Learn More About Florida’s Coastal Nature

Love nature and being outdoors? Want to better understand Florida’s coastal and marine ecosystem? Take a Florida Master Naturalist course to learn more about Florida’s coastal plants and wildlife.

Field Trip To Big Talbot Island's "Boneyard Beach"
Field Trip To Big Talbot Island’s “Boneyard Beach”

Love nature and being outdoors? Want to better understand Florida’s coastal and marine ecosystem?

If hanging out with nature-minded folks learning about Florida’s coastal plants and wildlife sounds good, check out the “Coastal Systems” module of the Florida Master Naturalist program. The course is occasionally offered at the Nassau County Extension branch in Yulee. It’s also offered elsewhere around the state each year, along with two other modules of the Florida Master Naturalist certification.

A worthwhile opportunity to delve into nature, participants will be better able to identify plants, shrubs, and trees seen in the maritime forest and around the dunes and the beach. Learn more about shells, shorebirds, life around the tidal salt marsh and lots more in our natural environment at the Florida coast.  For those who have relocated to Florida from another state, (i.e., you’re a “transplant”), this course will provide a better understanding of the coastal nature that surrounds us here on this barrier island.

The “Coastal Systems” course runs three weeks, requiring a 40-hour time commitment (two evenings a week plus Saturday field trips). The goal of the Florida Master Naturalist program is to promote a better understanding of Florida’s natural environment and “initiate what is for many a life-long process of learning, of observation, and of sharing with others.”

As a former participant in the “Coastal Systems” module, I found it both rewarding and interesting. Naturally, like a kid in school, the field trips were the highlight of the overall experience. It was fun exploring the outdoors with classmates visiting Big Talbot Island, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the Amelia Island Plantation.

If my course experience was typical, the program attracts lots of eco-minded people. The majority in the class had careers tied to various areas of science. The program is well-suited for those in the eco-tourism business and teachers as well (educators may get up to 40 hours of continuing education credit). Teaching the Nassau County course were two knowledgeable instructors, Steve Gaul (Nassau County Extension Agent with background in forestry), and Christina Nelson, a certified Florida Master Naturalist (manager of the Nature Center at Omni Amelia Island Plantation for 15 years).

Listen to lectures, watch videos in the classroom sessions and spend time outdoors on Saturday field trips. Participants are required to present an individual and group project to the class. There’s a wide array of options for these presentation projects.  For example, I did a Powerpoint presentation on sea turtles and also worked on a photographic brochure with a classmate, the flora of Egans Greenway.

The two binders taken home (“Student Workbook”), contain ¬≠over 1,000 pages on coastal systems, habitats, plant and animal life, naturalist interpretation, planning, and additional resources.  Walk away with a better appreciation and understanding of what we see around us at the Florida coast. Plus, you’ll also have an excellent resource on the bookshelf for future referral. And memories of some neat nature hikes and spending a bit of time with a nice group of outdoorsy-types.

The “Coastal Systems” module is one of three sections of the Florida Master Naturalist certification, each module costs $225. While there’s no requirement to take all three, some in the class had done so, and celebrated completion of the program.

Visit the Florida Master Naturalist website for more info.  See course schedules for various venues around the state of Florida where all three segments of the Florida Master Naturalist program are offered at different times each year. Besides the “Coastal Systems” module, the other two are “Freshwater Wetlands” and “Upland Habitats.” In addition, special topic courses are also offered in some locations around Florida, such as “Environmental Interpretation” and “Wildlife Monitoring.”

Here’s a summary of the mission of the Florida Master Naturalist Program, from their website:

“The mission of the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) is to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors. Florida Master Naturalist Program students will increase their knowledge of Florida’s natural systems, of the plants and animals that depend upon those systems, and of the role of humankind in shaping our past, of determining our future, and as stewards of the land. The objective of the Florida Master Naturalist Program is to prepare persons to share their knowledge with others, to act in a positive manner, to help others feel a greater connection to the land/sea and to help others to develop their own personal environmental ethics. Information on the ecology of Florida’s systems is an integral part of the program, but we do not attempt to create experts in botany, herpetology, or any other discipline. Rather, we hope to initiate what is for many a life-long process of learning, of observation, and of sharing with others.”

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By W.B. Lawson

"PERSPECTIVE" column -- Observations of island life, news & opinion.