David Riera

David Riera

What could the sixth week of my internship uncover at Everglades N.P., you may ask? Invader ALERT... Invader ALERT…  I truly rarely touch politics but in a twist of satire I wanted to add this into the conversation because, let’s face it , everything comes back to our political landscape and I have been pondering for some time now how the sliding scales of politics affects good science and education. 

Previously, I wrote about Bats aka HANDWING mammals. During one of the events I supported for Latino Conservation Week, about 140 individuals attended an environmental sanctuary open house in Homestead, FL. One of the learning/outreach stations highlighted their work with Bat conservation on the property. A gentleman in one of the groups mentioned an off hand comment to one of the student presenters about why was the sanctuary trying to protect Mexican Free-Tailed Bats, since according to him, they were INVASIVE! As I heard this I felt frustration, hurt, rage, and pity well up and course through my body… NOTE: Mexican Free-Tailed Bats are commonly known as Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats or Tadarida brasiliensis; the common name was changed and adopted in Texas and other border states to Mexico).  Furthermore, they are considered to be a Native species in North American; No MATTER what name you call them by.  

What you just read was a FLASH FORWARD, for the sake of this narrative. I am actually sitting at the 2019 Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area conference (ECISMA) in Davie, FL. The talks today have encompassed The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly… about invader (flora & fauna) management across the Everglades and surrounding areas. ECISMA is an interagency partnership that manages, researches, and educates about invasive species across South Florida.  So, what exactly is considered an Invasive Species? Invasive species in short are defined as: non‐indigenous species that have established and reached a widespread distribution in an area far beyond their native range. 

For example in South Florida, the Dirty Dozen are Burmese Pythons, Tegu Lizards, Nile Monitors, Giant African Snails, Lionfish, Bullseye Snakehead, Conehead Termites, Australian Pine, Air Potato, and Burma reed, just to name a few. I will HIGHLIGHT that in South Florida we do have this information sharing & field collaboration across all the partner agencies. While representatives did report that we are winning the battle against conehead termites, we are being ferociously challenged by Tegu populations, and the pythons are ugly as ever. 

I am a certified Python Patrol member. This means I can actively look for pythons and report about where I find them and other invaders on a GIS based application called I'veGot1 developed by the University of Georgia's Invasive Species & Ecosystem Health unit. Numerous agencies, researchers, advocacy groups and educators are actively pitching in to remove the threat of the invaders. I was able to learn that the app has generated meta-data that is open and has not been used outside of agencies. Python researchers are looking at pheromones expelled by females, as well as looking into mites which they are susceptible to in the wild that are presenting a health risk to our endemic snakes. I learned All of this and MORE.

BUT, I will mention that the question at hand is When do invasive species become naturalized...Naturalization is defined as the introduction of a plant or animal to a region where it is not indigenous. Well then, what happens generations later? Can they, or will they ever be viewed as NATIVES? (I am getting the feeling that ONLY INVADERS negatively change the landscape). 

Final Thought: potentially, species become invasive when they are detected & damaging the landscape. If so, the top priority organisms have been tracked to the Pet Trade Industry. Once they are detected in the ecosystem, could we redefine them as naturalized due to the pet trade? Instead of simply eradicating these organisms, should we just collect them for food? Python omelettes, Iguana nuggets, or Lionfish sandwiches? Or are natives afraid of eating foreign meats?

I LEARNED that we have to work together to maintain our natural resources on the ground and educate the public, dispelling misinformation and raising their awareness simultaneously, leading to engaging community members and global citizens.          

LEARN MORE AT: https://www.evergladescisma.org/what-we-do/  

Week four with Everglades National Park Environmental Education unit has me redefining where the actual park ends and begins. As long as I can remember, our local zoo in South Florida, Zoo Miami (then Miami Metro Zoo), had been my natural home away from my inner-city home… There, I was immersed in both flora and fauna that I only ever saw legends like Jack Hanna handling, or Marlin Perkins and Sir David Attenborough speaking about on television. In short, each visit to the zoo has been a reciprocal expedition which has played a critical role in my development as an environmental researcher, educator, and advocate. To my utter surprise & excitement, we embarked on an unexpected adventure… Our guide was Dr. Frank Ridgley, who has served as an Associate Veterinarian since 2007 and taken on the role of Director of Conservation and Research at Zoo Miami. SIDE NOTE: This position is on my top 5 list of dream career landscapes! Dr. Ridgley is also a professor at my university (FIU). He serves as the chair of numerous vital action committees centered on animal conservation and care. As well as serving on the Imperiled Butterfly and Florida Bonneted Bat Working Groups, he is also on the Steering Committee of the Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (we will come back to this in a future post). Things to know: There are 1,200 species of bat, belonging to the family Microchiropetra in the order Chiroptera. Florida hosts a lucky number 13 of these bat species, of which five call south Florida home. They keep the mosquito population in check from the inner city to the Everglades. Two of the 13, the Grey (Myotis grisescensi) & Florida Bonneted (Eumops floridanus) bats are listed as Critically Endangered. This Family of HANDWINGS faces similar threats that other organisms with large ranges have to negotiate throughout the Anthropocene, like landscape fragmentation, pollution, and resource instability. For example, even though E. floridanus is the largest insectivore in North America, it is also responsible for pollinating succulents like cactus and agave plants found in Florida Pine Rocklands (an already endangered habitat type). As luck would have it, Dr. Ridgley took us on a guided backstage nature walk of their protected track. The Richmond Tract is the largest parcel of protected pine rockland outside of the Everglades park system. This is an important note because the zoo is a county operation in Miami-Dade, meaning they do not have federal funding to support all the conservation and resource management initiatives they conduct. Zoo Miami not only protects the pine rockland but has an active bat conservation program where even youth from the community have participated in ongoing conservation research led by Dr. Ridgley and his group. Two VITAL takeaways from this adventure, 1) the Richmond Tract is thriving and more restoration projects are on the horizon, and 2) they have found out that bats thrive in pine rocklands as long as they have large open spaces to hunt, like parking lots, agricultural fields, and lakes. In closing… THE Big Reveal, author Ilan Shamir once wrote, Advice from a Bat, Trust in your senses, Spend time hanging around with friends, Get a grip, Enjoy the nightlife, Sometimes you’ve just gotta wing it! And Guano happens! While Everglades National Park has their paper borders, we know in reality that the zoo and each one of our backyards are connected to her. More importantly, we the people can help protect our bat communities. Whether you have/want Bats in your Belfry... or just want to go from Bat Boy/Girl to Batman/Batwoman, click on the link below and give Dr. Ridgley a screech. Let him know I sent you. Bats are pollinators & pest controllers even throughout our darkest nights. https://www.zoomiami.org/florida-bonneted-bat

My second week on the job & what can I can say while I am knee deep in water. As a Marine I am no stranger to having a heavy backpack and squishy socks because of training or a mission. On this day we were patrolling my summer LHIP home away from home… the Hole-In-The-Donut searching for the not so elusive and not so rare Southern Cattail (T. domingensis). All field operations ecological or military always start off with a mission & safety brief. As we might know due to anthropocentric activities some naturally occurring species can get physically out of hand for natural resources managers across the nation this poses an interesting environmental conundrum that the books would call a Native Invasion. Both the common and southern cattail species are native to Florida wetlands and other freshwater ecosystems one of their shared ecosystem functions (jobs) is to filter water… And that is why this plant is situated perfectly in the Everglades, one would think… The Florida Exotics Pest Plant Council defines a Noxious Weed as any living stage of a parasitic or other plant which may be a serious agricultural threat to Florida. In short a plant that can negatively impact threatened, commercially exploited, and endangered plants; as well as if the botanical species is naturalized & has the ability to disrupt any native plant communities which naturally occur in the landscape. Cattail disrupts wetland native plant communities due to its natural ability to use nutrient rich deposits in this historic agricultural area as well as eutrophic water pulses from northern agricultural areas. What did we DO? The team & I sprayed each identified cattail closely with glyphosate, an herbicide which readers would commonly associate with Round-Up. From an agricultural perspective on weed management it was introduced to farmers in the late mid-1970 and for the past 40 years it has been the go-to for weed eradication. Five hours & several liters later… The experience & day was done but the thoughts kept swimming in my watershed of my mind. Can cattail be harvested for food, fiber, fuel, feed, fodder, or even medicine? We might suspect that budgetary constraints & people power can & does limit restoration efforts. I do believe that we can add Everglades’ Natural Resources Management & Protection division at Everglade National Park to the list of NPS’s unsung heroes. While concluding that exploring biomass removal, i.e. harvesting cattail could lead to a beneficial, sustainable, and ecologically reciprocal relationship between the landscape, managers, and agriculturalists. (Look into Paludiculture?!) Could cattail be the NEXT Sexy Crop, like Hemp?! I don’t really know, but the current literature supports my conclusion and my stomach supports that tender cattail shoots in chicken broth taste like thick Ramen Noodles… Who would have ever thought that the Everglades would understand the plight of the poor college student…? https://www.theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Energy%20Crop%20White%20Paper%20vF.pdf

When I was first interviewed about this LHIP position at Everglades National Park, I thought to myself I am going to lose so much weight this summer… Then they told me I was going to work at the Hole in the Donut… I instantly reflected on the Dunkin Donuts commercial when he rolls out of bed and remarks, It Time to Make the Donuts. I was in a state of shock that there was a craft donut place in the middle of my National Park but was ready to eat. Now, as my first week kicks off, I can tell you that the infamous Hole in the Donut (HID) is one of Everglades National Park’s restoration areas. As a former agricultural district, this 6,300 acres of land served as prime real estate for banana and tomato farmers. As the park begins to acquire these private farmlands; they title them The Hole after 1947 to complete the park (Everglades native lands were considered The Donut). Twenty-eight years later (1975), the park is able to secure the entire Hole and farming permanently ceases in the Everglades. Without active farming on that land, INVASIVE Schinus terebinthifolius, (Brazilian pepper, or Florida Holly) decided to invite themselves to colonize these lands. Brazilian pepper like many invasive species of flora or fauna was introduced through the nursery industry/plant/or pet trade. In this case, we know that Brazilian pepper was widely used in south Florida as a landscape tree. It is important to mention that traditional farming takes in some cases a lot of work to reverse it artificialness to our landscapes, this case is no different and no less of an undertaking. The total restoration is a four-way collaborative effort between NPS, Miami-Dade County, the EPA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.. The primary goal HID Restoration is two-fold, 1) remove the artificial habitat down to the limestone bedrock and 2) replace is with native habitat which Florida wildlife is adapted and accustomed to utilizing. In 2010 it was reported that 4,100 acres of the HID had been cleaned and grated down to the white limestone. Last year in 2018 5,328 acres were reported to be restored to wetland status. I am happy to report in 2019, we have less than 972 acres of historic farmland to reach our completed 6,300 acres of wetland mitigation banking and native restoration land (the idea simply, is if you start at zero meaning a bedrock the surrounding ecosystem will support primary recruitment of founder & pioneering species like algae, lichens, invertebrates, Muhly grasses, & sawgrasses. Jeremy BC Jackson is an American ecologist who has studied shifting environmental baselines, he would say, what exactly are conservationists trying to conserve… Why go through the trouble of restoring any landscape, especially without knowing the history. The notion is straight forward, by restoring the landscape this means artificially starting at zero & letting nature take it course you will have initiated primary succession where the plants grow into forests the entire time creating spaces for organisms to come, eat, drink, live, and survive. In the HID they wanted to capture restoration success be returning ecosystem function to that landscape and increase ecosystem services holistically to Everglade National Park and surrounding areas, as many of you all might know that the OUR Everglades work like a sponge filtering the water and recharging south Florida’s aquifers. My Project: can by sum by a quote by Carl Jung, One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. I will be creating a curriculum which will help recount the stories of the farmers of the HID and the agricultural communities & cultures of the Everglade and surrounding farmlands. At the intersection of social and environmental justice there is Education and through it lies the foundation and skill of storytelling. Why I have recounted the story the HID Restoration Project...Stay tuned for PRELUDE or Flash Back!

What Does Marilyn Monroe & Pa-hay-okee have in common? Everglades National Park is literally called the River Of Grass (or Pa-hay-Okee ~ grassy waters)... As an ecosystem it holds world-class titles; for example she earned International Biosphere Reserve (1976) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), three years later she was awarded the World Heritage Site (1979) , she was awarded Wetland of International Importance (1987) by the Ramsar Convention , and nine years ago she was upgraded to a World Heritage Site in Danger (2010). I always like starting with acknowledging our success, because usually, that has come at a price. Through my BLOGs, my goal is to illustrate or at least convey both the value of this one of a kind living being and the price she and her allies have had to pay to continue to keep her alive for many generations to come. A girl never reveals her age or her measurements unless she is a national/international treasure, like Marilyn Monroe, Americas Everglades is a curvy sweetheart with 137 miles of coastline. She is about 1,509,000 acres of which approximately 1,296,500 of those acres she likes to keep it all natur-al (i.e. these acres specifically were designated wilderness area) making her the largest in the eastern United States. She is 72 years young, her Birthday was slated to be in 1934 but her Birth Certificate was dated 06 December 1947 and signed by President Harry S. Truman himself. ...On that day he mentioned, Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as THE source of water, but as the last receiver of it. To its natural abundance, we owe the spectacular plant & animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country… -DID YOU KNOW- She is the largest sawgrass prairie stand in North America (572,200 acres). She works overtime to recharge the Biscayne aquifer, which provides all of South Florida with fresh water. She provides refugia to over 20 endangered & threatened flora and fauna. She provides a good critical habitat for tropical wading bird breeding in North America. She harbors the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere (230,100 acres). She plays a huge role as an ethnographic resource. She watches over & is connected to Florida Bay, a nationally critical estuarine (i.e nursery ground) complex (484,200 acres). Among it all she protects 39 native orchid species, 750 types of seed-bearing flora to include 120 tree species, about 360 species of birds, as well as 300 fish species, over 60 herps (reptiles & amphibians), and 32 native mammal species like the Florida Panther, Black Bear, and Web-Footed Marsh Rabbit; all who benefit from her. the last species that the Everglades hosts are, us... Humans, in 2005 approximately 1.23 million of us decided to pay her little visits and since then over a million more each year continue to come back. As I mention often, to me nature is a place for me to reset, heal, and help others grow. The Everglades to me is a shaman or medicine women that I constantly through my own life's history I have returned to her to learn and grow, to help me heal what modern medicine has not, and to protect her alongside other while she protects us. She isn't just another National Park, she is part of my landscape, my mindscape, and my heart... She is Home to Me!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019 14:36

David Riera

I am ​currently a ​doctoral student at Florida International University. ​

​As a 2nd year doctoral student in the College of Education, I leverages my passion for research, conservation, and education​ to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM. I holds five collegiate degrees and ten professional certifications (from veterinary technician to open water deep-sea diver) in various STEM and industrial disciplines, which he utilized in partnership with scientific societal leadership to increase the presences​ and participation of underserved students/emergent professionals through activities and initiatives. I am also a United States Marine Combat Veteran and First Generation Afro-Hispanic college graduate. I am driven to raise public awareness through environmental and agricultural education, is relentless through his work tackling various social and environmental justice issues (like environmental racism, urban degreening, food desertification) and is committed to the management, distribution, and preservation of cultural knowledge and inquiry-based research.

My primary goals as your 2019 LHIP Intern is to serve alongside a national network of emergent experts, create lasting bridges between ourselves and our professional partners and hosts, as well as build talent and skills to develop support strategies for minorities, students, veterans and their families through agriculture, natural resources, and related science careers.