Each year, Audubon Florida recognizes local conservation wins achieved by members across the Sunshine State. This year, seven awards were presented during the chapter celebration at the annual Audubon Assembly on October 28. The awards recognize excellence in education and conservation, nominated by the state’s 45 chapters and selected by a committee of seven regional directors, and are based on the environmental significance of their projects, measurable impacts, stakeholders involved, and more.
For the awards, chapters are split into two tiers: large chapters with more than 500 members, and small chapters with fewer than 500 members, with three awards typically given in each tier unless there is a tie as there was this year.
This year’s Chapter of the Year awards went to Pelican Island Audubon Society (large chapter) and Southeast Volusia Audubon Society (small chapter). Tropical Audubon Society and Pelican Island Audubon Society received awards for excellence in education, while Venice Area Audubon Society and Hendry Glades Audubon Society received awards for excellence in conservation.
The Best Conservation Award for a small chapter went to Hendry-Glades Audubon Society for initiating a pilot program with Hendry Soil and Water Conservation District called “Native Plants for Pollinators” with the help of an Audubon Plants for Birds Grant funded by the Florida Power & Light Company. The program provides native pollinator plants and seeds to schools, landowners, homeowners, or parks to create garden plots that attract birds, bees, and butterflies. The program includes community educational outreach opportunities through demonstration gardens, field trips, and presentations.
The Best Conservation Award for a large chapter went to Tropical Audubon Society for their “Go-Native Plant Sale” project that takes place annually and aligns with National Audubon’s Plants for Birds campaign. Their initiative increases native plants distributed into the community, which in turn supports local pollinators and biodiversity in the region. This year, Tropical Audubon purchased 700 plants from four local native plant nurseries and proceeds from their sale raised $10,000 to put towards chapter conservation initiatives, engaged dozens of volunteers, and educated hundreds of visitors about the importance of Florida-friendly landscaping through signage, an information table, and games.
The Best Education Award for a small chapter went to Venice Area Audubon Society for their “Little Naturalists Program” for children aged 3-5 years old. The program provides a guided, interactive opportunity for young children to engage in exploring their local environment and develop a life-long appreciation and care for nature. Through this program, children honed their powers of observation and learned about wildlife while appreciating the important roles that animals play in the environment. The program took place on Saturdays to allow children and parents/guardians to participate together. The successful development and implementation of a preschool nature program was a first in the chapter’s 58-year history.
The Best Education Award for a large chapter award was a tie between Pelican Island Audubon Society and Tropical Audubon Society.
Tropical Audubon Society was selected for this award based on their “Tropical Audubon Ambassador Program” (TAAP). TAAP is a free, civic engagement program for adults that promotes conservation by empowering a diverse and effective South Florida population to advocate for the region’s natural ecosystems. The current program involves virtual sessions over an 11-week period, complemented by field trips and local experts. In 2022, more than 160 people registered for the program, and 90 participated in at least one session. Most notably, a record-breaking 61 ambassadors completed the entire program to earn a certificate.
Pelican Island Audubon Society was selected for this award based on their “Audubon Advocate” programs with four Title 1 elementary schools and summer camp program. New in 2023, Pelican Island Audubon held their first seasonal nature camps for the Children’s Homeless Foundation of Indian River County. The program uses nature as a healing modality and an introduction to conservation and making a physical connection to the natural environment. The campers were taught to leave no trace—to recycle, reuse, and compost. They also conducted roadside cleanups, working in teams and measuring their results, and learned to express themselves through nature journaling. Free to participants, the nature camp engages past participants to serve as guides and the list of collaborating partners continues to grow.
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society (SEVAS) was selected as the Small Chapter of the Year for the forging of new partnerships. They partnered with Chisholm Elementary School to create a Plants for Birds Garden with the help of the 4th grade science teacher and her students. SEVAS also hosted several events, including one involving local authors and another that encouraged students to “build” an owl nest which was later mounted in a local tree. They provided the Marine Science Center with nature backpacks full of binoculars, bird books, and insect ID pamphlets for an on-site education program. SEVAS’s sphere of influence has grown to include programming with local schools and community centers, the students and parents that participate, and the City of New Smyrna.
Pelican Island Audubon Society was selected as the Large Chapter of the Year based on the quality, diversity, and sustainability of their many programs. Their decision to hire a full time Executive Director in addition to their full-time educator reflects their commitment to education and engagement with non-traditional communities and their focus on combating climate change through their “Trees For Life” program. They not only raise trees in their green house but have tracked the distribution of more than 18,000 native trees (all tracked on their website). Their Plants for Birds gardens have beautified the entrance to the Indian River County Commission Building and the UP from Poverty headquarters in Vero Beach, with more gardens in the works. Their fourth annual “Transforming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future” event attracted people from all over Florida to learn about the why and how of installing native plants.
Audubon Florida protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1900, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at Fl.audubon.org.