MDC Launches Buy-A-Brick Campaign For New Facilities

MDC Launches Buy-A-Brick Campaign For New Facilities

Osprey Nesting Platform

by Lisa D. Mickey

The Marine Discovery Center has launched its Buy-A-Brick Campaign to invite the public to participate in the center’s growth.

The non-profit organization will break ground this year on a new amphitheater and is planning for an education center on the MDC campus once occupied by New Smyrna Beach High School. Each of the planned facilities will help continue MDC’s mission to protect and restore Florida’s coastal and Indian River Lagoon ecosystems through education, research and community stewardship.

The brick campaign will run through May 1, and gives the community a chance to personalize bricks that will be used to form the main stage of the planned amphitheater.

Artist rendering of our amphitheater

MDC Executive Director Chad Truxall notes that it wasn’t that long ago when he was volunteering to help build a touch tank and outdoor exhibits for the center at one of MDC’s first locations — the city’s former water treatment plant.

“We were so proud of the money we raised and the transformation that occurred in the small outdoor place we had at that time,” said Truxall. “Now here we are 16 years later, and the Marine Discovery Center is embarking on another transformative project. The 2018 Buy-A-Brick Campaign is an opportunity for citizens to leave their mark at MDC as we begin to develop our Phase II and Phase III development plans.”

The center’s plans include more of its trademark hands-on, feet-wet programs for children and adults through the construction of an amphitheater, walking trails, establishment of a trailhead for the St. Johns River to Sea Loop, a new kayak launch and storage area, and a future education center, said Truxall.

Phase II will be completed in 2018, with Phase III expected to begin in 2019. Funding from the brick sales will be used to leverage additional support for these projects, Truxall added.

“Each unique brick will serve as a reminder of the great community support that exists to connect our children to nature, and as well as to protect and preserve the Indian River Lagoon,” said Truxall.

Bricks are currently on sale at MDC for $40 per brick, $75 for two bricks and $37.50 for each additional brick. Three lines of up to 20 characters and/or marine/nautical clip art may be used for each brick order. Deadline for ordering is May1st.

Brick order sheets for the campaign are available at the Marine Discovery Center or online.
For more information, contact the Marine Discovery Center at 386-428-4828.


MDC Expands Summer Camp Programs With New Additions

MDC Expands Summer Camp Programs With New Additions

by Lisa D. Mickey
News Release

The Marine Discovery Center will offer three new camp programs this summer, adding a camp for homeschooled students, as well as six sessions of new two-day camps.

Joining a summer schedule that includes 28 different camps for youngsters ages kindergarten to eighth grade, the new programs were added by popular request.

Three sessions of the new Salty Scientists two-day camp will be held for children in kindergarten through second grade May 31-June 1, July 2-3 and July 5-6. Campers will focus on sea creatures found on the Florida coast in this program.

Three sessions of the inaugural Water Warriors two-day camps will be held for campers in grades 3-5 from May 31-June 1, July 2-3 and July 5-6. This program is designed to expand campers’ knowledge of the world of water with island exploration, fishing and marine-related arts and crafts.

“We’re hoping to reach more families who may want their children to have an educational experience, while also enjoying time at the beach during family vacation,” said Michelle West, education coordinator at MDC.

Addressing the need to offer a special program for homeschooled students, the new Estuary Explorers will offer youngsters in grades kindergarten through sixth grade a chance to focus on the ecosystems of the Indian River Lagoon.

“This camp will give homeschooled students a chance to meet and interact with other kids who are also homeschooled, as well as to have a fun educational experience away from home,” added West.

Other popular camps will be held for Loggerheads (grades K-2), Leatherbacks (grades 3-5), Mangrove Maniacs (grades 3-6), Aquatic Adventures (ages 5-8) and Lagoonys (grades 5-8).

A new field trip will be offered to Mangrove Maniac campers this year. The WaterVentures Learning Lab will bring its mobile interactive learning lab to the center to provide a hands-on look at Florida’s diverse watersheds, water conservation and recycling initiatives.

A free resource for the state of Florida offered through the Crystal Springs Foundation, WaterVentures is a 53-foot tractor-trailer that has been transformed into a science-learning lab on wheels.

Older children in the summer camp program will enjoy two sessions of FWC Saltwater Fishing camps (grades 5-8), as well as the popular SCUBA camp (grades 5-8).

Due to popular demand, one additional half-day camp has been added for archery this summer. Youngsters in grades 3-6 will have three half-day camps in June and July to perfect their archery techniques.

“Most of the kids we get have always wanted to try archery, but just never had a place to do it,” said MDC Education Specialist Logan Rohrbach, who is a certified archery instructor.

MDC has offered archery for six years, with interest in the program growing each summer. The Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network supplies archery equipment to MDC throughout the year as a community partner in the center’s archery program.

MDC’s archery program has a permanent designated archery range on a corner of the center’s campus away from other programming.

“It’s a regulation range designed using U.S.A. Archery safety regulations, so not only do the kids in our camps have fun while learning this sport, but they are also safe while doing it,” noted Rohrbach.

Voted as the 2017 “Star of the South Best Local Children’s Attraction” by readers of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, MDC’s summer camp programs continue teaching children about coastal ecosystem through feet-wet learning.

Last year, nearly 400 youngsters from 15 states and three countries attended summer camp at MDC during 10 weeks of activities.

Camp registration at the Marine Discovery Center is currently underway, with available discounts for early registration and MDC members.

For details about the camps, contact the Marine Discovery Center’s education office at 386-428-3310.

Support MDC This Holiday Season

Support MDC This Holiday Season

The holidays are a time for giving, sharing, and helping out the community.
Supporting a non-profit like Marine Discovery Center this time of year is a great way to do all of those things! 
Here’s a guide on how to spread winter cheer to your loved ones while boosting our mission
to protect and restore the Indian River Lagoon.

Visit our Gift Shop
MDC’s gift shop offers a wide selection of books, games, toys, jewelry, clothing, home décor, and much more!  With a focus on environmentally conscious products and locally made items, our store is your destination for finding unique gifts for everyone on your list.  Every purchase in our gift shop helps to fund Marine Discovery Center programs. Our gift shop is open 9-5 on weekdays and 9-3 on weekends. Please note we will be closed on November 23 & 24 and December 24 & 25.

Give the Gift of MDC Membership
Why not treat your loved ones to a year of MDC membership! Each membership comes with wonderful benefits like a complimentary boat or kayak tour, discounts on gift shop purchases, tour and camp discounts, newsletters, members-only events, and much more!  We offer memberships for adults, students, seniors, and families as well as our highest Guardian of the Lagoon level. Visit our membership page to learn more.

Shop with Amazon Smile
Did you know that when you shop on Amazon you can help support Marine Discovery Center at no additional cost to you? AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices, and shopping features as The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice.  Each time you shop, begin at and shop as normal. Easy!

Treat Your Loved Ones to a Tour or Camp
Why not buy an MDC boat or kayak excursion for your friends and family (and one for yourself so you can come along)!  We offer boat and kayak tours every day as well as specialty tours throughout the year, and a gift certificate for one of these is a great idea! Want to celebrate an occasion or treat your friends to a private boat tour? We offer boat charters as well!  We even have a “snow bird” charter special for condos – just contact Capt Guy at for more details.

Our camps are a great way to introduce the children in your life to the creatures of Florida’s coastal ecosystems and to some fun skills and activities!  We offer camps throughout the school year and in the summer. We even have some great camps and other educational programs during the holiday season – check out our education department’s Winter Holiday Events to find out more!

Reservations are required for all boat, kayak, and educational programs. Please call us at 386.428.4828.

Donate to MDC
Donations are always a great way to help MDC in our mission. As we expand the depth of our reach with our programming we also expand the depth of our costs. The utility, insurance and maintenance bills don’t go away. Your support is needed as we continue to grow our mission and community influence. 

Donating to MDC in someone’s name or on behalf of a loved one is a great gift idea, and you can specify a specific purpose for your donation (such as an item on our wish list) or direct it to our general fund. No donation is too small! 

Whether it’s a one-time donation or a longer-term commitment,
your gift will significantly help to fund our mission and our educational programs. 
Explore our basic donation levels or pledge even more by joining our Dolphin Society.

BCU Grad Student Has Helped Public Explore MDC Marsh

BCU Grad Student Has Helped Public Explore MDC Marsh

Osprey Nesting Platform

by Lisa D. Mickey

If you have taken a Living Shoreline Guided Tour to the salt marsh at the Marine Discovery Center this year, chances are likely graduate student Andrea Orozco led your tour.

Orozco has been leading free walking tours around the restored salt marsh since January 2017 as a part of a grant program and partnership between Bethune-Cookman University, the Marine Discovery Center and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserve Office.

The native of Mexico came to BCU to play college golf and earned her undergraduate degree in biology in 2015. She stayed at the university for graduate school and will earn her master’s degree in integrated environmental science in May 2018.

But while she has been in Central Florida — having moved here from Cancun, Mexico — Orozco has both learned about this region’s coastal ecosystem, while teaching others an appreciation for the many species that call this area home.

“I have been telling people about the amazing benefits of these plants and of living shorelines,” said Orozco, 24, who was born in Mexico City. “People are always very curious about those fiddler crabs enjoying the shoreline.”

“They are also very curious about the oyster bags and mangrove trees,” she added. “I always tell them that we planted mainly grasses in the marsh and that we have natural recruitment of mangroves. They are very surprised.”

Orozco began working at the Marine Discovery Center as a graduate student in January 2016, and started leading tours a year later. There were very few mangrove trees growing in the salt marsh when she arrived in early 2016, and the grasses were not very tall or filled in.

Since that time, mangrove trees have naturally recruited and seem poised to outcompete the cord grass, which was planted in the salt marsh when it was restored in 2014.

“Now, it’s totally different than it was when I started here,” she said. “The marsh has grown so much since 2016. It’s very peaceful out there and I love seeing all the crabs, birds and new oysters attached to the oyster bags.”

While the various species in the marsh prompt conversations with Orozco and her guests, visiting the marsh and its living shoreline exhibit area also has given her an opportunity to talk about other issues affecting coastal ecosystems.

Sometimes, Orozco discusses non-point source pollution, the effects of that pollution in the lagoon and what citizens can do to help reduce it. She also discusses algal blooms in the lagoon, what they are, what causes them, and how they affect the health of the lagoon.

In addition, she addresses “Be Floridian Now” issues involving the local fertilizer ordinance, reducing lawn watering, fertilizer and pesticide application, and even some key tips about mowing and proper disposal of lawn clippings.

“It’s always a great feeling to share knowledge with people,” she said. “I love the field of environmental science and being out in nature. Sharing that with other people makes me feel good.”

Prior to leading the tours, Orozco, whose native language is Spanish, did not have much experience with public speaking. Leading tours for the public was a special challenge.

“As I started leading the tours and also doing some presentations for field trips, I gained more confidence,” she said. “I have become much better at delivering the information in a more efficient manner.”

Even with an undergraduate degree in science and more than halfway through her master’s studies, Orozco also credits the Coastal Naturalist certification she earned through the Florida Master Naturalist Program — offered at MDC.

“The Coastal Systems course is hands-on and you’re actually out in the field looking at things you study,” she said. “You cannot get that experience from the classroom. Taking that class was one of the things at MDC that I enjoyed the most and from which I learned the most.”

Orozco hopes start her career as a field biologist or a field environmental scientist in coastal ecosystems after she completes her graduate degree next spring. She also hopes to stay in Florida, where she has been “way more exposed to coastal ecosystems” than she ever was back home in the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

And while Orozco’s last day in the grant program at the Marine Discovery Center will be on Nov. 16, the graduate student says she is grateful for the chance to work with the public in the salt marsh this year.

“It has helped me grow as a person, as well as professionally,” she said. “And I’ve kept learning new things every day while being surrounded by very knowledgeable people.”

Otter Spotting, Mini-Drones, & Yoga!

Otter Spotting, Mini-Drones, & Yoga!

October at MDC brings two unique events hosted by some of our favorite community partners! Both of these events are FREE and open to the public; no RSVP is required.

Osprey Nesting Platform

You “Otter” Be a Citizen Scientist

Calling all nature lovers and photographers: On Thursday, October 12 you can come hear things from the “otter” side! Join research scientist Megan Stolen from Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in a workshop designed teach you how to help river otter populations in the Indian River Lagoon. Attendees will learn all about river otters in the IRL and about the Institute’s Otter Spotters, which is a citizen science program designed to gather information on river otter populations.  This workshop will be held at 6:00 p.m. at Marine Discovery Center.

Mini-Drone & Oyster-Storytelling Yoga

On Sunday, October 15 faculty and students from University of Central Florida’s Coastal & Estuarine Ecology Lab and Citizen Science GIS will lead two hands-on events for all ages to emphasize the importance of Florida’s coast, especially the Indian River Lagoon. This program will be held from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. at Marine Discovery Center.

1. MINI DRONE OBSTACLE COURSE over a simulated coastal community. Participants will have the opportunity to fly the mini-drones.
2. OYSTER STORYTELLING YOGA* which combines information on estuarine biological diversity with yoga poses designed to help you with both flexibility and remembering the importance of our keystone species.

*if participating in yoga, bring yoga mat and water bottle

For more information, please contact Tim Hawthorne at or Linda Walters at

Save Your Applause For The Scientists

Save Your Applause For The Scientists

Wendy Noke of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute assists a dolphin calf

By Lisa D. Mickey

I admit it. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to admiring top sports teams and appreciating the skills of world-ranked athletes.

I love seeing them work together as a team to win championships or close games. And I enjoy watching individual professional athletes perform extraordinary feats.

Certainly, as a sportswriter for more than 20 years, I have seen my fair share of record-breaking performances, met some exceptional athletes and seen history made in athletics that will forever be on instant replay in my mind.

But in recent years, I’ve met some new superstars who work in virtual anonymity and deserve far more attention than any of them would ever want. Their names are not well known and they don’t reap lucrative benefits for the long hours of plying their craft even though they are among the world’s best. There’s no confetti, headlines or applause from thousands of adoring fans for these people.

In fact, most of the time when they perform their best work, they are alone, dirty, bloody and in environments where even their best friends might decline to go. Their incentive is not fame and fortune, but rather, an intrinsic curiosity to answer questions, solve problems, and detail those findings in documents that can be used by others.

Who are these people? They are scientists.

And these scientists are everyday people who are committed to research often involving specific species and specific habitats. They regularly deal with evolving changes that affect the living organisms they study and they are unabashedly passionate about the focus of their studies. Their fist pumps are cerebral, at most.

For example, I recently reached out to the scientists at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, Fla., to inquire about a blue land crab (cardisoma guanhumi) that was showing up in my neighborhood in Central Florida. Scientist Sherry Reed kindly responded and informed me that Hurricane Irma had spawned a migration of these crabs as they move from salt marshes to the ocean at this time of year.

Reed provided the information I wanted, and in a follow-up email, she called these crabs “beautiful creatures” (they are!) and admitted they were “especially near and dear to [her] heart.”

That kind of passion for a species and commitment to understand their existence is exactly why I believe we should thoughtfully consider who our real heroes are and why.

Scientists most often specialize in a focus area and spend countless hours and years documenting their species. Both when things go right and when things go wrong, they still seek answers to questions.

How many times have I listened to Lori Morris of St. Johns River Water Management District passionately discuss the importance of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon? And when an algal bloom in 2011 killed 47,000 acres of precious seagrass in the estuary, why was I not surprised that Morris was out in the water with other scientists, hand-planting grasses and later snorkeling to monitor its progress?

How can I not get excited about oysters and shoreline restoration when Dr. Linda Walters of the University of Central Florida starts talking about the work she has done with oyster-shell recycling for nearly two decades? If you ever work with her on one of these shoreline projects, it’s like spending a day with the Johnny Appleseed of oysters.

I’ve also logged time on the water with Wendy Noke of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute looking for sick and injured dolphins. I’ve watched Wendy suspend her great affinity for specific animals she had monitored for years when it came time to perform necropsies to determine what had killed them. A few years ago, when a deadly virus swept the offshore dolphin population, I knew I could find Wendy with a scalpel in her gloved hands, harvesting tissue for pathology results – sometimes twice a day. Maybe even Wendy wanted to cry at the loss of so many magnificent animals, but there was too much work to be done in the name of science.

If you want to get excited about sharks, listen to George Burgess talk about his favorite species. Burgess is the director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Fla. He has spent his career following these animals and documenting their behaviors and statistics. He can tell you where not to swim in New Smyrna Beach, based on shark-bite statistics and baitfish prevalence, but he can also espouse the miracles and mysteries of these animals from a lifetime of research.

A few times, I’ve had the privilege of walking at the elbow of Dr. Jane Brockmann, a professor emeritus at the University of Florida, who has studied horseshoe crabs for more than 30 years. Once I was with Dr. Brockmann when we found spawning horseshoe crabs on an atypical shoreline. These animals are thought to have been in existence for more than 445 million years, so to observe the surprise and delight of a veteran scientist who was seeing something new after three decades of study was better than witnessing a half-court buzzer beater.

Sometimes I have dinner with another professor, Dr. Hyun Jung Cho, who teaches integrated environmental science at Bethune-Cookman University, and I find myself marveling at her commitment to study wetlands and aquatic vegetation at all times – even if she’s wearing a dress on her way home from church and happens to spy a retention pond with interesting grasses. “That’s why I keep rubber boots in my car,” she said matter-of-factly, when I asked if she really waded into these ponds in her Sunday clothes.

Research ecologist Gina Kent, of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, monitors the nesting habits, migratory patterns and the habitat challenges of swallow-tailed kites. When these magnificent raptors return to Central Florida from South America to nest each year, Gina is collecting data. And with the information I have learned from her and shared with others who live where these birds nest, now my previously uninterested friends are excitedly offering regular reports on “those birds with the interesting tail feathers.”

Even away from the institutes and universities, the scientists among us help shine a spotlight on our world and its living organisms that really should be valued and cherished more than any homerun, slam-dunk, 60-yard field goal or ace in the hole.

Michael Brothers, of the Marine Science Center, for example, can look at a gathering of 10,000 seagulls on a beach and identify several different species with one quick glance. Chad Truxall of the Marine Discovery Center can lead a group to a sandbar and suddenly unveil a host of creatures just under the soil’s surface that could otherwise easily be overlooked.

Maybe I’m slowing down as I round the bases in life, but I can “see the pitches” better than ever. These scientists clearly demonstrate skill, knowledge, experience, commitment and passion – asking for nothing and giving everything they have every single time they perform.

That’s why I say, if you want to applaud someone for a genuine superstar performance, save it for our scientists. They do their excellent work for the species they study, but more importantly, for the role their species plays in the world.

Scientists are looking at history, the present and the future with the hope their respective work can help us better understand our world and what we can do to assure a viable planet. And the passion they show for their work is contagious – kind of like that wave that starts in a stadium and brings true fans to their feet.