Miami’s rich and diverse landscape of nature’s beauty – the Everglades, mangrove forests, sea grass beds, coral reefs, tidal wetlands, and coastal dunes – faces threats. These vital ecosystems play many roles from storing carbon dioxide and providing nursery grounds for commercial fish, to offering shade and canopy to people and animals. They are habitats for avian, terrestrial and marine organisms, and furnish oxygen and nutrients for coastal ecosystems.
Without the presence of these much-needed ecosystems, local residents are also negatively impacted in countless ways.
Enter Fernando Bretos, Director of the Reclamation Project at Miami Science Museum. The Cuban-American marine scientist received a $10,000 Toyota TogetherGreen fellowship from the National Audubon Society to help expand the museum’s “Reclamation Project”, a community-focused project designed to encourage local residents to conserve land, water and energy.
“Miami residents rely heavily on our unique subtropical ecosystems without always knowing it,” said Bretos. “One economic benefit provided by our coastal habitat is tourism. Thirteen million visitors come to Miami every year to experience our beaches, enjoy a bounty of seafood and see wildlife.”
Since his TogetherGreen fellowship in 2010, Bretos has engaged more than 3,000 volunteers to restore 17 acres of urban mangrove, freshwater wetland and tropical hardwood hammock habitat. This year, volunteers will restore an additional 17 acres of dune, hardwood hammock, mangrove and sea turtle nesting habitat in Virginia Key.
A graduate of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, Bretos has extensive experience with the management of protected areas and studying marine biodiversity. He suggests Miami residents help restore the environment and think about how they use resources.
“Nature can only absorb a limited amount of garbage, pollution or carbon emissions,” he stressed. “Create a permanent living legacy by planting a tree, and nature takes care of the rest.”
For the past six years, TogetherGreen has funded innovative community-based environmental projects by providing the tools, training, resources, visibility, and peer network needed. The program continues to promote and support conservation efforts with fellowships, innovation grants and engagement campaigns.
One of TogetherGreen’s engagement campaigns is the 2nd Annual “Exit The Highway” program. Kicking off on June 1st, people across the country are encouraged to exit the highway and enjoy nature this summer.
Spending quality time outdoors is easy to do with the many flourishing gardens, and vast national and county parks Miami offers. Walk the trails in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park. Explore the beauty of nature in Greynolds Park and Simpson Park. Take in the abundance of flora and fauna in Pinecrest Gardens, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Miami Beach Botanical Garden.
For more than a century, the National Audubon Society has built a legacy of conservation success with over 500,000 members and 463 chapters nationwide. Between 10-20 percent of Audubon Center visitors are Hispanic, and Hispanics are strong protectors of clean air and water, natural areas, and wildlife. In fact, over 90 percent say outdoor activities are important to their families, and 24 percent of TogetherGreen participants are Hispanic.
To learn more about how Toyota and the National Audubon Society team up to invest in communities across the country through the dynamic TogetherGreen initiative, visit www.togethergreen.org.
To discover Audubon’s state chapter based in Miami, and the various ways to support the organization, visit http://fl.audubon.org.