My net slaps the marsh water surface as I drag it down through the murky shallows, and my feet sink into the squishy mud beneath me.
I couldn’t be happier.
Today we spent the afternoon at The Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Located in Naples, the Conservancy works to protect local ecosystems, advocate for responsible urban development and educate the public about the surrounding environment. Our visit allowed us to experience the Conservancy’s urban restoration ecology efforts first-hand, through the lens of their manmade filter marsh. The marsh naturally improves water quality by accommodating storm water runoff that cannot naturally seep back into developed ground.
The marsh also creates a natural habitat for numerous native aquatic species, which we were able to view using nets and sampling equipment. Dr. Jeff Schmid, research manager for the Conservancy, helped us explore the contents of our catch (before release back into the water, of course). As a corporate sustainability professional who spends her days at a desk, the opportunity to learn in the field was a welcome change!
While science and ecology are the backbone of the marsh’s construction, leadership is the lifeblood of this project. The marsh was certainly not part of Naples’ original urban plan. Its construction was made possible through strategic funding and impassioned foresight. Leadership in the form of concern for nature and people alike – by forward-thinking donors, concerned citizens, interested scientists, local policymakers and supportive public visitors – keeps the Conservancy going strong.
Dr. Schmid mentioned his passion for aquatic invertebrates has led him to discover new organisms that have never before appeared in scientific literature. Why? Simply, no one has taken the time to examine many of these creatures in-depth. In this 21st century crammed with insta-knowledge, I was taken aback by this. Passion leads Dr. Schmid’s research, in turn allowing him to lead in his field of study.
As I progress through the DEL program, I continue to see how intangible qualities of leadership are just as crucial to sustainability efforts as data-driven research. As I think about my own leadership opportunities at my workplace, I am inspired by the Conservancy’s inquisitiveness and never-ending environmental improvement. They have not been discouraged by seemingly enormous structural and urban challenges. Their passion for knowledge and environmental progress inspires them to power through unknowns, and to restore a tiny slice of America’s southernmost paradise.