By Monica Petrella
I was lucky to grow up in North Central Florida. My parents both went to UF where they met and stayed in the college town afterward to raise me and my brother. I loved growing up in Gainesville and always thought I was lucky to experience a side of Florida that most people don’t consider when they think of the Sunshine State.
We didn’t have sandy beaches and beach towns; we had lakes, rivers, and springs. Some of my best memories are when we cruised the Suwannee River with our friends, the Robinsons, stopping at springs, eating picnic boat lunches, and bundling up in towels as we tried to outrun the incoming rainstorm. These memories have formed the foundation for my passion for protecting Florida’s precious natural resources. We are so lucky to live in a jungle full of all sorts of ecology and wildlife. Snorkeling in the springs along the Suwannee River allowed me to see how the ecosystem in our backyard is incredibly dynamic and unique. These ecosystems need to be loved and protected. As an advocate for eco-tourism and for Florida residents to experience “the real Florida,” I find myself in a bind when I think about how an influx of visitors (along with their boat propellers, single-use plastic lunches, aluminum cans, etc) to these places could maybe destroy them if too many people come. At the same time, we shouldn’t limit the magic of Florida to those with greater means. How do we make it accessible for all without expediting erosion and mismanagement? Luckily, organizations like the Florida Conservation Voters are working to answer these types of questions.
The rise of Instagram culture, one where you show up, stomp around, and take some pictures to post to your friends, has allowed urban-dwelling and concrete bound Floridians to see how beautiful and diverse our state is, but it has also led to cheap interactions equivalent to a one night stand. For Valentine’s Day this year, I ask you to grow more in love with our state and the things that make her beautiful. Her beaches, marshes, Flatwoods, rivers, springs, lakes. She even has a waterfall! This state is made of magic and deserves more love and appreciation than we give her.
Happy Valentine’s Day to my love, the Sunshine State.