Key Biscayne

‘Citizen Scientist Project’ aims to educate Key Biscayne residents about island’s environment

Key Biscayne residents will soon have the opportunity to learn more about the island’s natural resources.

The Key Biscayne Community Foundation has created a new initiative, the Key Biscayne Citizen Scientist Project, to educate residents about environmental preservation and recreation and on the island.

Community Foundation Executive Director Melissa McCaughan White said, "we have all of these treasures in our own backyard and they’re not being used as effectively as they could."

White said she she’s referring not only the ocean and beaches the island has, but the pathways around the island and the open green spaces. All of these are available for residents to use, and White aims to make it as easy as possible for residents to take advantage of them.

Mangroves and coral reefs also are an important piece of the island’s ecosystem and the project wants residents involved in their ongoing protection.

The project is the result of the collaborative efforts of the community foundation, the village of Key Biscayne, the Knight Foundation, and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami.

One part of the Rosenstiel School’s efforts is their annual Sea Secret lectures. The Citizen Scientist Project is working to help publicize these lectures and encourage residents to attend. The next lecture will be at 6 p.m. on April 17. Titled “Saving Sharks, Ocean’s Key Predators,” the talk will be given by Stan Waterman at the Rosenstiel School Auditorium at 4600 Rickenbacker Cswy.

Education will not be limited to the adult residents of the island. The project is also working with local schools to help keep the littlest Key Biscayners informed about how to keep their island beautiful. White said the project hopes that children will bring what they learn at school home to their families.

The island has unique issues regarding water quality and hurricane preparedness. White said the project will use their website,, to bring information from the Environmental Protection Agency on water quality testing as well information from the National Weather Service on local hurricane threats together.

Soon, White said, the website will serve as a hub of "local and pertinent information" necessary for safe and healthy outdoor exploration.

Project organizers have worked hard to not simply push information on residents, but to take their opinions into account. Recently the project conducted a survey of island residents. Nearly 925 residents responded and the project has recently released some of the results online.

Respondents to the survey are most interested in learning about the island’s beaches and water quality as well as the island’s sea turtle population. The island’s beaches are home to the summer nesting of sea turtles and the village has worked to help keep residents off the beaches in summer nights and out of the dunes during the nesting and hatching periods, from May to October each year.

Concern about water quality is a recurring theme on Key Biscayne. The island shares the waters of the bay with a state park, a county park, and the sewage treatment plant on neighboring Virginia Key. While frequent testing is done to the waters to ensure safety, the project hopes to use their website to make that information easier for residents to access.

The extensive outreach the project plans requires not only the collaboration of local schools and residents, but also funding. A significant portion of this necessary funding comes from the Knight Foundation Engaged Communities initiative.

Engaged Communities funds projects nationally that educate citizens about their communities. The Knight Foundation explains on its website that “we believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.”

Residents of the island, in learning about their "treasures" through the project will also be educated about the steps necessary to preserve the island’s resources.

The Key Biscayne Community Foundation found a partner in the village administration because of the village’s 2020 goals. White said a number of the goals the village set for itself, but haven’t yet addressed are being covered by the project.

A number of our residents see it as an exciting thing," said Mayor Franklin Caplan adding that the project is something "they can make a personal contribution to."

The village sees the collaboration with UM’s Rosenstiel School as natural given that "their focus is this living laboratory that we actually live in," Caplan said.

The project will be holding a series of launches open to the public in the coming months. The website is updated frequently with events residents are encouraged to attend.

Read more Environment stories from the Miami Herald

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