March 3, 2017
By David Riera, Fellow
The Everglades National Park is my home, both figuratively and literally. As a budding ecologist, environmental educator and advocate, I fervently believe that this unique ecosystem represents more than a biological stronghold. And even though the Everglades’ luster has been tarnished by human activities, my students, peers, fellow veterans, and I still believe it is one of the crowning jewels of this planet.
As a first-generation Floridian, I grew up throughout Miami-Dade County, and moved around frequently. The only consistency in my life was the Everglades, the National Seashores of south Florida, and numerous other state and municipal parks. Whether it was snorkeling with my godfather, hiking with my father, or working with park staff on environmental projects, I knew I was a part of these natural places and that these places became a part of me.
This fascination with nature, especially in Florida, followed me through my life, as a juvenile, United States Marine, college student, researcher, and now as a teacher. I have been fortunate enough to reacquaint and re-engage with such a critical piece of myself.
Through my current involvement with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) as their Mission Continues Fellow, I was able to attend the 2017 annual Everglades Coalition Conference. This three-day meeting brings together diverse groups of passionate people, including Everglades champions, numerous environmental nonprofits, and people like us: fathers, students, researchers, veterans – all driven by diverse interests but rallied under a common flag.
I was personally honored throughout the weekend to serve as an ambassador for the National Parks Conservation Association, The Mission Continues, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and Florida International University. Several speakers and distinguished guests focused on developing and establishing relationships with veterans because we know how to get the mission completed.
Hearing from and meeting such accomplished individuals who are committed to a better future for the Everglades filled me with renewed fervor to serve my community. I spoke on a panel regarding the diversity of interests that the Everglades fulfill, and recounted my story of courage as a student growing up alongside these natural wonders, of honor as a Marine protecting those that protect these unique landscapes, and of commitment as a graduate student who strives to mentor young people especially in Miami to conserve a vital part of our world’s natural heritage.
The Everglades means a lot of things to a lot of people, not realizing that a park’s true potential to inspire, educate, and generate “shock and awe” lies under every leaf and in each drop of water. I know my life’s work will act to protect, conserve, and restore these priceless works of planetary art; not just for myself, but for my students, my family, and my comrades in arms.
Report for duty in your community with The Mission Continues. Serve with a Service Platoon at an upcoming service event near you or apply for a fellowship. You can learn more about our programs on our website and stay updated on the latest news and announcements on Facebook and Twitter.