Return to the Wild

Return to the Wild

Grant Year: 2018 | Focus Area: Education | Grant Amount: $100,300 | Grant Status: In Progress

Return to the Wild

Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, Inc.

The mission of Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge (ECWR) is education, conservation and rehabilitation for the welfare of Florida’s natural fauna. ECWR is a nonprofit organization made up of caring staff and dedicated volunteers who rescue, rehabilitate and release Native Florida Wildlife including marine mammals in the five northwestern Gulf Coast counties from Pensacola to Panama City. In September 1994, ECWR was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In 2017, ECWR received its largest donation of 2 1/4 acres of undeveloped land in Santa Rosa County. The donated land is pristine wildlife habitat, loaded with heritage live oak trees, endangered longleaf pines, flowering bushes, wild blueberry, blackberry, and yaupon. In short, it is the ideal environment for wild animal patients to rehabilitate prior to release, as well as the best possible habitat for non-releasable Animal Ambassadors to live out their lives as naturally as possible.

Project Description

Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge proposes to build an Education and Outreach Center, providing an interactive classroom and learning center where K-12 students, teachers, and citizens can learn about Northwest Florida native wildlife, wildlife conservation, and how to minimize negative human impact on that wildlife. IMPACT 100 funds will be applied toward the construction of a 2,000 square foot building which will serve as the centerpiece of ECWR educational efforts and allow ECWR for the first time to have a facility open to the public. This purpose-built facility will feature an indoor/outdoor classroom situated among heritage oak trees where learners of all ages can interact with Refuge Animal Ambassadors, Refuge staff, educators, guest speakers, club and community groups (ranging from astronomy clubs to master gardeners), area biologists and
conservationists. The new facility will allow ECWR to expand its hours by 100% over a three-year period, allowing them to have direct contact with more students and constituents, and moving that population from awareness to supporter level, creating more sustainability for the organization and its programs.

Community Impact

ECWR currently resides in a dilapidated fire station, in an urban environment, scheduled for demolition and condemnation in late 2018 or early 2019. This will leave ECWR without either a rehabilitation facility or an educational one, so the need for this project is critical for the continued viability of the organization, its mission, and the communities it supports. The current building is not suitable for public access and cannot support ECWR’s educational activities. The organization sees the current location as the single most limiting factor in furthering progress, expansion and their ability to support wildlife and education in the communities they serve. Completion of the Education and Outreach Center will allow ECWR to provide in-house educational offerings to include staff, prominent wildlife, conservation, governmental, and educational expert lectures. Additionally, it will provide a location for K-12 conservation educational programs, and volunteer and docent training. Formal, collaborative partnership agreements will be developed with other nonprofits, youth organizations, schools, and other service delivery groups. Through interactive displays, up-close encounters with Refuge Animal Ambassadors of species resident in Northwest Florida, and staff and docent-led classroom and refuge activities, ECWR will finally realize its educational potential for the communities it supports.