Blue Friend Award Finalists:
The recipient of the Blue Friend of the Year Award exemplifies significant contributions in marine conservation through work-related activities. Local and National entries recognized.
Dr. Fuentes is a Professor at the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University and leads the Marine Turtle Research, Ecology and Conservation Group. Dr. Fuentes has been involved with marine conservation for over 15 years. Her passion for the ocean and concerns about its future has prompted her to develop a research program that addresses real-world issues and focuses on connecting people to science for effective change. Dr. Fuentes has worked closely with government, non-government organizations, and Indigenous agencies in Africa (e.g., Madagascar, Kenya), South and North America (e.g., Brazil, USA), the Caribbean (e.g., Barbados), Bahamas and Oceania (e.g., Australia, Vanuatu, Fiji) on interdisciplinary research topics and management issues. Indeed, her research has not only enhanced our scientific understanding on the ecology and biology of marine wildlife, with over fifty peer-reviewed scientific publications, but directly informed the conservation and management of marine turtles at various levels, improving the state of our knowledge and informing management practices. Her work is internationally recognized, she has received a
Young Explorer Award by the National Geographic Society, she was nominated as an Outstanding Early Career Alumni for the James Cook University and her PhD Thesis was selected as one of the top ten theses by the United Nations Environment Programme Thesis Award on migratory species conservation.
Dr. Fuentes is eager to communicate and to make her research findings comprehensible and available to the broad community, particularly STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) groups. She has achieved this by giving press interviews for various media outlets, participating in community and school presentations, by writing educational articles and books and engaging with the broad community through social media. Importantly, she is motivated to share her career experiences and trajectory to inspire young students to follow their goals in science. She has mentored over fifty undergraduate and graduate students. Indeed, her commitment to delivering her research to the broad community has been recognized by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science and she was a recipient of one of the prestigious Young Tall Poppy Science Awards in 2011 and she is part of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists Science Leaders Program, with the goal of engaging in public policy for the future of our land, water, coasts and biodiversity.
Rebecca Mott - Award Recipient
We write to enthusiastically nominate Mrs. Rebecca Mott for the Blue Friend of the Year Award at the 2019 Go Blue Awards. Rebecca Mott is an educator and scientist with a mission to make a difference in our community by inspiring others to become responsible stewards of the environment. Rebecca, a native Floridian, grew up exploring south Florida’s Everglades, beaches, and pine forests with her family. She attended the University of Florida and received her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in 2005. After graduating, Rebecca entered the classroom first as a teacher in Broward County and then traveled overseas to teach in China. When she returned stateside, Rebecca combined her love of science and education as an environmental educator at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Shortly afterwards, she joined the team at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, working diligently to improve the quality and expand the reach of the organization’s education initiatives.
Rebecca then joined the Inwater Research Group (IRG) team in 2014 and was immediately tasked with creating a brand-new education department. At the time, the organization had no means of sharing their important marine research with both the marine conservation community and the general public. With a facility that is not open to the public, limited funding, and being the sole member of the education department, she had her work cut out for her.
However, Rebecca considered these obstacles an opportunity to think outside of the box and find new ways to bring marine conservation to both local and worldwide audiences.
Rebecca first created a series of in-depth k-12 marine science curricula, with four unique lessons covering topics ranging from bycatch reduction to sea turtle ecology to ocean acidification. The curricula were made available to teachers throughout the United States reaching over 32,000 school students and 30,000 citizens in the first year! The curricula were not only requested by teachers, but also by nature centers, colleges, sailing schools, and zoos and aquariums. Additional requests for the curricula programs reached schools as far away as Gaum, Hong Kong, and Cairo. In 2015, Inwater Research Group received an Environmental Stewardship Award from Keep Martin Beautiful for Rebecca’s amazing creation.
She then searched for a way to create programs that would have an even more meaningful and lasting impact on the environment and our community. Rebecca developed immersive programs for the classroom using input from local school district science coordinators and teachers to best meet the needs of both the classroom teacher and students. She created “traveling trunks” that are lent to local teachers at no cost. These trunks contain all the lessons a teacher needs to bring the world of sea turtles to their students over the course of four lessons and several weeks. The programs mirror the research conducted at IRG, so students get excited and feel engaged, increasing retention and the likelihood that the conservation messages will stick with them for years to come. The programs cover topics such as nesting, beachfront lighting, population dynamics, data collection, and so much more. Students are also placed into different roles during the activities, including fisherman, biologist, engineer, and homeowner to learn about each group’s unique perspective and role in protecting the environment.
Utilizing sea turtles as the conduit for learning, Rebecca’s programs are able to integrate science, math, English/language arts, social studies, and more into their curriculum while aligning with their state standards. Rebecca has worked diligently to secure additional funding so that these programs will always remain free. Removing financial barriers to IRG’s education programs ensures that all students and schools, even in the most underserved communities, have access to the same high-quality educational programs.
The trunk programs filled to capacity each school year, but IRG’s educational reach was limited to only our surrounding school districts. Rebecca developed partnerships with other organizations in Florida that also had limited resources but wanted to expand the marine conservation education opportunities in their regions. Rebecca acquired numerous grants, donations, and sponsorships, allowing her to come up with new avenues to partner with other organizations to bring IRG’s education trunks to their communities. The partnerships have allowed the IRG’s programs to expand to 35 trunks offered in 17 school districts through 17 partner organizations. Each year, these programs reach over 30,000 students throughout Florida in a truly meaningful and engaging way. IRG’s marine education programs can now be found in coastal Florida counties that represent 94% of total sea turtle nesting in Florida.
As IRG’s educational initiatives expanded, Rebecca began receiving requests from scientists within the sea turtle community who wanted to share their research, but were nervous engaging with the general public and children. She took this opportunity to develop a program that was all-inclusive, user-friendly, and that gave non-educators the tools to feel comfortable educating students as well as the general public. By empowering scientists to also be educators, IRG is now expanding our conservation programs beyond just classroom usage.
Rebecca’s unique set of skills and background in both science and education allow her to bridge the gap that frequently exists between the scientific world and the education community. She has also created workshops for conferences both in the formal education community as well as the science community. In the process, Rebecca has helped make scientists more engaging and thoughtful educators and helped educators better communicate complex scientific principles with their students.
Rebecca continues daily to seek out new means of continuing to spread the marine conservation message both locally and globally. Whether it’s advising a researcher on adding an education component to a grant or finding ways to secure education supplies for an underfunded conservation group halfway across the world, Rebecca is always successful at increasing IRG’s educational impact. She is always eager to come up with ways to partner with new organizations and find new and meaningful avenues to expand both organizations reach in new ways.
Rebecca’s strong science background, thorough understanding of education, and creative abilities combine into a very unique set of skills. She’s used all of these skills masterfully to create marine conservation initiatives and educational programs for a wide range of groups that impact both our local communities and people worldwide.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
Since a young age, Jen Reilly has been an advocate for two things: 1. Marine conservation and 2. The Deaf community. Jen, a member of the research team at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), has been deaf since birth, but has not let this stopped her from pursuing her dreams of marine conservation.
Although it has been difficult for Jen, she has learned to “just keep swimming” regardless of what is thrown her way. Before working at LMC full-time, Jen experienced a difficult time working in conservation. Despite discrimination, Jen has always been able to find a way to work in conservation. In college, Jen first began working with sea turtles during a summer internship in Hawaii, where she was able to assist a Deaf graduate student with conducting her thesis research on Hawksbill sea turtles. Since this experience, Jen has been determined to work in sea turtle conservation. Several years later in 2014, Jen joined LMC as a seasonal research technician, which marked her commitment and dedication to LMC. Each year after 2014, Jen returned to LMC as a seasonal research technician, despite having to work seasonally. For Jen, being able to work in sea turtle conservation each sea turtle nesting and hatching season was worth working in New York for part of the year and Florida for the rest of the year. Since her
first internship in Hawaii, Jen has devoted her spare time to reading and learning more about each species of sea turtle, expanding on her own sea turtle research, participating in conservation efforts, and promoting conservation on her personal social media pages.
After working as a seasonal research technician at LMC for a few summers, Jen was eventually added to LMC’s research team in 2018. For the past year and a half. Jen has combined her two passions, allowing LMC to reach and engage more members of the Deaf community. In addition to Jen’s work as a member of the research team at LMC, she has offered her ASL services to the Education team, thus allowing LMC to offer ASL guided programs. Through these programs and Jen’s advocacy on her personal social media pages, LMC has been able to network with members of the Deaf community. This past summer, Jen provided an ASL guided tour and nest excavation to a seven year-old boy and his family. After the nest excavation, the boy’s mother told a member of the LMC staff that she couldn’t thank Jen enough for serving as a role model for her son. The mother continued to explain that it’s hard for her to find deaf role models in marine conservation, but Jen has given her hope that her son will be able to work in marine conservation when he grows up. This story isn’t one of a kind - through Jen’s work at LMC and being an advocate for deaf culture, LMC has received similar notes and comments. Recently, a young social media influencer, Savannah of Savvy ASL visited LMC and spent the day with Jen to record a segment for her “Marine Monday” episode. Because of Jen’s passion for marine conservation and time spent with Savannah, Savannah has chosen to return to LMC to create a more extensive segment around marine conservation and Jen’s work at the Center.
Continuously, the staff members and volunteers of LMC receive comments/praise regarding Jen’s advocacy for marine conservation through ASL. At the Center, she has single-handedly expanded the Center’s audience by providing a service that isn’t always standard at conservation centers or tourist attractions. Past ASL guided tour participants have informed LMC that other organizations typically request deaf or hard of hearing participants to bring their own translator, thus potentially limiting the participants educational experience. Because of her passion for marine conservation and her past experiences of being excluded from jobs or marine related work due to being deaf, Jen strives to create ways to engage the deaf community. Regularly, Jen reaches out to members of the deaf community to invite them on LMC tours, sea turtle walks, and sunrise nest excavations. In addition to innovating ways to engage the deaf community and propel marine conservation, she has worked on finding ways to recruit individuals to LMC to assist with ASL guided tours. Per Jen’s suggestion, LMC began offering both in-person and virtual ASL guided tours in order to reach members of the deaf community that might not be able to visit the center. Regularly, Jen goes above and beyond her role as a research at LMC to enhance and further the Center’s mission and vision of ocean and sea turtle conservation.
Unfortunately, Jen has spent most of her life facing adversity and discrimination due to being deaf. Fortunately, her passion for marine and ocean conservation drove her to find her place in conservation. Because of her dedication to marine life and advocacy for the deaf community, Jen has been able to provide a unique service at LMC and help inspire younger members of the deaf community to continue to pursue their dreams of working in conservation. Because of Jen, members of the deaf community from all over the country are visiting and reaching out to LMC to learn more about ocean and sea turtle conservation. For contributing to sea turtle and ocean conservation through research, advocacy and networking with the Deaf community, Jen Reilly should be awarded the Blue Friend of the Year Award.