The Surfrider Foundation: Protecting Oceans, Waves and Beaches since 1984

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EcoArt South Florida Project - Torry Island

The project, titled Welcome Home Wildlife!, was a youth EcoArt wildlife habitat project around a lagoon to provide a real life example of what can be done to enhance the island’s friendliness to Okeechobee animal neighbors, and to provide opportunities for the community and visitors to learn about and appreciate the region’s rich flora and fauna up close.

17 Belle Glade youth from Palm Beach County Workforce Alliance used computer labs and classrooms to learn about the history and prospects of the Nature Park, and the importance of specific native trees and plants to encouraging the repopulation of the banks of the lagoon with Okeechobee region native fauna. The Torry Island EcoArt Project was not just about creating and installing the art work itself, it is about intensive education of all involved as well as targeted engagement of specific collaborator professional and scientific skills and knowledge.

One big surprise for the interns was how much time was spent researching on PBSC computers, and learning about biological restoration science, landscape architecture and the roots and current practice of EcoArt. The interns had in depth workshops and presentations on typical flora and fauna of the Okeechobee watershed, exposure to the hundreds of EcoArtists practicing around the world on website review assignments, information (new to most of them) about the history of the Lake and the many human settlements across thousands of years. The interns thus gained greater awareness of the broader context for their work in “making place” for wildlife at Torry Island Nature Park.

EcoArt artist/mentor Jesse Etelson offered a “warning” to the interns on their first day: “You must persist through and overcome physical, mental and emotional challenges.” So, when all the prep classes and computer work got “boring,” Jesse arranged some strenuous hikes in the Torry Island Preserve, and lots of grueling physical work, introductions to “strange” native creatures and the fury of a typical summer thunderstorm with 50 mph winds!!

Based on scientific advice from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the EcoArt demonstration site shows how to mimic the three zones of a typical Everglades tree island. Along the water’s edge, in the water, plants that enjoy and thrive immersed are installed. Above this, in the “transition zone,” trees and shrubs that like moisture but prefer not to be immersed are located. And on the highest ground, typical “hammock” trees and understory plants are located in the areas that get the least water. Interspersed will be the EcoArt wildlife habitat sculptures that are specifically designed to attract particular species. The sculptures are constructed of scavenged natural materials. They thus deteriorate at about the same rate the native trees and plants come to maturity, providing interim habitat while the permanent trees and shrubs grow.