‘Charlie’ winners rise to greater heights


Brandon Smith receives his “Charlie” at the second annual Charlie Corbeil Conservation Awards dinner. Photo by Mike Gaffey

Things are heating up for ‘Charlie’ winners — that’s the nickname conservationists have given the Viera Voice Charlie Corbeil Conservation Awards, given out on the eve of the Viera Wetlands Festival slated for March 19, 2016. The Charlies. The Charlie Awards.

Brandon Smith went to the White House. Duane DeFreese got the dream job of a lifetime. Rodney Smith is as busy as can be getting youngsters to put down their iPads and pick up a fishing pole to enjoy the great outdoors.

“You should hear them talk. They are so proud of their Charlies,” said emcee for the Charlies Vince Lamb, a co-founder of Preserve Brevard. A conservation-themed student art, photography and essay contest leads up  to the Charlies, their awards given at the Viera Wetlands Festival.

The actual “Charlie Award” is the late Florida Master Naturalist’s most famous nature photo, a baby sandhill crane nestled in its mother’s back feathers, mounted on solid wood and glass.

“Part of it is that The Charlies have gone to truly deserving, accomplished people who have done great things caring for our natural assets from the St. Johns River to the beaches and beyond,” Lamb said. “The other part is that most of them knew Charlie Corbeil well as a legend in life and this is a way to keep him alive in our thoughts and hearts.”

Nominations are open for the 2016 Charlie Awards. Criteria is that the person can be a volunteer or a professional, but if they hold a position, their accomplishments must be their own and not merely those of the organization they serve. 

After his Charlie in April, Smith received the FMSEA Service Award from the Florida Marine Science Educators Association in May for his work as the East Central Regional Director for their organization for the last six years. He also received this year’s Keep Brevard Beautiful Educator of the Year award for environmental education.

Smith won his Charlie in part for the creation of Riverwalk: A Family Park, located off U.S. 1 in Rockledge. It was during youth Marine Biology camps at Riverwalk that Smith came upon the idea for a “Biggest Reducer” program that focuses on reducing the amount of waste generated in lunches students take to school and camp.

With help from a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Smith has expanded his program into Brevard County Schools and earned the recent invitation to the White House. Plastic bags, peril to marine life, are collected and woven into useful mats.

DeFreese, formerly an environmental consultant from Indialantic, now heads up the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, tasked by the new Indian River Lagoon Council with healing the ailing lagoon.

Many of the new nominations have come from Charlie winners themselves.

“There are a few awards out there that reward people for doing great things in conservation that help a particular organization,” Lamb said. “But these are the only pure conservation awards that exist purely for the purpose of rewarding and inspiring others to care for our greatest natural gifts.”

For more information, call or email Lamb at 321-258-5168 or vince@vincelamb.com or go to thecharlieawards.org