Biscayne National Park announces new Educational Institute - South Dade News Leader: Community News | South Dade News Leader | Miami Dade County

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Biscayne National Park announces new Educational Institute

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Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017 1:59 pm

Imagine shadowing and helping a research team as they collect data at a National Park. The "Citizen Scientist" is coming to Biscayne National Park.

Biscayne National Park and The Everglades Association have signed a three year agreement to operate an informal education institute inside the park.

"We will offer educational type programs to bring more people into the parks and let them learn more about their parks," said Jim Sutton, head of the Everglades Association.

The association is a private non-profit whose goal is to support South Florida's national parks. By establishing this institute they hope to not only bring in new visitors, but also draw locals. Growing local interest has been an elusive goal, but with more education comes the possibility of a growth in interest.

"Now that we have a signed agreement we are going to roll out the programs," Sutton proudly told the News Leader.

Instead of jumping in all at once, Sutton says the institute will grow gradually to match their staff's capabilities. As the staff grows so will what they offer.

"We'll continue to grow as much as we can," said Sutton

Already the institute offers a ranger guided boat tour to Boca Chita Key, and Elliot Key.

"It's a great tour for those who don't own a boat," he said adding that the tour offers a history of both islands. It operates Thursday through Sunday.

Tracy Nolan is the Institute's Project Manager, and she is writing the programs that will be eventually added to the slate.

"A lot of National Parks have institutes in place," said Nolan. "They focus on aspects of the park so people can learn about it and get involved."

Although this institute will be specially designed for the region.

To Nolan it's a chance for locals and tourists to understand why the park is there and why it is so important to the ecosystem.

"We want to expand on [the boat tours] by summer with a snorkel program," she said. "Participants will get to see sea grass, the coral and find out why coral is so important."

Another possible program would be on the maritime heritage of the area, as many don't know about the sea wrecks in the area.

They will also try to get some birding trips in place to observe bird migration. Those would probably involve kayaks and going into the lagoons for an intimate experience.

They are also planning a speaker series on various topics by experts.

Then there is the Citizen Scientist Program.

"People will go out with a team doing research, and get the experience," said Nolan.

While it is not set in stone it could be a variety of research that may include coral restoration or shark tagging, but the important selling point is coming along on a short research expedition.

"A bunch of different things will be incorporated," she said. "We have an amazing partnership with the county to help us bring more people into the parks."

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