Florida Oceanographic Celebrates 56 years!
Florida Oceanographic Society celebrated its fifty-sixth anniversary on July 20th. When we asked Executive Director Mark Perry to reflect on this milestone, he reminisced about his original involvement. “As a teenager, my brother Chris and I would catch sharks for the scientists working at the Society doing artificial gill and kidney research. We had to keep them alive in an above-ground pool, walk them around after surgeries and return them to the wild. These special projects fit right in with our totally aquatic lifestyle! Little did I know back then that I would eventually become the Executive Director of Florida Oceanographic and continue to be a part of the inspiring work we do."
Since Mark has been with the organization for over forty years, and dedicated so much of his life to its mission, we asked him to speak to the progress and his hopes for the future.
What are you most proud of?
“It’s hard to answer that question when you are working in something every day, day to day, until you stop and think about it. When you do, you begin to realize that there is a lot to be proud of, there is a lot that we’ve accomplished and done right, but then again there’s still a lot to do.
The biggest thing I’m proud of is that we’ve promoted the awareness within the community! I think we’ve helped to promote awareness of the importance and value of our coastal ecosystems. And I am so proud that we’ve taken that step! We do that in a lot of ways – through education in the Coastal Center, through our conservation and research areas, but also our outreach and rallies, and I think we’ve really helped to build that awareness of how important these coastal ecosystems are and how much we depend on them for our living here on this planet. I’m very proud of that and very proud of what the staff is doing. Every aspect of what the staff does is like “Wow!” They are educating people, talking to people, restoring habitats, taking care of animals… They are doing everything that builds on that awareness.”
How do you think the original 5 founders would feel about our growth over the last 56 years?
“That’s an interesting question. I knew the original founders from when I was young. I think they would be very proud of where we are and pleased with how far we’ve come. Maybe even a little overwhelmed, if you will. I look back and know those days, when we were in the original residence in Stuart off Krueger Creek, and it was a humble beginning, but it was a great beginning! I think they had a vision for the future -not quite sure what it was going to be but they knew that it could be something really great! There was a point where not much was going on and they talked about dissolving the organization and turning it into a scholarship fund. But that’s where I came in and said “No, this is going to be a great organization!” And I think they embraced that and once I became involved, they started to see what I saw, that there was the potential to re-energize and reinvigorate Florida Oceanographic Society to be more of a Center in the community. That’s when we started looking for a property to expand that vision.
So today I think that they’d look around and say 'Wow, we really got here! We really accomplished getting a new site and getting the Coastal Center going to what it is today.' I think they’d be really pleased!”
Where do you see Florida Oceanographic Society by the 60th anniversary?
“Of course, I see the opening of the Ocean EcoCenter and all the new exhibits. But it gives us the organized ability to have more visitors experience our ecosystems, Florida’s water story and all the important things around our coastal area. I’m really excited about that being the prime thing going forward!
We also have a great team in our education and research and conservation leadership. We’ll be able to see more projects inclusive of habitat restoration in our estuaries and nearshore waters, and also start looking at the impacts of coastal development. This will allow us to work with the community to restore habitats, prevent pollution and strengthen our advocacy position using science.
I see a great move forward with our outreach to the community with dark, flat and clean messaging, rallying around issues like pollution and just getting people to know us. We are still a well-kept secret.
I’m hopeful that when we reach our 60th anniversary, we see a lot more momentum moving our educational outreach into the community. Virtual learning will be part of our future, especially because of this pandemic, and we can create new programming and engage more people.
It will be great to see the new Ocean EcoCenter with new exhibits and things happening here on property. Supporting community events with the 3rd floor Ocean Deck, we’ll get to see a lot more interaction with the community. And we are in a great location – we can’t be in a better location than we are here in the Coastal Center!”