A first-of-its-kind agreement between a Florida state park and a public university opens new research opportunities for students and faculty of disciplines ranging from biology to engineering.
The agreement between UCF and Florida Park Service centers on a building in Econfina River State Park in rural Taylor County, about an hour southeast of Tallahassee. A former restaurant, the building will be renovated over the coming months to serve as a research station for exploring the surrounding ecosystem. It will also provide a base for several undergraduate field courses under development.
Econfina’s ecosystem, which encompasses coastal seagrasses to upland pine forest, is relatively pristine and free of pollution thanks to state and federal environmental protections along with the remote location. Its low-lying ground is also an excellent model for coastlines around the world threatened by rising sea levels. UCF’s National Center for Integrated Coastal Research, also known as UCF Coastal, is leading the new center.
“The work we will be able to accomplish at this unique site will help us better understand the threats to coastlines so many states and nations face. The kind of findings we will no doubt discover will bring us national prominence as we help solve some of the biggest challenges to our coasts.”
UCF Coastal, brings together experts across multiple fields of study to address coastline vulnerabilities ranging from extreme weather and public health to tourism and urban planning.
The location will also be invaluable to students by providing them hands-on opportunities to conduct field research and to include the community.
That variety of experts perfectly fits the scope of opportunities presented by the new research facility. Apart from biology students studying Econfina’s natural habitats, anthropology students can dig into historic sites dating back to pre-colonization; civil engineering students can research storm surge; and chemistry students can chart the long-term environmental impact of the area’s paper mills.
A big focus of the project will be community involvement and including area residents in basic research and outreach. It’s critical, Worthy said, that the knowledge gained through research is transferred back to the people in easy-to-understand language.
“Citizens gain a respect for science if they’re part of it and see the quality of what we’re uncovering,” Worthy said.
The value of the agreement is also in exposing students to field research, he said, adding that it’s one thing to learn science from a book, but quite another to use the tools and methods to draw real conclusions.
“It really changes the way you see things,” Worthy said.