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Editor’s note: A Lake Jesup restoration event that was listing in this article has been cancelled. Learn more about ways you can help the local environment by scrolling to the information box at the bottom of this article.
Jason Kirby and his 7-year-old daughter Spencer arrive at a different Oviedo park after school one day each week carrying buckets and trash pickers. The duo collect trash, look for invasive plants and wildlife and play a game of ‘name that species’ as they spot birds and snakes.
Within an hour at the park, the two will typically collect a bucket and a half full of trash.
“I think it’s so important, especially with the young people, getting them out there and not only showing them that it’s possible to make a difference but it’s really not as daunting as they think,” Jason Kirby said. “We’re not gonna solve all the world’s problems but it’s just taking those little steps.”
Jason Kirby first realized his love for the environment at the same age his daughter is now, when his parents gifted him a National Audubon Society Field Guide. The pages, which were filled with pictures of various wildlife and plant species, were soon worn out.
The 40-year-old Casselberry resident and his daughter Spencer are volunteers for the Seminole Education, Restoration & Volunteer Program, where members can learn about their local environment, plant native wildlife, and remove invasive species. He’s also the secretary for the Seminole Soil & Water Conservation District, which he said serves as a conduit between residents of the county and higher government regarding environmental issues.
Jason Kirby said that small things like picking up trash are a good first step for volunteers wanting to help clean up the environment and can provide the momentum to do more. Though it may be a common first step, it’s also a very important one, said SERV Program Coordinator Elizabeth Stephens. She said litter can have many negative effects on wildlife that ripple far beyond local parks and waterways.
“Because our waterways all eventually connect to the St. Johns River, that eventually flows to the Atlantic Ocean,” Stephens said. “So even tiny pieces of trash here that get washed into our waterways can cause negative problems for wildlife all the way downstream to marine wildlife.”
The SERV Program hosts regular cleanup events to remove litter and invasive species and plant native plants. The program has about 1,200 volunteers and some of their biggest events can have up to 200 volunteers, Stephens said. Upcoming events can be found on Eventbrite.
As a site captain for the SERV Program, Jason Kirby acts as a guide for other volunteers and shares his knowledge of local species during their cleanup events. Kirby was chosen to lead volunteers because of his people skills and knowledge of aquatic habitats and invasive plant species, Stephens said.
Passing down a love for the environment
Jason Kirby said he recently began bringing Spencer to SERV events. He said she enjoys helping out with planting and is very good at taking photos of the other volunteers. Stephens said Spencer always patiently waits until her dad is done with his site captain responsibilities.
Spencer Kirby said she loves volunteering because she gets to meet new people.
Jason Kirby said Spencer can name most of the snake species in Florida along with other wildlife and loves chasing lizards with the “lizard sticks” her grandfather, Mike Kirby, makes out of bamboo and fishing line.
Mike Kirby attested to this, saying: “Nothing keeps Spencer entertained more than catching lizards.”
Mike and his wife, Robin, raised Jason and his two brothers to be curious about and appreciative of nature, spending a lot of time catching critters with small nets at Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park and visiting the Canaveral National Seashore.
“If you don’t understand [the environment], you won’t want to protect it,” Mike said. “It’s beautiful, all the different varieties of creatures. If you don’t go out and play with them and catch them and enjoy them, then you’re not gonna learn to appreciate them.”
Development, fertilizer impacts
Allegra Buyer, the Seminole County natural resources program coordinator, said caring for your local environment can be challenging.
“Florida is a very diverse state and there’s a lot of different plants and wildlife species here. It’s also very developed and it’s developing quickly so there are a lot of competing interests,” Buyer said. “So it’s always a challenge to try to balance all of those interests and still try to manage all of the properties in the best interest of the environment.”
For homeowners, planting native plants on your property is a great way to promote beneficial wildlife like birds, butterflies, and bees, Stephens said. Rain barrels can also be beneficial in saving water and redirecting rainwater back onto your property or plants.
When using fertilizer, Stephens said that it is important to use it appropriately. She said that fertilizers, when used in excess, can run off into the nearest storm drain or water body. These chemicals lead to water pollution which can have harmful effects on native plants and wildlife, Stephens said.
Lake Jesup in Oviedo is one of the most nutrient-polluted lakes in Seminole County, Stephens said. The lake is high in nitrogen and phosphorus, which can stimulate algae blooms, leading to less oxygen for other organisms.
Overlook Park, off of Lake Jesup, is one of the locations where SERV volunteers have worked to eliminate pollution and replant the shoreline around the lake.
In the past, Kirby and SERV volunteers planted cypress trees, canna lilies, thalia, and other native plants along the shoreline of the popular fishing destination. Volunteers hope the plants will improve the condition of the lake over time.
Kirby said that in the future he hopes to see more volunteers who are interested in helping their local environment. He said with new developments continuously on the rise, it’s a battle.
“Florida is an incredible array of habitats like nowhere in the country and we take it for granted,” Kirby said. “So just exposing the kids to that, getting them outside, getting them to the park — even if you don’t know all the bird species and the nerd stuff — just getting them aware of it and appreciating it, I think is huge.”
- The Seminole County Extension offers webinars on the first Friday of every month that provide information on invasive plant species in Florida.
- Florida residents are encouraged to research the type of ornamentals and plants they purchase on the UF|IFAS website.
- Those interested in learning more about SERV can sign up for their newsletter.