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Spring 2019

Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) – Now Accepting Applications
ELP Graphic - Discover, Create, Change

Calling all undergraduate students from all disciplines! If you have a passion for environmental or social justice issues and want to do something about it, apply today to join our team of students who are making a difference on campus and within the Northeast Florida community! 


The ELP is a unique program that allows you to create and implement a project while learning employment skills such as writing business proposals, applying for grants, honing your speaking skills and networking with community leaders in both the public and private sectors.


APPLICATION DEADLINE: Feb. 15, 2019 at 5 p.m. Click here to access the application

Learn more about the Environmental Leadership Program.

2019 Seed Grant Recipients
Students conducting research

Seed Grants are available to faculty from any college and support interdisciplinary research focused on the three priority areas of the Environmental Center, which are parks and preserves; rivers, coasts and springs; and sustainability. The grants are competitively awarded to the most meritorious proposals.


The Environmental Center is pleased to announce the 2019 Seed Grant recipients. 

Distribution of Diamondback Terrapins in Coastal Georgia
Dr. Joseph Butler, Department of Biology

Durable and Environmentally Sensible Materials for Oyster Reef Restoration

Dr. Craig Hargis, College of Computing, Engineering and Construction
Dr. Kelly Smith, Department of Biology


American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) Distribution Across an Urban Landscape
Dr. Adam Rosenblatt, Department of Biology
Eli Beal, M.S. Graduate Student

Student Driven Design and Implementation of a Solar Powered Watering System and Educational Display at the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens
Dr. Stephen Stagon, School of Engineering
Dr. Anthony Rossi, Department of Biology 

The Seed Grant program is supported through the generosity of the River Branch Foundation and Vulcan Materials Company Foundation. Contact the Environmental Center if you are interested in supporting faculty research initiatives. 

Read the full abstracts and learn more about the Seed Grant program.

Pre[serve] Art Exhibition

Pre[serve]: 2018 WinnerStudent and alumni artists are invited to submit works inspired by experiences in the Sawmill Slough Preserve, a 382-acre protected natural area located on the UNF campus. In addition to protecting a wide range of habitats, the protected area includes miles of recreational trails that have been part of campus life since the university opened. In addition to the exhibition, Pre[serve] includes a series of workshops and lectures featuring accomplished artists.   

Call to Artists

Submission Deadline: Friday, March 1 at 11:59 p.m.


All current UNF students and alumni are invited to submit works for Pre[serve], and all types of media are accepted. More than $1,000 in cash prizes are available, including a new award for best alumni work. Current UNF employees are not eligible for cash prizes


Opening Reception

When: Thursday, March 28, from 5-7 p.m. 

Where: Lufrano Intercultural Gallery

Cost: Free and open to the public


Accepted works will be displayed at the Lufrano Intercultural Gallery from March 28 to April 26. An opening reception will be held the evening of Thursday, March 28, at which time awards will be announced.

Pre[serve] is a collaborative project between the Environmental Center and Department of Art and Design. Support for the program comes from the Cummer Family Foundation and the Lufrano Intercultural Gallery.

Learn more about Pre[serve] and the submission process.

An Evening with Dr. Marty Main
Florida Master Naturalist logo

Event Partner: Northeast Florida Master Naturalist Chapter

When: Wednesday, Jan. 23, from 6:30-8 p.m. 

Where: Adam W. Herbert University Center

Cost: Free and open to the public


Join the Northeast Florida Master Naturalist Chapter for a lecture by Dr. Marty Main, the founder of the Florida Master Naturalist Program and Associate Dean for Extension, Environmental and Natural Resource Programs at the University of Florida. Dr. Main will be discussing the history of the Florida Master Naturalist Program, how the program has grown and developed, and his vision for the program going forward. 


The event will take place at the Adam W. Herbert University Center. Parking for the event is free, and refreshments will be provided. 

Reserve a free ticket for An Evening with Dr. Marty Main.

Lecture by Photographer Jeff Rich

Watershed book coverWhen: Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 6 p.m.
Where: John A. Delaney Student Union
Cost: Free and open to the public

Jeff Rich is a photographer whose work focuses on water issues ranging from recreation and sustainability to exploitation and abuse. The lecture will be about his Watershed project, which is a photographic series that deals with the Southern portion of the Mississippi Watershed. In this series, he explores the complicated relationship between humans and the land and water that are within the watershed.

From the Blog

The Environmental Center blog features stories that highlight the work being done by faculty, staff and students associated with the center. Below are the stories published since that last newsletter. 

Preservation Project Jacksonville: The Untold Story

Author: Kaley Crawford, Project Leader 

This presents an exciting history of conservation and preservation. Would you have guessed that Jacksonville has the largest urban park system in the United States with over 51,000 acres of preserved land? Read more about the Preservation Project.


Bottlenose Dolphins of the St. Johns River

Author: Danielle Tipley, River Report Assistant 

This post has been curated in conjunction with the "highlights" section of the 2018 State of the River Report for the Lower St. Johns River, and brings attention to bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) inhabitants of the St. Johns River. Read more about bottlenose dolphins.


Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It – Event Two with Groundwork Jacksonville

Author: Katie Vearil, Project Leader 

The second event of Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It took place in October with Groundwork Jacksonville. Read more about Beyond the Trail.


Beyond the Trail: A River Runs Through It - Event One at Theodore Roosevelt Area

Author: Katie Vearil, Project Leader 

This year, student project leader Katie Vearil took over the fourth series of "Beyond the Trail." After participating in the St. Johns RIver Experience at UNF, she was inspired to educate others on the historical, scientific and economic significance of the St. Johns River. Read more about the Beyond the Trail event.


Politics: A Dirty Word?

Author: Thoren Perego, Project Leader

If you're like me, you were most likely taught to avoid three topics of discussion; sex, politics and religion. Read more about politics.


Everything to Know About the Red Tide

Author: Cat Selin, Communications Assistant

All over the news and social media, more and more pictures of mass marine die-offs washing up onto the shore are popping up. These pictures and videos are indeed scary; however, they do an excellent job in bringing awareness to the red tide crisis occurring in Florida. But what exactly is a "red tide"? Read more about red tide.


2018 Environmental Leadership Fall Retreat

Author: Maria Mark, ELP Coordinator 

The ELP fall retreat is a three day event that "kicks-off" the fall semester in which the Environmental Center staff and student project leaders gather to participate in team-building activities, enjoy the natural environment and develop leadership skills. Read more about the ELP retreat.

Visit the Environmental Center blog for more stories.

Student Spotlight: Brandie Brooks

Project Leader Brandie BrooksWhere are you from? Sebastian, Florida 


What are your plans now that you have graduated? I will be submitting applications for internships at places like the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), state and national parks and education centers. I also want to take classes and become a certified Florida Master Naturalist. I am also interested in spending time creating educational children's books about the environment and aquatic ecosystems.  


What did you major in at UNF? I majored in coastal biology, because I knew I wanted to work outdoors or with the environment in some way. Growing up on the Florida coast I have always had a love for the water, and while I never felt science was my strong suit, I always found it interesting and love the hands-on aspect of field work. 


What did you do you do at the Environmental Center? I worked as a project leader in the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP). I led a program called "Beyond the Trail: The Art of Science," which was the third series of Beyond the Trail. I organized a series of educational and recreational day-programs held at national and state parks around Jacksonville for a group of UNF students and community partners.


What makes you passionate about the environment? It's pretty hard not to be passionate! Our ecosystems are so diverse and beautiful, and I've always enjoyed spending time outside and exploring nature. The thought of our environment being further damaged is terrifying and disheartening.


What is your favorite Environmental Center activity? It is hard to pick one, because there are always so many great events offered by the Environmental Center week to week. I guess I would choose Beyond the Trail and Preserve Ambassador events as my favorites though, because they are led by fellow students and always incorporate education, recreation and volunteer components. Also, both programs encourage students to enjoy the outdoors, and try new things and visit new places. 


What are your hobbies? What clubs and volunteer activities are you involved in? My hobbies include writing (I minored in creative writing), digital design and photography, hiking, camping and any activity to do with the water. I am in the Biology Club, the Dive Club and Environmental Center Student Coalition.

Faculty Spotlight: Dale Casamatta, Ph.D.
Dr. Dale Casamatta

Department and title: I am a professor in the Department of Biology. 


Where did you attend graduate school and what did you study? B.S. John Carroll University (biology), M.S. Kent State University (aquatic ecology), Ph.D. Ohio University (plant biology), Post-doctoral at John Carroll University (cyanobacterial systematics). Most of my studies have revolved around the systematics (the naming, classification and description of organisms) and ecology of algae, most notably the cyanobacteria (the blue-green algae). 


When did you start working at UNF? I started in 2004.


What is your favorite thing about working at UNF? A few things. First, I am very thankful for my colleagues in the department. Academia can sometimes become fraught with inter-personal issues, but I genuinely enjoy the folks in the Department of Biology. Secondly, UNF itself is a great place in which to work. The campus is beautiful, the folks friendly, and I appreciate the environmental aesthetic that seems to permeate. I am also very thankful for the great crop of students we seem to produce; it always makes my job interesting. Lastly, I am always amazed that I actually get paid to do something that I love for a living! 


How are you involved with the Environmental Center? I have been involved in the center since I first arrived. Much of my training is in aquatic ecology and phycology (the study of algae), both of which are topics germane to Florida and, increasingly, the planet as a whole. The Center is a great resource for the University as a whole. I try to cajole members, especially James, into giving lectures for my Environmental Science course every spring, and always point out the Center's great efforts. The Environmental Center has also been a great boon to me by providing access to Seed Grants and funding for projects. It can be exceedingly difficult to obtain funds in a timely manner for some avenues of science, and the Center fills a much-needed gulf. I have given some lectures for the Environmental Center and served on the 2019 Seed Grant selection committee. 


What does your research focus on? My research focuses on two themes: cyanobacterial systematics and algal ecology. The first aspect is a lot of fun in that I get to name numerous taxa new to science (Florida has an expansive, rich, novel biodiversity of cyanobacteria). The neat thing is that I get an opportunity to describe lots of organisms for the first time, so every day is new. The second aspect of the lab, the focus on aquatic ecology, is of more "practical" concern, especially as anthropogenic alterations to aquatic environments continues unabated. We humans need to be cognizant of the fact that our actions often have long-ranged, far-reaching effects on the environment, which in turn impacts humans. One of my all-time favorite book quotes comes from Fank Herbert's Dune, in which Liet-Kynes, the planetary ecologist, notes that "the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences." Thus, I am always interested in understanding how human mediated actions have consequences on ecological systems.


Have you been a recipient of a Seed Grant? I have been fortunate to receive several Seed Grants. One was with Dr. Mike Lentz in which we explored cyanophages (viruses which attach cyanobacteria) on campus and the surrounding environment. This was a really neat project in which we were able to isolate phages and even amplify their DNA (even more interesting was the fact that the viruses contained genes to enhance the photosynthetic efficacy of their hosts. Viruses, event those of cyanobacteria, thrive best when their hosts do better). I was also able to obtain a Seed Grant to explore the algal diversity here on campus. We actually discovered two new genera of cyanobacteria quietly lurking in Lake Oneida (Jacksonvilla and Ammosolina), as well as a bevy of interesting other algal taxa. My most recent grant (2017: Exploring Ecological, Morphological and Molecular Aspects of Cyanobacterial Communities Isolated From Itchtucknee Spring, Branford, Florida) is still a work in progress. My graduate student and I (well, the work come mainly from my excellent graduate student Alyssa Garvey) are currently finalizing and tweaking our protocols for next-generation sequencing of three Florida Springs. This new technique will allow us to examine the algal community as a whole without relying on culture-based or microscopic endeavors, which should allow a much more rapid, thorough snapshot of the community health. This will be a fantastic new tool for aquatic ecologists and monitors everywhere in order to assess anthropogenic impacts and overall ecosystem health. 


Where is your favorite place to enjoy nature? I am a sucker for an epic forest scene. We went to Vancouver this summer and had a great opportunity for hiking in the mountains. Here in Florida, though, our lack of topology and baffling heat makes such excursions difficult, but I do enjoy lurking about the natural areas on campus and visiting the Intracoastal Waterway. Growing up in Ohio, these ecosystems are very different than what I was used to, and so I find myself drawn there.

Community Partner Spotlight

Florida Native Plant Society logo

Organization: Florida Native Plant Society, Ixia Chapter 


Mission: Promote the preservation, conservation and restoration of the native plants and native plant communities of Florida


Overview of Partnership: The Florida Native Plant Society, Ixia Chapter has been a long-time partner with the Environmental Center. The chapter has hosted numerous events on campus, including plant sales, workshops, statewide conferences and guided plant walks. In addition, the chapter has supported research and restoration efforts in the Sawmill Slough Preserve. 

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