Connectivity is another conservation key


Charlie Award recipients were Justin Cole, Anne Birch, Dave Breininger, Jim Waymer, Carl Andron accepting for Diane Barile, Sammy McGee and Delaney Farrell.

photo by marc rhodes

Youth and working together emerged as keys to conservation of wild lands and their inhabitants at the fourth annual Charlie Corbeil Conservation Awards April 13 at Heritage Isle ballroom. The locale is adjacent to the favorite place of the Master Florida Naturalist and world renowned nature photographer for whom the awards are named, the Viera Wetlands.

The awards are given by previous winners of The Charlies — as they are affectionately known in conservation circles. The same year as an official Youth Division was added, awardees touched on how they became inspired in youth to make a difference in the environment.

“We are now seeing folks who worked as interns and youth volunteers 20 and 30 years ago now being nominated by their mentors who themselves have received a Charlie,” said event emcee Vince Lamb, close Corbeil friend and co-founder of Preserve Brevard, which partners with Viera Voice to host the awards dinner.

Charlie winner Anne Birch worked for the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands program and called out a number of names in the capacity crowd she'd worked for, and worked with. She now is the Marine Conservation director of The Nature Conservancy.

“We all need to work together to come up with and implement solutions,” Birch said. “Experts, agencies, community leaders, a great thing about this event is that you have so many of them under one roof.”

Birch was nominated and presented with her award by Dr. Leesa Souto of the Marine Resources Council. A Charlie winner last year, Souto formerly was with the EELs program and also commented how current Charlie winner Diane Barile, Council founder, inspired and mentored her.

Awardee Sammy Lee McGee, park biologist at St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park, said she stepped off a bus at Yellowstone National Park and knew she'd never be happy working in a traditional office.

“Kids today have a lot less free time to explore the outdoors, with so much scheduled activity,” said McGee, who was nominated for and presented with her award by previous winner Nichole Perna of the EELs program.

Recognizing beauty and being thankful for it is key to preserving nature at any age, she added.

Awardee Dr. Dave Breininger, lead wildlife biologist of NASA's ecological program at Kennedy Space Center, used the spotlight to forward action on the EELs program, which was established by voters in 1990 and now manages more than 20 large preserves.

“We need to work together to establish a long-range financial plan for the management of these lands and to ensure ongoing biodiversity of species and habitat.”

While recent environmental incidents underscored the severity of the need for conservation, so too did hope shine through, as voters responded to the need for a clean up of the Indian River Lagoon with a half-cent sales tax last fall.

“We've turned a corner in this region and there is a lot of political support to help the Lagoon,” said awardee Jim Waymer, environmental reporter for Florida Today since 2000. He was presented his award by 2014 Charlie winner Dr. Duane De Freese, who since was named executive director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program.

“But what you do in your own backyard is critical,” he added, such as properly maintaining a septic tank, minimizing fertilizer and pesticide use and in all other ways reducing what can wind up in the water. VV

For more information or to see videos and photos from the event, go to