National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and partners fill void created by partial government shutdown

By Gena Parsons, Communications and Outreach Manager for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary


Partnerships pay off in times of need. With the partial government shutdown affecting Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Dry Tortugas National Park, state and nonprofit organizations stepped in to shepherd a group of college students during a long-planned trip to the Florida Keys. Eleven students from Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, had expected to spend their alternative winter break assisting with programs and projects in the Lower Florida Keys and an overnight stay at Fort Jefferson. The lapse in federal appropriations for the departments of Commerce and Interior shifted their activities, but not the learning opportunities.  

Coordinated by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, students were able to work along scientists and staff with Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Boy Scouts, Florida International University and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and FIU taught students about the value of Florida Keys natural resources and, with FWC, led a debris cleanup on conservation land on Sugarloaf Key.

Credit: Gena Parsons/National Marine Sanctuary Foundation


“Because National Marine Sanctuary Foundation staff supports operations at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, we were able to continue working during the partial government shutdown and tap long-standing partners to help us make this a memorable experience for the visiting college students,” program coordinator Nicole Uibel said.

At its Summerland Key nursery, Mote allowed students to help with microfragmentation, a technique that cuts coral into small to accelerate growth for reef restoration. And the scouting organization provided kayaks and paddleboards for the students to explore mangrove-fringed islands while collecting debris from the shoreline.

“I loved being able to work hands-on with different aspects of the marine environment and I learned so much from everyone who was willing to take the time to teach us and show us how we could help,” Harford Community College student Krista Wilcox said.

“I am very appreciative of the way the organizations came together for us and made this week a huge success,” Erika Dickey said. “I will always be grateful to have had this experience and plan on coming back to help more.”

“I’ll not only continue to utilize this knowledge going forward, but now I’m able to share what I learned with my friends and family and start to see good changes in the way we live and treat this planet,” Amy Hyman said.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary regularly hosts winter and spring break student groups from across the United States.


Credit: Gena Parsons/National Marine Sanctuary Foundation