Ana Zangroniz (beach cleanup volunteer), Elizabeth Strom (volunteer program manager), Charles F. Sams (Director of the National Park Service), Venessa McDonough (supervisory wildlife biologist and beach cleanup program co-lead), Morgan Wagner (biological science technician and beach cleanup program co-lead). NPS Photo.
Homestead, Fla—The Biscayne Beach Cleanup (BBC) volunteer program at Biscayne National Park has been selected as the national award recipient of the George and Helen Hartzog Innovation Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. This is the first year that the National Park Service (NPS) has recognized a park volunteer initiative for demonstrating significant innovation or creativity while meeting the needs of the park through volunteerism.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel, BBC managers were unable to recruit volunteers from traditional sources which targeted college students visiting Biscayne during winter and spring breaks. Debris continued to pile up along park shorelines, which would inhibit sea turtle nesting efforts in the upcoming summer months. Innovative thinking led to a win/win pivot as BBC program managers shifted recruitment efforts to target the diverse local South Florida community. The response was monumental and has been identified as a volunteer recruitment model for future years.
The 2021-2022 BBC season saw 275 volunteers collect over 30,000 pounds of current/wind-driven marine debris from sea turtle nesting beaches located on remote park islands. The total amount of debris collected is more than any other season since the program's inception in 2004.
The award was presented as part of a national NPS awards ceremony held on August 23 at the Main Interior Building in Washington, DC. Accepting the award on behalf of the 275 volunteers who helped to clean park beaches during the 2021-2022 season was volunteer Ana Zangroniz. Ana has been a vital member of the park's volunteer program since 2014 and frequently leads cleanup events. Staff representing Biscayne National Park at the ceremony included Elizebeth Strom, volunteer program manager; Morgan Wagner, biological science technician and BBC program c0-lead; and Vanessa McDonough, supervisory wildlife biologist and BBC program co-lead. Wagner and McDonough manage all aspects of the program, including coordination, safety and hosting the cleanups.
"We are honored to receive this award as it serves as a reminder that volunteers are an integral part of the NPS Mission" said Biscayne National Park Superintendent Penelope DelBene. "BBC is able to connect local stewards looking to make a difference in meaningful, innovative ways with a resource concern in their own backyard."
Local partner groups and community organizations such as Miami Dade College, Florida Internationa University, ZooMiami, and Fishing Spot Conservation have each participated in a day of service with the BBC program. Financial support, including supplies and fuel, is provided by The Alliance for Florida's National Parks, The Coastal Cleanup Corporation, and the Florida National Parks Association. Visiting college students, visitors and locals are all welcome to engage in support of cleanups.
BBC schedules cleanups on weekdays from December through April and accepts prearranged groups of 4-12 individuals over the age of 16. The work is considered strenuous. Boat transportation to the cleanup site and all cleanup materials are provided. For more information or to schedule a day of service for your group for the 2023-2024 season please see volunteer.gov or email Bisc_Beach_Cleanup@nps.gov.
Presentation videos and more information about this year's George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Volunteer Excellence can be found at https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/2022-george-and-helen-hartzog-regional-awards-for-outstanding-volunteer-service.htm.
About Biscayne National Park: Within sight of downtown Miami, Biscayne National Park protects a rare combination of subtropical islands, mangrove shoreline, biodiverse coral reefs, and 10,000 years of human history. The park is ninety-five percent water and encompasses the northernmost Florida Keys. Most of the park is only accessible by boat. Home to a vast array of species, visitors to Biscayne might encounter sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, stingrays, and the West Indian manatee. To learn more please visit nps.gov/bisc. For regular updates from the park follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
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