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RSW Living Magazine

Catherine Bergerson Shares The Mission of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Aug 08, 2018 06:16PM ● By Kevin

Barry Kelleher, Conservancy President and CEO Rob Moher, Ruth Bawden and Conservancy supporter Barbara Chur.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples is gearing up for a productive end to 2018 and start of 2019. The nonprofit organization has been a leading environmental advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the water, land, wildlife  and future of our five-county area for more than half a century.

We caught up with director of marketing and communications Catherine Bergerson to chat about upcoming events, the Florida Panther Compensation Program, the new loggerhead sea turtle ambassador animal, and more, in this exclusive Q&A.

RSW Living Magazine: From perusing your social media page, it seems as though you guys are currently pushing for help with your Florida Panther Compensation Program. Tell us a bit about what you need from the community there.

Catherine Bergerson: As plans for development heats up in Collier County, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is carefully monitoring the plans that will impact primary panther habitats. Learning to coexist with native wildlife is critically important in order to protect our endangered state mammal, the Florida panther. One way the Conservancy works with land owners is through the Florida Panther Compensation Program. This program is designed for people who have hobby livestock such as goats and sheep by helping to offset the cost of an enclosure to protect their animals. 

RSW: It looks as though there are a lot of other opportunities to volunteer. Can you tell us about them?

Bergerson: The Conservancy relies on volunteers to help expand our mission. We have about 600 volunteers each year working in our wildlife hospital, in guest services, giving tours, hosting daily talks, or helping with office work such as data entry and filing. We are always looking for new talent. Please fill out an online application at  

RSW: We saw a few stories about animals being admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. Can you tell us more about the Conservancy's role there?

Bergerson: The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is home to Collier County’s only wildlife rehabilitation hospital. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is an emergency wildlife hospital providing quality medical care and rehabilitation for native mammals, reptiles, and birds. We admit more than 3,500 patients per year. 

If you find injured wildlife call 239.262.CARE.

While our state and federal permits do not allow rehabilitating wild animals to be viewed by, or interact with the public, we do offer guests several engaging experiences to learn more about our work and how to help prevent injuries to wildlife. 

Guests can explore: 

Sapakie Exhibit Hall: Check out our interactive exhibits to learn more about the animals that are admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. You can also find ways that you can help prevent injury to the wildlife we love in Southwest Florida!

Calling Junior Vets: Join Dr. Ollie Owl for a variety of hands-on activities that highlight the work of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff and hospital and how we care for patients! Pre-K visitors, especially, will love learning more about how to prevent injury to wildlife and their place in the conservation world. 

Animal Ambassadors: Peak in on our animal ambassadors in the von Arx Wildlife Viewing Pavilion. You can meet Aquila the bald eagle, Olive the barred owl, and Horatio the red-tailed hawk!

RSW: Tell us the story of NIN, the new loggerhead sea turtle ambassador animal.

Bergerson: The Conservancy of Southwest Florida proudly introduced NIN, our ambassador loggerhead sea turtle in May 2018. He serves as an ambassador for his species here at the Nature Center. The Conservancy is home to one of the nation’s longest-running sea turtle protection and monitoring programs in the country. Once NIN grows to be large enough to survive in the wild, he will be released into the Ten Thousand Islands. 

NIN is part of a Sea Turtle Sex Determination Study by Florida Atlantic University. Nests were incubated at various temperatures. This specific turtle was incubated at low temperature and low humidity to test how these variables impact the sex of the turtles. Tests confirmed NIN is a male. 

Since the sea turtle program’s inception in 1982, the Conservancy has documented more than 284,000 loggerhead hatchlings from Keewaydin Island reaching waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and another 78,000 from Naples City Beach. 

'Interestingly, the vast majority of hatchlings on Keewaydin beaches are male in an otherwise female-dominated South Florida population,' Conservancy of Southwest Florida science research manager Dr. Jeff Schmid told us. “Our beaches are that much more important because the males that are produced help maintain the overall population.”

As the first known male sea turtle ambassador that the Conservancy has welcomed, NIN serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining beaches and protecting nests to preserve gender balance. 

A higher nest temperature results in more females while lower temperature causes a shift toward males, giving rise to the saying "hot chicks and cool dudes."  

NIN is a unique name for the Conservancy’s loggerhead and carries a special story. Named by Conservancy supporter, Barbara Chur, NIN stands for Nine in Naples, in honor of a recent vacation in Naples with her daughter and eight friends. While visiting, they fell in love with the Conservancy sea turtle research and protection efforts.  

RSW: Do you have any upcoming events or things going on that the community should know about? If so, what are they?

Bergerson: On Saturday, Oct. 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., we'll hold our Hoots and Hisses event. Spend a semi-spooky Saturday at the Nature Center as we celebrate the creepy, crawly holiday! Attend our daily programs, meet our animal ambassadors and create holiday-themed crafts to take home. This is a fun and educational day designed for families. No reservations necessary.

From Friday to Sunday, Nov. 2 to 4, we're holding the RedSnook Charity Fishing Tournament. Committed to keeping the waters clean and the fish abundant, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is hosting the 25th annual RedSnook Catch and Release Charity Tournament Friday, November 2 through Sunday, November 4. The community is welcome to participate in the Friday night kick-off party. Tickets are $50 per person.

Finally, on Thursday, March 7, we host the 15th Annual Magic Under the Mangroves. The gala supports the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s mission to protect our region’s water, land, wildlife and future. The one-of-a-kind event is held in a sophisticated tented setting on the grounds of the Conservancy Nature Center. Mingle with Conservancy staff who will share details of their work. The evening begins with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and Fund-A-Need. A seated dinner, Live Fund-A-Need, and live auction will close the evening.

RSW: Anything else you'd like to add?

Bergerson: The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is our region’s conservation organization. Our mission is to protect the land, water and wildlife of our area for future generations to enjoy. We accomplish our mission with a unique group of staff working on all fronts. We have a staff of environmental biologists who work on projects unique to Southwest Florida such as sea turtles and mangroves. We also research the invasive Burmese python problem. We have a team of policy advocates who work on the local, state and national levels on issues such as water quality, panther habitat protection and fracking. We have an education team that goes into area schools and hosts field trips here at the nature center reaching more than 8,000 local school children each year. We have the von Arx Wildlife Hospital that treats more than 3,500 sick, injured or orphaned animals each year. It is this unique combination of expertise that sets the Conservancy apart.

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