Earth Day

Earth Day

What is 54 years old and growing better with age?  Earth Day!  Every year on April 22, we mark the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Prior to 1970, America and Americans lived with a host of environmental threats and concerns from automobile emissions due to leaded gas, industrial waste, and unchecked air pollution.

While a public awakening began to grow after 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, it wasn’t until 1969 when a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California inspired long-term change.

Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmentally conscious junior senator from Wisconsin, spearheaded the movement when he saw the potential to engage students to raise public consciousness about air and water pollution. He partnered with Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize campus teach-ins and to scale the idea to a broader public.

April 22 was chosen as the date, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation. They branded the event Earth Day and promoted the event nationally. The first Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans, 10% of the population at the time, to participate and demonstrate against the harmful impacts of unsustainable industrial development.

This first Earth Day united groups that had previously been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife. It also let to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and many of the environmental protection laws we have today, including the Clean Water Act.

Today, Earth Day celebrations continue, both as protests and celebrations.  Here in the Florida Panhandle, one way we celebrate Earth Day is by supporting beach cleanups.  It is one avenue to give back to our communities and help take care of the environment that we love.

Why not take the time to celebrate 54 years of progress and tradition?  Find a way to celebrate Earth Day this coming April 22, 2024.


Live From Oyster South Pt. 2

Live From Oyster South Pt. 2

Day 2 of the Oyster South Symposium was the final day of presentations and the trade show, but it is also the day of the Shuck and Tell closing ceremonies. Another grey sky day greeted us, but the symposium was still full of oyster enthusiasts and farmers. Day 2’s talks focused more on marketing and the future of oyster farming, including discussion of a new program for Federal Crop Insurance and a panel of chefs discussing “What Chefs Want” when it comes to an oyster. The oyster disco ball also made an appearance, and I was finally able to snap a photo of that beauty!

Disco Oyster Ball
The Famous Oyster Disco Ball! – Thomas Derbes II

Saturday’s talks started with a reflection of what Oyster South is and what it could be. Oyster South is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that strives to connect communities and provide resources to support oyster farmers, cultivate thriving communities, and promote healthy waters (Oyster South’s Mission Statement Here). While South is in its name, the scope of Oyster South has become national with visitors and farmers from both coasts coming to collaborate and share stories of their oyster farms. I was able to talk with farmers from all over the USA, from California, Washington State to New Jersey, North Carolina and even Texas where oyster farming is still in its infancy.

After the reflection, we were treated to two awesome panels, one discussing what chefs look for in an oyster and another on making the most out of social media. Every chef has a different view of what they want in an oyster, but consistency and a certain salty yet umami taste came up as something they strive to serve. Social media also plays a major role in oyster farming and distribution. I remember when I was an oyster farmer, I quickly had to learn how to do social media as this was the best way to advertise and promote your product. Most people have Instagram or Facebook now-a-days, so being able to post your story and availability was always helpful in increasing your following and sales.

oyster extension talk
Talking About What Extension Can Do For You at Oyster South Symposium – Thomas Derbes II

After the lunch break, we had a Three-Minute Tech Talk Session. We heard from graduate students that needed input from the oyster community on their research topics, oyster farm innovators discussing their newest and greatest creations to help oyster farmers, and I was even given the opportunity to talk about what extension can do for oyster farmers. After the tech talks, we heard about the federal crop insurance program for oyster farmers, as well as a great talk from Julie Qiu (a well-known oyster blogger, advocate, writer, and founder of the Oyster Master Guild) on oyster stewardship and how important it is to oyster consumers and the oyster industry. Beth Walton, executive director of Oyster South, closed out the talks with Oyster South Looking Forward, and the future of Oyster South and oyster farming is very, very bright.

Before the Shuck and Tell, I was able to grab a quick “linner” at an incredible restaurant named Cochon. I had previously worked with a chef that came from Cochon, and his stories were the reason I made a reservation. The food in New Orleans is top notch, and Cochon was the cherry on top of a great gastronomy tour.

When it comes to oyster parties, the Shuck and Tell is the ultimate oyster experience. Farmers from all over got together to shuck their product and tell their story of why they oyster farm and the story of the oyster being shucked at the wonderful Southern Food and Beverage Museum (aka SOFAB). I was blessed enough to jump in and help shuck for some passionate oyster farmers and learn more about their farms and history. A relatively new oyster farmer at Salt Revival Oyster Company arranged for a second line to come through SOFAB, and it was an incredible way to cap off a great Oyster South weekend. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana was there to make sure all shells were recycled and used for future restoration projects.

shucking oysters salt revival oyster co
Shucking With Salt Revival Oyster Company at the Shuck and Tell at SOFAB – Thomas Derbes II

The 2024 Oyster South Symposium was definitely one for the record books. The turnout was fantastic, and the camaraderie and collaboration between oyster farmers, researchers, and enthusiasts was a sight to behold. A major thank you to Bill and Beth Walton for always putting on an incredible symposium, and a big thank you to all the farmers who took time out of their busy schedule to share their oysters and stories. The Oyster South Symposium is an annual event, so keep your eyes peeled for the next symposium. I hope to see you at the next one in 2025!

second line
The Second Line To Close Out Oyster South Symposium – Thomas Derbes II
Two Upcoming Forestry Educational Events in September

Two Upcoming Forestry Educational Events in September

Walton County Extension will be hosting two forestry events in September. These events are available to all in the Panhandle interested in forestry and forestry-related topics. The events have been planned to cover requested information from landowners and extension clients. The events offer excellent opportunities to receive information and see forest practices in the field. Here is the information you need to know to attend these events.

Sandhill pine forest at Blackwater River State Park

September 14-Forestry Toolbox: First Steps in Forestry

On September 14th a Forestry Toolbox series will be hosted at the Walton County office. This is a new series created by Ian Stone to help landowners understand forest management tools and techniques and add them to their “Forestry Toolbox”. The last in this series was in May focusing on vegetation management and cost shares for forestry practices. This next installment will be First Steps in Forestry and is designed for landowners that may be new to forestry or forest management or for landowners that need a good refresher on the core concepts. To help reach a broad audience this program is being offered in a hybrid format with an in-person option at the extension office and an online attendance option through Zoom. Mark your calendars for Thursday September 14th from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. Central Time and sign up on Eventbrite through .

September 21-Florida Land Steward Tour-Little Creek Woods Property of Bob Reid and Betsy Clark

The second event will be a Florida Land Steward Field Tour on September 21st  hosted through the Florida Land Steward Program at UF. This program is a joint funded extension program focused on forest stewardship around the state. Without the generosity of Walton County Landowners Bob Reid and Betsy Clark, we would not have access to their amazing Little Creek Woods property. Bob Reid is a landowner that is a long-range thinker and driven conservationist, who is passionate about longleaf pine and restoring the native longleaf pine ecosystem on his property over the next 300 years to what it might have been like when early explorers arrived. This will be an excellent opportunity to see the hard work, planning, and monetary input it takes to manage longleaf properly for ecological restoration. The Tour and Program are a joint project between Walton Forestry Agent Ian Stone and Florida Land Steward Coordinator Chris Demers. The tour will be at the property in the morning from 9-11:30 a.m. Lunch will be offered at the extension office following the program and an open forestry discussion forum and networking session will follow until 2:30 at the Walton Extension office. Find more information on the Florida Land Steward Website Events Calendar – Florida Land Steward – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences – UF/IFAS (  or sign up through Eventbrite at Florida Land Steward Tour at Bob Reid and Betsy Clark’s Little Creek Woods Tickets, Thu, Sep 21, 2023 at 9:00 AM | Eventbrite .

Join Our Workshop to Manage the Invasion of Cuban Treefrogs!

Join Our Workshop to Manage the Invasion of Cuban Treefrogs!

Cuban Treefrogs and Environmental Concerns

Discover the fascinating world of Cuban Treefrogs and join us for an exciting workshop aimed at effectively managing their invasion. Led by Dr. Steve Johnson, an expert on Cuban Treefrogs from UF/IFAS Extension, this workshop will provide you with valuable insights on recognizing these invasive frogs and exploring management options. In addition, attendees will have the opportunity to learn how to monitor and report data on Cuban Treefrog populations. Together, let’s take action to address the challenges posed by the invasion of Cuban Treefrogs! The Workshop will be held September 28th 9am – 3pm CDT at 2728 E14th St, Panama City, FL 32401 Register Here

The Invasion of Cuban Treefrogs:

Originating from Cuba and introduced unintentionally to Florida in the 1920s, the Cuban Treefrog has rapidly established itself across various states, including Georgia and Louisiana. Believed to have arrived as stowaways in shipping crates, these non-native frogs have become a cause for concern due to their impacts on native treefrog and toad populations.

Understanding the Threat:

Cuban Treefrog adults and their tadpoles are known predators of native treefrogs and toads. Their presence poses a significant threat to the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Therefore, it is crucial to develop effective management strategies to curb their invasion and minimize their impact on our native species.

Workshop Highlights:

During the workshop, Dr. Steve Johnson, an esteemed authority on Cuban Treefrogs, will guide participants through the identification and management of these invasive frogs. Attendees will gain valuable knowledge and practical skills to recognize Cuban Treefrogs and explore options for effectively managing their populations. Participants will also build and take home their own treefrog house (refugia) made with PVC.

Contributing to Research:

In addition to learning about identification and management, workshop attendees will have the opportunity to play an active role in monitoring and reporting data on Cuban Treefrog populations. By actively participating in data collection efforts, you will contribute to scientific research and provide crucial insights into the distribution and behavior of these invasive frogs.

Join the Cause:

The invasion of Cuban Treefrogs is a pressing environmental issue that requires collective action. By attending our workshop, you can become an agent of change in addressing this invasive species. Let’s work together to protect our native treefrogs and toads by effectively managing the population of Cuban Treefrogs.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to join Dr. Steve Johnson and fellow nature enthusiasts in our workshop focused on managing the invasion of Cuban Treefrogs. By acquiring knowledge, developing practical skills, and contributing to data collection efforts, you can actively participate in protecting our native species and preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Together, let’s make a difference and tackle the challenges posed by the Cuban Treefrog invasion. Register now and be a part of this important environmental initiative!

An invasive Cuban Tree Frog specimen. Invasive species, amphibians and reptiles. frogs, pests. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.
The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament May 20-21, 2023, at HarborWalk Village in Destin, FL, is gearing up to tackle a pressing ecological challenge while showcasing the power of sport to make a positive impact. This unique tournament, held along the picturesque shores of the Emerald Coast, focuses on combating the invasive lionfish population in the region’s waters.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, have become a significant threat to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. With their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction, these invasive species pose a grave danger to native marine life. The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament aims to address this issue by encouraging divers and fishermen to actively hunt and remove lionfish from the waters.

Participants in the tournament will compete to catch the most lionfish, utilizing their skills in underwater navigation, spearfishing, and conservation. Sponsors provide cash and prizes for multiple categories including most caught, largest and smallest lionfish. The event provides an exciting platform for experienced divers and newcomers alike to contribute to the preservation of the marine environment.

Beyond the ecological significance, the tournament also offers a thrilling experience for both participants and spectators. Divers equipped with their spears dive into the depths, searching for lionfish while showcasing their prowess and bravery. The tournament fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among the participants, creating a community dedicated to the cause of protecting marine ecosystems.

In addition to the competitive aspect, the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament promotes education and awareness about the invasive species. Participants and attendees have the opportunity to learn about the impact of lionfish on local marine life and explore sustainable solutions to combat the issue at the free Lionfish Awareness Festival from 10:00-5:00 each day. Sign up to volunteer at the event if you want to join the fun. The week prior to the tournament is dedicated to Lionfish restaurant week where local restaurants practice the “eat ‘um to beat ‘um” philosophy and cook up the tasty fish using a variety of innovative recipes. 

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023 represents a unique fusion of sport, environmental conservation, and community engagement. By bringing together individuals passionate about marine conservation, this event serves as a powerful catalyst for change and a shining example of how sport can contribute to the preservation of our natural world.  Learn more at

A Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival volunteer sorts lionfish for weighing. (L. Tiu)

Written with assistance from ChatGPT

Hunters Safety Course May 6th

Hunters Safety Course May 6th

Hunting and fishing is an important part of natural recourse conservation. In the state of Florida, once you reach the age of 16, anyone born on or after June 1, 1975 must have passed a hunter safety course to purchase hunting licenses.

In collaboration with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County will be hosting a Hunters Safety Field Day on May 6, 2023 in Bonifay Florida.

Location: Mid-Town Plaza 401 McLaughlin Ave, Bonifay, FL 32425 (Old Middle School)

Date/Time: May 6, 2023 from 8 AM to 2 PM (CST)

Class Registration Link:

Free Online Portion Link:


Participants must complete an online training prior to attending the in-person field day.

This class is designed for participants 12 years and older. The classroom portion is followed by a range field event. Please dress accordingly for weather and being outdoors.

Important information from the FWC website:

  • If your child is under 18 years of age, they must present a Parental Release Form signed by the child’s parent or guardian to the instructor at all courses. This will allow your child to participate in the live fire exercises. Download the Parental Release Form. Forms will be available the day of the event to be filled out.
  • Parents or legal guardians are required to accompany children under the age of 16 to all classes.
  • This course is designed for students 12 years old and up.
  • The FWC wants to ensure individuals with special needs have access to hunter safety programs. If a student needs special accommodations, please notify the FWC regional coordinator for your county a minimum of two weeks prior to the first day of class.