Lake Okeechobee has captivated the attention of Pahokee, FL native USF graduate student Krista Gutierrez since her childhood.
So, when she was accepted into the 2016 Arthur R. Marshall Foundation for the Everglades summer intern program in May, she was excited to return to the lake of her youth.
Only three interns are selected for the program each year after international and nation applications are reviewed. Given the size of the application pool, Gutierrez was shocked to be selected.
The program offers interns an in-depth look at the Florida Everglades and the restoration projects surrounding the area through field research and lectures from mentors.
Gutierrez found out about it through the USF Geology Club Facebook page and on May 23, she started at the internship.
The ten-week crash course, as Gutierrez described it, has had her out in the Everglades getting a hands-on, immersive feel. During the program, she has studied ecology of plants and wildlife in the habitat as well as hydrology and the importance of the restoration plan in place for the Everglades.
“It’s not like … I’m getting lectures on top of lectures,” she said. “I get to meet people in the field, people that are doing these jobs that have a part in restoring the Everglades and on top of that I get to be out there in the Everglades.
These have included professors, professionals, and members of many different organizations associated with the Everglades.
“I think the most rewarding part (of the internship) is getting to meet people with many different opinions (who still) have the same one thing in mind and it is restoring the Everglades,” she said. “… It’s pretty neat to see how everyone agrees on this one thing because that’s just how important it is.”
Gutierrez is a first generation Mexican-American, born to Mexican parents. She said her parents worked hard to provide her the opportunity to pursue her dreams.
“Both never got the chance to graduate high school due to having to work in agriculture,” she said.
Gutierrez majored in geology for her undergraduate and is currently pursuing her master’s in global sustainability with a concentration in water.
She will be wrapping up her internship July 28, and afterwards a paper will be released that will detail what Gutierrez said is the unbiased truth about the Everglades.
Gutierrez said she was surprised to learn how many people are involved in the restoration plan for the Everglades.
“I think a lot of people, when they think about the Everglades restoration, they only think about one group that are going for, which are environmentalists” she said. “But really, you have so many organizations that have a part in it. It’s not just one organization that is doing it. There are so many different key people and key organizations that have their hands on it.”
She also learned how much politics effect what people are able to do for the environment and encouraged serious consideration about whom they vote for when it comes to picking the governor.
“With the Everglades restoration plan, even though it … has already been signed — that was back in the early 2000s,” she said. “So right now in 2016 the plan isn’t even halfway completed and a lot of it has to do with our government.
“A lot of people don’t understand that whoever you elect as your governor is going to be the one that helps us do the plan and help us get it out there (and) that it’s important not only to the ecosystem but to the people.”
The Everglades, she stressed, don’t only effect Florida. In fact, their importance stretches across the globe. The area is World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a National Park.
According to the Everglades Foundation, 8 million Floridians depend on the Everglades for water. Damage done to the Everglades through 50 years of draining, canal digging and levees, which changed the ecosystem and the water quality in the area.
“The whole important part of (the Everglades restoration) is that we’re all affected by it,” Gutierrez said.