What is a Florida Master Naturalist?
Updated: Mar 10
One of the perks of working for Earthology is the company pays for training and classes. Thanks to this, during the month of January I attended the Coastal Systems course in the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) (offered by the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences). I took it out of curiosity, the desire to be back in school and to make more connections with naturalists in South Florida.
FMNP at Anne Kolb Nature Center.
There are 10 courses in the entire FMNP. You can earn up to four different “Naturalist'' titles by taking either all the courses or all the courses within the groups listed below.
“Core” 40-hour Naturalist Courses:
• Coastal Systems
• Freshwater Systems
• Upland Systems
“Land Steward” 24-hour Courses:
• Conservation Science
• Environmental Interpretation
• Wildlife Monitoring
• Habitat Evaluation
“Restoration” 24-hour Courses:
• Coastal Shoreline Restoration
• Marine Habitat Restoration
• Invasive Plants
My course involved three guided field trips and seven in-person classes (that also had a Zoom option). The FMNP also offers online-exclusive classes for some of their Land Steward courses. We met 6:30-9:30 pm twice a week, as it was geared towards people who work during the day, with field trips on weekends. The class participants ranged in age from 18 to 61. There were more young people (i.e., ages 18-35) in the class than I expected.
We covered a wide range of maritime topics including ecology, upland habitats, invertebrates (coral reefs and sea-life), reptiles, fish, birds, mammals, and the final lesson focused on ethics. Field trips consisted of guided walks through natural areas and stopping to talk about the ecosystems and plants found along the way, visiting science centers, and assisting in dune restoration. We were able to demonstrate hands-on skills through seining, taking water samples for algae, using microscopes and other lab equipment, snorkeling, and plant identification and management. Our final project was an open-ended assignment, but if we needed an idea, it was encouraged we make it a presentation or a form of educational material that could be used by the FMNP in the future as a teaching tool.
Seining in Fort Lauderdale.
The classes are taught by certified UF instructors, all of whom are considered “Florida Master Naturalists.” Both my instructors have full time jobs; one is a botanist with the Broward County Parks and Recreation, and the other is youth outreach organization director. The FMNP website shows which instructors are in your county, including contact information to access them directly.
These classes are extremely accessible. Despite them having in-person aspects, two of my classmates were not located in Florida. My teachers were extremely accommodating and for students who couldn’t make a field trip, doing a “make-up” field trips on their own was an option. While a make-up field trip in another state feels very out-of-place, it was one way to keep the class accessible and open to all. FMNP posts each course syllabus on their website and specifically state if the class is online-exclusive, or not. Course cost varies from $160 to $250. After enrolled, there are also plenty of insightful tips and resources they offer in the way of manuals or field guides, and you have direct access to experts to answer questions about anything related to Florida ecosystems.
Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea) observed in Fort Lauderdale.
If you are looking to network or find places to explore and appreciate nature, this class is worthwhile for you. This program is for hobbyists and scientists alike but geared towards someone who has some science background. It’s good for students of science, education/outreach specialists, or anyone wanting to learn more about Florida’s natural history and ecology. You will have an enjoyable experience and gain access to locations you would otherwise not see. For example, we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Marine Environmental Education Center and accessed a hammock area that is not open to the public.
FMNP offers other interesting opportunities, such as being able to post volunteer opportunities to their applicants and past students (if approved by UF). With over 8,000 graduates, UF has amassed a large, conscientious volunteer labor and workforce. If you are new or old to Florida, this class will teach you something you didn’t know.