the area to develop a solar co-op committed to drive the city of St. Petersburg to 100-percent renewable energy. The idea for the co-op came about from a partnership between the Suncoast Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg.

“We discovered that the League of Women Voters had been looking at developing a program like the East Orange co-op in Orlando, so we worked with the League and Community Power Network to bring a solar co-op program to St. Pete,” says Emily Gorman, Sierra Club 100% St. Pete Campaign Manager. “The St. Pete Solar Co-op is the first of its kind in the state as it is open to both home and business owners.”

Gorman says the co-op makes going solar easier and more affordable, with a payback period seen within 10 years of the system's 25-plus year lifetime. She cites East Orange co-op members who are saving more than $200 per month on their electricity costs.

Aside from the savings residents can see in their bills, Gorman states there is a larger economic byproduct of going solar.

“Solar installers are small, local companies. So, in addition to saving money on their own energy costs, solar panel owners stimulate local economy by keeping their dollars close to home.”

Those interested in learning more about the co-op are invited to attend an information session. The first session was held on July 28th at the Sunshine Center. There were approximately 80 people in attendance, with over 50 homeowners who registered with the co-op. Gorman says residents will still be able to sign up and join until December 2016.

For more information, visit Florida Solar United Neighborhoods.

Car sharing network zips into downtown Tampa

A car sharing network has arrived in downtown Tampa.
 
Zipcar, which offers on-demand, self-service access to cars, is now up and running with a fleet of 14 vehicles. These vehicles can be accessed at several locations, including the Tampa Convention Center, the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk, the Skyhouse Channelside Apartments, the University of Tampa, Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Westshore Marriott.
 
“Reservations can be made on our mobile app for an hour or several days; gas, insurance and 180 miles of driving is included,” says Katelyn Chesley of Zipcar.
 
Six new Zipcars are now available downtown by the hour or by the day. In addition to using the mobile app, reservations can be made on Zipcar’s website or over the phone.
 
The benefits of having a car sharing network in the downtown area are plenty, according to Chesley. It gives residents and visitors the opportunity to travel to local destinations that are not within walking distance, it helps reduce the amount of cars on the road and businesses can use it as well.
 
“The official launch in Tampa builds on successful Zipcar programs at the University of Tampa, Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Westshore Marriott,” says Chesley. “With a number of members already using Zipcar in Tampa, we were eager to expand to the downtown area to provide more residents and visitors with convenient access to wheels where they live, work and play.”
 
In addition to the fleet of vehicles in Tampa, Zipcar members can reserve and drive vehicles in 12 other Florida cities where the company operates. For more information, visit the company’s website

New water taxi aims to transport passengers on Tampa area waterways

Yacht Starship Dining Cruises is launching a new pirate-themed water taxi service around Tampa that will help “landlubbers” travel the high seas of the Hillsborough River, Hillsborough Bay and Garrison Channel. 

Pirate Water Taxi will offer three 50-foot vessels that make stops at 14 locations along the waterfront in the Channelside District, Davis Island and downtown Tampa. Passengers aboard each vessel will enjoy the convenience of onboard restrooms and concessions while the captains, acting as pirates, engage guests with witty, whimsical narrations. 

“The pirate inspiration is part of the rich Gasparilla tradition here in the city,” says Troy Manthey, president and CEO of Yacht Starship Dining Cruises. Manthey, who hails from New Orleans and is a fifth-generation Mississippi River passenger boat captain, began cutting the currents of Tampa Bay when he visited the area in 2001 and realized the potential here. “I wanted to open up the beautiful waterfront to the community.” So he did, when he established Yacht Starship. Now, Manthey hopes his Pirate Water Taxi service, which debuts on February 27, helps locals and tourists connect with Tampa’s growing number of waterfront attractions.

“There will be multiple stops between The Florida Aquarium and Rick’s on the River, including Ulele, Curtis Hixon Park, Bayshore, and other places.” Unlike other water taxi services, which often have just one vessel, Pirate Water Taxi will field three. “That way, one boat can be undergoing maintenance, another can handle a private charter, and we’ll still have a vessel operating for public service,” he explains. The water taxis will operate seven days a week, with extended hours during weekends and special events. 

While Tampa Bay’s new water taxi will handle the utilitarian duties of ferrying 40 to 50 people around downtown Tampa, Manthey stresses that his new water taxis will be more than just another way to get around the city. 

“This service is as much a tourism attraction as it is a mode of transportation,” he says. “Our captains will be cast as pirates and they will engage with passengers, telling them about the area, where the best places to go are, and what they can enjoy at each attraction.”

Pirate Water Taxi will be officially unveiled Friday, Feb. 26, during a christening ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center. Hearkening a longtime tradition for launching new boats, bottles of champagne will be smashed against the new water taxi vessels, and the boats will be ceremoniously named. 

UF researchers cultivate hybrid poinsettias that thrive year-round in Florida

Hybrid poinsettias decked the halls of the Hernando County Government Center during the Christmas season of 2015, and researchers at the University of Florida say they could soon be popping up in landscapes throughout Florida.

While poinsettias, also called “Christmas flowers,” were first brought to the United States from southern Mexico by Joel Roberts Poinsett in the 1820s, they don’t necessarily grow well in North America because they aren’t cold tolerant and are susceptible to problems such as root-borne diseases. Still, there has been increasing demand for poinsettias to be included in landscaping as a year-round plant.

Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) have spent 20 years studying various poinsettia cultivars. 

“The interest in utilizing poinsettias for southeastern landscapes as shrubs, trees, and combination bedding plants has been voiced as the variety of poinsettia possibilities is expanding beyond its designated holiday,” remarks George Grant, a researcher with the National Poinsettia Trials at UF. “For the poinsettia market to thrive in an environment outside of the greenhouse or home, it will require newer, redefined cultivars and education to the consumers on how to grow them effectively.” 

What are the objectives that poinsettia breeders and researchers such as Grant must confront? “To the consumer, color is what sells. However, growers want cultivars that will sell, but also are easy to grow, produce a quality plant without a lot of chemicals and will transport well.” He adds, “it is a challenge for breeders to come up with new cultivars that satisfy all of these requirements.” 

Some of these challenges were beautifully met with the hybrid poinsettias that Hernando County showed off in its 2015 holiday display. Some of the new poinsettia cultivars on stage at the busy county government center included “Autumn Leaves 2016,” “Luv U Pink,” “Red Glitter” and “Winter Rose Early.” Grant says these cultivars, produced by poinsettia breeder Dümmen Orange [http://dummenorange.com/], are novelty poinsettias that vary in bract (flower) color and growth habit. “They do all share one characteristic,” observes Grant. “Uniqueness.” 

The plants were brought to Hernando County by master gardeners Wynn Miller and Conny Cunningham, who traveled to UF to select the innovative hybrid poinsettias and install them in the government center.

“I’m very proud of how our master gardeners have transformed the atrium at the County Government Center from a neglected space to more of a ‘theme park’ type of display, complete with seasonal color and flowers,” says Dr. William Lester, an urban & commercial horticultural agent with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Hernando County. Lester and his colleagues with the Master Gardener program are working toward training volunteer gardeners on a wide array of gardening disciplines.  

According to Grant, the hybrid poinsettias don’t usually turn up in places such as the local grocer or big box stores. “Finding these types of poinsettias will require a little searching [at] local nurseries, ornamental gardens stores, or the University of Florida’s Annual Poinsettia Show [every] December, where over 150 cultivars of poinsettias are sold to support the Environmental Horticulture Club.” 

Grant adds a few tips to those who are looking to include poinsettias (hybrid or otherwise) in their landscape. “Choosing a planting location away from street lights or external light sources that come on at night is essential. This incidental light can actually delay or restrict your poinsettia from ever producing flowers.” 

He says poinsettias need full morning sun and shade during the afternoon, and they also require a planting area with good drainage. Grant tells gardeners that poinsettias don’t establish well outdoors when temperatures are less than 50 degrees. Therefore, new poinsettias are best kept indoors during the winter; they should be situated near a window that lets in full sun. “Once your poinsettia is planted, or when the spring time comes, you will notice how quickly it grows into a tree-like shrub. It is completely up to the property owner as to how tall or wide their plant will get as it is mainly controlled by pruning.”

Tampa father, son build tiny house as model for others

A father-and-son duo in Valrico are hoping to make a big impact with their little house. The 200-square-foot-home the two are building together will soon be going on a 20-city tour across the U.S. to teach others the importance of quality control in construction practices.

Paul Lynch, the patriarch of the team, is an attorney with Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, LLP based out of downtown Tampa. Working with his eldest son, Corbett Lunsford, the two are building the tiny house to be efficient, with solar panels, a composting toilet, sensors built into the walls to measure performance and the highest-quality non-toxic materials available.

“My son is an expert in testing homes, like a doctor for houses, and in his view and those of his fans, once you have metrics about your home you can make educated decisions and get control,'' says Lynch. “Like the craze for Fitbit pedometers, or feedback displays in new cars, better information about how the things we own are performing means we become better owners.”

The first stop on the 20-city tour will be in St. Augustine in April 2016. For the purpose of the tour, the tiny house will be called the 'tiny lab' due to its innovative features including technology from Mitsubishi that uses an infrared eye to sense areas in the home that need the temperature adjusted. During the tour, Lunsford and his team will spend one week in each city offering tours, workshops and contractor training.

During the tour, Lunsford and his wife will also be taping a TV show called Home Diagnosis and a web series called Ms. Tiny Detective. According to Lynch, it really is a family effort.

“Not a lot of guys get the opportunity to build a house with their kids, so I'm trying to enjoy the whole thing,” he says. “Obviously it's a bit stressful, we're building a house that has to withstand a hurricane and earthquake at the same time. But it's going to make great memories, and I'm proud of what we've already accomplished with the structure.”

For more information on the tour, visit their website.

Kickstarter campaign launches for Florida conservation

Less than 10 days before the controversial hunt for Florida’s barely-off-the-endangered-species-list-black bear begins, the Florida Wildlife Corridor will launch its Kickstarter campaign Thursday, Oct. 15th, to promote its new film and forthcoming book, The Forgotten Coast: The Return to Wild Florida, based on months of expeditions inspired by the Florida black bear’s journeys through the interior of the state.  

“[The Florida Wildlife Corridor] is hiding in plain sight -- we are all situated on the coast looking outward, and maybe forget about Florida heartlands,” says Florida Wildlife Corridor Executive Director Mallory Dimmitt who is spearheading the project and the expeditions behind it. She notes that there is an urgency to conservation and awareness as Florida’s population is estimated to reach 35 million by 2060. “We can still maintain wild Florida and all the creatures that rely on it as Florida grows.” 

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is both the name of the environmental advocacy organization as well as the term used to describe the territory it is dedicated to conserving: nearly 16 million acres of “lands and waters essential for the survival of Florida’s diverse wildlife” – including the 9.5 million acres already protected – that span the length and width of the state. 

The Forgotten Coast documentary is gleaned from the thousands of hours of footage taken during two Florida Wildlife Corridor expeditions traversing Florida undertaken by Dimmitt, wildlife Photographer Carlton Ward, Biologist Joe Guthrie, and Filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus on foot, bike and paddle. The idea, says Dimmitt, was to “explore wild Florida the way a bear or a panther could still travel through our state.” She says she hopes the film “inspires people to protect our quality of life, for all of Florida.”

During the first expedition in 2012, the team trekked more than 1,000 miles in 100 days from south-to-north, starting in the Everglades and finishing in the south of Georgia. From January to March of this year, the east-to-west expedition took the team from the Everglades Headwaters to the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the Florida Panhandle. 

The Kickstarter campaign will run until Friday Nov 20th, the day after the broadcast premiere of the film. The urgency to raise funds is critical and ambitious for the organization as Kickstarter is all-or-nothing crowdfunding, dependent on reaching the target fundraising goal of $37,000.  

The film’s exclusive broadcast premiere will air November 19th on WUSF-TV with a premiere event the week prior at the Tampa Theatre.  The new funds will allow the organizers to raise awareness and promote the film to PBS channels and film festivals around the country. 

Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission wins award for best practices

Hillsborough County’s Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) was honored this month by Sustainable Florida, a statewide organization with a vision to “protect and preserve Florida’s environment while building markets for Florida’s businesses” through sustainable best practices. The group awarded its Best Practice Award for Community Engagement to EPC’s annual Clean Air Fair initiative.

“Our agency is really big on outreach,” says Jeff Sims, General Manager of EPC’s Air Division, which runs the fair. The fair, he says, “becomes a big interaction point for the public.” Sims says the award is new to Sustainable Florida this year and that the EPC was among stiff competition, about 20 businesses, competing for it from around the state. 

Margaret Rush, the EPC’s Sustainability Coordinator says beyond providing a forum for educating the public on what the exhibitor companies are doing – something that is not always easy to understand in the abstract – the Clean Air Fair also creates a unique networking opportunity for a cross-section of business, civic and governmental groups “to talk about minimizing pollution” and for businesses to gain peer-to-peer knowledge on sustainable best practices. 

Launched in 2001, the EPC’s Clean Air Fair is an annual event meant to celebrate the month of May as Clean Air Month, as designated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Fair is open and free to the public and exhibitors alike, with the aim of raising awareness and promoting environmental and sustainable practices.  

This year’s event attracted more than 1,000 attendees, with more than 50 exhibitors from a wide range of businesses – from solar management and conservation organizations to major companies like TECO and Publix. The bustling, open-air event purposely takes place at a location that is “great for pedestrians” at the Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa. In addition to live music, complimentary food items and other give-aways, for the past several years they have showcased alternative vehicles – such as the fully electric Tesla, which claims to get 270 miles to a single charge. The innovation on display, Sims says, “draws in people to the more cutting-edge stuff.” 

Rush says she is noticing a greater interest in sustainability ”especially if you can make an economic case for it as well as social. More and more [sustainable initiatives] are coming in line as the cost of ‘business as usual.’ It just makes sense,” she notes. “That’s why it is important to learn about them.” 

USF rolls out succesful share-a-bike program

Students at USF's Tampa campus now have an innovative solution to the challenge of maneuvering such a large property as the bike sharing program is rolled out. The Share-A-Bull Bikes program, which officially launched September 28th, allows students the opportunity to borrow one of the 100 bikes on campus to get to their destination.

“Since we have an urban campus with lots of traffic, we had to come up with an alternative to help students get where they need to go,” says Francis Morgan, Assistant Director for Outdoor Recreation. “There were three things that really pushed this initiative, one being that is would increase physical activity, the second being it would decrease carbon emissions and finally it would get people from one place to another.”

In order to participate in the program, students must enroll at which point they receive a 16 digit account code that they will use to unlock one of the bikes. Once they have unlocked a bike, they can ride up to two hours per day at no cost. Each bike is equipped with a GPS system, which helps student locate available bikes through a Smartphone app or through the USF website.

According to Morgan, there are over 1,600 active members who have registered to date.

“This program has been very successful,” he says. “In fact, it is six times more successful than any other bicycle system in the world.”

Share-A-Bull Bikes program is funded through USF’s Student Green Energy Fund, which is a student fee funded program that the student body voted on. The purpose of the fund is to reduce the carbon footprint on campus.

“This is something the students asked for, and from its success so far, it’s seems to be something they appreciate.”

Design Week art installations to transform Selmon Greenway

A pop-up festival, art installations along the Selmon Greenway and design-inspired events throughout the local region are all part of the expanded Tampa Bay Design Week in October 2015.

“As our urban core continues to grow and we discuss issues of mobility, it is critical to engage the public in a conversation about design's impact on our daily lives,” explains Design Week chair Kim Headland.

Interested parties are welcome to attend a design charrette session on September 25 and join a team, Headland says. After that session, teams will begin the process of building and displaying their final installation along the Selmon Greenway path, which opened in spring 2015.

Already, teams include members from an array of design disciplines, such as architects, landscape architects, graphic artists, artists, photographers, planners, interior designers and students. Those interested in the role that public art plays in the local community may want to join.

Design charrettes are “an opportunity for guided brainstorming” for teams to begin developing concepts around the TBDW theme, 'Mobility and Connectivity','' explains Headland, a member of event sponsor American Institute of Design Architects.

Topics for consideration include:
  • What design elements will encourage pedestrian activity?
  • How does design and art impact our daily routines in the city?
  • What role does tactical urbanism play in our downtown community?
  • How can design influence the experience along the Greenway and make it "uniquely Tampa"?
  • What is the future potential of our City's under-utilized areas?
  • How can design elements and space adjacent, positively impact the greenway?
  • How can design promote economic growth and development along pedestrian paths?
  • How do historic events and places impact future design on a variety of scales?
The main objective of Design Week is “to promote the importance of design to the broader community, while engaging the community in relevant conversations about how design shapes our built environment,” Headland explains.

The Design Week team hopes to accomplish that goal by demonstrating the impact of design on local community through temporary art installations by the design teams, which will be placed along the Selmon Greenway, between the Tampa Riverwalk and Jefferson Street.

Headland hopes to see the designs “engage festival goers in thinking about 'Mobility and Connectivity,’ specifically along the Greenway.”

Events for TBDW will begin October 9 and conclude with a “Made in the Shade" event and a pop-up festival on October 17th.

The free, family-friendly pop-up fest is set to coincide with Tampa’s Streetcar Fest on the same day. The TBDW lineup has also expanded to include stops in St. Petersburg: a Dining by Design event, and a panel discussion with Rogers Partners Architects and ASD about the new St. Pete Pier designs.  

“Tampa Bay Design Week brings together designers, enthusiasts, leaders and citizens to celebrate, inspire, showcase and grow Tampa Bay’s creative community,” Headland says.
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