Stories in Florida

The Center for Conservation Initiatives

Advancing conservation through education and training, outreach and volunteerism, science and research, and land stewardship.

Two hikers explore Tiger Creek Preserve in Central Florida.
Trail Hikers Two hikers enjoy the peaceful tranquility of the preserve's trails. © Roberto Gonzalez
CCI Logo
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Overview

The Center for Conservation Initiatives (CCI) is a TNC initiative that advances conservation through education and training, outreach and volunteerism, science and research, and land stewardship in Florida.

To achieve this, we build on our long history of experience in land management and leverage our facilities by developing TNC Florida’s four flagship preserves into campuses with thoughtful programming to educate the public and support TNC’s top conservation priorities.

CCI is organized around three components for providing its programming to educate the public and support TNC’s top conservation priorities: campus preserves, online programming, and community engagement.

Graphic depicting how the Center for Conservation Initiatives interacts with the public with Online Programs, Campus Preserves and Community Engagement.
CCI How CCI engages with the community. © TNC

CCI's Vision, Mission and Initiatives

  • Vision: A future where the conservation of nature is a fundamental and integral value in our community that is informed and underpinned by science and research.
  • Mission: Advance conservation knowledge and action, and inspire the next generation of conservation leaders.
  • Focal Initiatives: Our approach to achieving CCI’s vision and mission is based around four Initiatives:
Graphic with Center for Conservation Initiatives four Focal Areas: Advancing Natural Resource Management - Developing Our Future Conservationists, Science and Discovery, Connecting People and Nature.
CCI The four focal areas of CCI. © TNC
Steve Coates headshot
Steve Coates Program Director for The Center for Conservation Initiatives © UF/IFAS

Director's Welcome

For six decades TNC Florida has enjoyed tremendous success working across the state; producing tangible conservation results and leading in on-the-ground management, education and training, protection of hundreds of thousands of acres through a variety of conservation methods, and perhaps most importantly—long-term nurturing of partnerships and collaboration between multiple colleagues and organizations.

Utilizing our network of preserves, TNC staff have served as vital partners with a diverse range of participants—state and federal agencies, colleges and universities, other non-profits, and private landowners. These collaborations have resulted in an incredible number of conservation successes, benefiting both the environment and the people of Florida. TNC is a leader in stewarding our natural resources in Florida and across the world. Stewardship is the responsible oversight and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving. Caring for our environment’s health is critical for people and nature to flourish.

The Center for Conservation Initiatives provides an opportunity to build upon this productive base of long-term experience and existing partnerships across the state to greatly expand and focus the amount of education, training, outreach and research that TNC influences. CCI informs and inspires the next generation of conservationists, environmental leaders, residents and communities, and supports and influences research on questions that can benefit both people and nature.

—Steve Coates, CCI Program Director, steve.coates@tnc.org 

Partners and Affiliations

CCI builds upon our long-term experience and existing partnerships across Florida to greatly expand and focus the amount of education and training, outreach, and research that TNC influences.

Campus Preserves

The campus preserves serve as on-the-ground hubs where we partner with educational programs, schools, universities, colleges, agencies and communities to provide a hands-on environment to learn about and address critical conservation questions. These campuses provide educators with a unique opportunity to enrich the minds of their students in new and engaging ways.

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David Printiss holds an Eastern indigo snake.
David Printiss North Florida Program Manager oversees the indigo snake release. © Tim Donovan

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Campus Preserve

Location: Seven miles north of Bristol, Florida (Liberty County)

Theme: Working Forests

Conservation Focus: Located in Florida's panhandle, this campus preserve is focused on developing innovative techniques to manage and restore forest habitats with a emphasis on longleaf pine and its unique groundcover community.

Natural Resources:

  • Sandhill, steephead ravines and streams
  • Apalachicola River system
  • Species of concern includes: Eastern indigo snake, Frosted flatwoods salamander, gopher tortoise, Florida grasshopper sparrow
  • Longleaf/groundcover restoration
  • Prescribed fire and invasive species ecology
  • Angus Gholson Jr. Environmental Learning Center
  • Sustainably-designed facilities
  • Hiking trails and birding
  • Meeting space
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Sea turtle rescue at Blowing Rocks Preserve.
Sea Turtle Rescue Sea Turtle Rescue Team in action at Blowing Rocks Preserve. © Kate Tillery/TNC

Blowing Rocks Campus Preserve

Location: Jupiter Island, Florida (Martin County)

Theme: Marine and Coastal Environments

Conservation Focus: Located along Florida’s east coast on Jupiter Island, this campus preserve focuses on marine and coastal conservation.

Natural Resources:

  • Coastal barrier island: Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean
  • Anastasia limestone shoreline
  • Species of concern include: sea turtles (green, leatherback, loggerhead), black skimmer, least tern, West Indian manatee
  • Coastal habitat restoration
  • Marine and estuary ecology and education
  • Sea level rise impacts
  • Hawley Education Center
  • Sustainably-designed facilities
  • Hiking trails, birding, fishing, swimming
  • Classroom and meeting space
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Four women wildland firefighters in the field.
Women on the Firelines Strategizing their next move for longleaf forest conservation. © Carlton Ward, Jr.

Disney Wilderness Campus Preserve

Location: Poinciana, Florida (Osceola and Polk Counties)

Theme: Connected Lands, Waters and Communities

Conservation Focus: Located at the headwaters of the Everglades and the doorstep of the Orlando metro area, this campus preserve focuses on the interdependency of water, upland forests and the growing communities in Central Florida.

Natural Resources:

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Nesting bald eagle family at Tiger Creek Preserve.
BALD EAGLE FAMILY Nesting bald eagles at Tiger Creek Preserve feed their young eaglet. © Linda Fish

Tiger Creek Campus Preserve

Location: Four miles east of Babson Park, Florida (Polk County)

Theme: Florida’s Ancient Wilderness

Conservation Focus: Located along the Lake Wales Ridge, a series of small sandy islands leftover from an ancient time when the Florida peninsula was nearly entirely covered by water 2 million years ago. The focus of this campus preserve is studying and managing this ancient wilderness and its unique endemic species.

Natural Resources:

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Natural Resource Stewardship

The state of Florida covers 345 million acres, with only 28% under conservation and managed by either federal, state, local, or private entities. Protecting and ensuring management of these rare lands are critical to the health of Florida’s nature. Conservation and working lands provide many benefits to communities and nature such as aquifer recharge, clean drinking water, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, jobs and abundant recreational activities.

Through the work of CCI, TNC protects, maintains, and enhances natural areas and native species’ populations, expanding natural resource management knowledge through stewardship in concert with outreach, education, science and strategy initiatives.

Stewardship of natural resources at CCI campus preserves contributes to TNC’s conservation mission through science-driven management and provides expanded education and outreach opportunities.

Volunteers working to remove invasive plants at Blowing Rocks Preserve.
Invasive Species Removal Volunteer interns remove invasive plants in the maritime hammock habitat at Blowing Rocks Preserve. © Kate Tillery/TNC

Non-Native Invasive Species Management

One of the top threats to biological diversity in Florida, invaders of all kinds, from minute grasses to 20-foot long Burmese pythons, occur across all natural habitats statewide.

Regardless of where invasive species are found, TNC uses the best available science, focusing on prevention, early detection, and rapid response. These efforts require knowledge of emerging problem species and quick attention to their removal before becoming established. For already entrenched species, we focus on controlling populations that have significant negative impacts on native species.

Beyond our preserves, we actively share what we learn with conservation partners through Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs), often serving in leadership roles on CISMA committees. Training our staff and partners in effective invasive species management techniques is a cornerstone of education and training efforts within the Center for Conservation Initiatives.

A tractor is used to collect native groundcover seed mix for future planting at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Collecting Seeds A tractor is used to collect native groundcover seed mix for future planting at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. © David Printiss/TNC

Habitat Restoration

The four CCI campus preserves use different restoration tools depending upon the habitat type, historical land use and location. We “think globally, but restore locally” because every site is unique and requires its own restoration plan. High-quality habitat restoration an important mission of CCI.

Steps in the habitat restoration process include determining the habitat’s history, setting short and long-term restoration goals, planning for the best possible restoration of the site and monitoring long-term progress and outcomes. When you visit a CCI campus preserve, be sure to ask a staff member about the habitat restoration projects.   

 
Three students from the University of Idaho learn prescribed fire techniques from staff at Tiger Creek Preserve.
Professionals in the Making Students from the University of Idaho learn prescribed fire techniques from TNC staff at Tiger Creek Preserve. © Adam Peterson/TNC

Fire Management

Florida has a relationship with fire like no other. Historically, lightning ignited fires burned across the state in a patchwork mosaic every 2-3 years, creating one of the most complex fire-maintained ecosystems in the world that is home to one of five biodiversity hotspots in North America.

The Sunshine State has protected and continues to set aside lands for the preservation of its natural heritage. But for most species that call Florida home, like the Florida scrub-jay, gopher tortoise, Florida black bear and a long list of rare plants, land acquisition is not enough. Once the land is protected from development and fragmentation, it must be maintained with prescribed fire. Prescribed fire also helps decrease the threat of catastrophic wildfires to nearby communities and businesses by reducing the amount of fuels—dead branches and overgrown vegetation—that accumulate naturally over time.

There are now over 10 million acres of conservation land in Florida, over half of which require fire every few years to maintain biodiversity and community safety. Because the job is so large, TNC has made prescribed fire an important focus of CCI natural resources stewardship. Since 1979 TNC in Florida has played an active role in applying prescribed fire to Florida’s conservation lands and to training tomorrow’s prescribed fire professionals.

Science

An Environment for Science

At a time when humans are altering the world at an unprecedented pace and scale, the need for objective field research has never been more urgent. Conservation lands and biological preserves serve as the indispensable real-world laboratories that environmental scientists need to further our understanding of our planet and its processes.
 
CCI serves as a networked, site-based science and strategy platform for TNC and partners to investigate critical conservation questions, demonstrate strategie, and connect people to the science.
 
Research activities and strategic stakeholders engaged through CCI campus preserves have a direct impact on expanding scientific conservation knowledge. Together our shared commitment to TNC’s strategic conservation actions benefit nature and people across Florida and beyond.
Data collection tower for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) at Disney Wilderness Preserve.
Research Tower Disney Wilderness Preserve hosts a data collection tower for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), one of six TNC field sites providing open ecological data to NEON. © Ralph Pace

Research

As a science-based organization, research is a critical component to our Science and Strategy work. We’re working to establish our lands as notable regional and national research sites by expanding research activity across the four campus preserves. TNC in Florida has seven preserves open only to researchers that provide access to additional species, ecological, hydrological, and geological research opportunities throughout the state.

The first annual Research and Monitoring Report released by CCI provides project descriptions, researcher updates, and lists over 260 publications and reports generated from research and monitoring on TNC lands in Florida by academic, agency, and other investigators, as well as TNC staff since 1982.

Active Research and Monitoring

There are many research and monitoring projects active on the CCI campus preserves at any given time. Download the full project lists of our active research and long-term monitoring projects.

Map of TNC Florida Research locations.
TNC Florida Research Locations This map depicts TNC preserves and protected lands open to research in Florida. © B. Pace-Aldana/TNC

Access the CCI Portal

Request use of CCI campuses for education, training, research, data, meetings and events.

Visit the Portal

Conducting Research on CCI Campus Preserves

Research and monitoring activities on CCI campus preserves by TNC partners require a research permit, liability releases for all field work participants, fees for most project types, and adherence to CCI and preserve policies and procedures.

For more information or to discuss a potential research project, please contact the CCI research coordinator Beatriz Pace-Aldana at BPace-Aldana@tnc.org.

To request access to the research permit application and forms, please visit the CCI Portal.

Conservation Education and Training

Our Future Conservationists

CCI's goal for conservation education and training is to inspire and prepare the next generation of conservationists, through inclusive and engaging learning environments.

Providing access to on-the-ground conservation educational experiences and energizing youth to take volunteer action on behalf of the environment helps ensure future advocates for conserving our natural resources.

CCI’s formal and informal education and training programs are successfully providing valuable and impactful learning opportunities for K-12, college students, and natural resource professionals.

The Hixon Environmental Stewardship Program

The Hixon Environmental Stewardship Program (HESP) was established in 2021 and made possible by a transformational gift by Joe and Renate Hixon, longtime supporters of TNC. Their desire is to build upon the legacy of best practice land management and stewardship, and help develop the next generation of conservationists to ensure Florida retains its diverse ecosystems and natural landscapes. Learn more about the Hixons.   

 

HESP Program Focus

  • Support formal education programs for public K-12 schools and colleges through in-person and virtual learning (i.e. speaker series, organized field trips, educational materials, webinars, etc.).

  • Provide professional-level hands-on and virtual natural resource training courses and learning opportunities targeted to conservation partners in fire training, invasive species, habitat restoration, monitoring, etc. utilizing the latest methods and technologies. 

  • Offer mentoring and professional conservation experience through internships and fellowships for students and early-career environmental professionals.

 

Eagle Scout standing beside a wooden public exhibit at Tiger Creek Preserve.
Youth Education Eagle Scout designed and constructed a public exhibit at Disney Wilderness Preserve. © Theresa Martinez

Conservation Internships and Fellowships

CCI offers internships and fellowships on diverse aspects of conservation to early-career individuals, providing hands-on experience in stewardship, outreach, education, training, science and conservation strategy.

Internships – Internships provide emerging conservation professionals the professional experience and skill development needed for entry-level conservation jobs. Interns receive stipends, housing, training and mentoring.

Fellowships – Fellowships provide professional development to individuals with broader experience, and generally have a higher educational requirement.  Fellows work more independently and are often project-based, but also receive mentoring and training.

  • Explore CCI Internship and Fellowship Opportunities

    For more information on internship and fellowship opportunities please contact the CCI Training and Education Coordinator at Amanda.Thompson@tnc.org.

    • Natural Resource Stewardship - For over 30 years, stewardship interns have provided critical capacity for natural resource stewardship at several TNC preserves in Florida. These internships usually last 12 months, focused on TNC and partner lands. Interns work alongside stewardship staff to carry out activities such as invasive species control, prescribed fire, species and habitat monitoring, trail and natural landscape maintenance, restoration activities, equipment operation and repair, and working with volunteer teams.
    • Public Outreach and Education - Outreach and education opportunities develop a variety of skills related to public outreach, education, and training. Interns and fellows work alongside staff to plan and deliver educational tours, public outreach events and experiential education programs. They assist with training outreach volunteers, co-facilitating volunteer workdays, and carry out preserve visitor operations such as opening and closing.
    • Science and Monitoring - Science and Monitoring interns and fellows assist with many aspects of conservation science including data analysis and reporting, monitoring design and implementation and science communication. They acquire new scientific skills and monitoring techniques and have the opportunity to network and learn from TNC science and stewardship staff and our science partners.
    • Landscape Conservation - These internships and fellowships provide broader experience with large-scale conservation issues and strategies across Florida. Interns and fellows will work alongside CCI staff on state-wide conservation strategies or with conservation partners on non-TNC lands. The work may involve pine restoration projects on state or national forests, serving on an ecological restoration team that supports prescribed fire and invasive species control on public and private lands, working alongside partners in estuary or coastal restoration projects, or assisting in urban conservation projects that bring nature to cities.

Central Florida land conservation specialist Chelsea MacKenzie provides orientation on fire equipment to interns at Disney Wilderness Preserve.
Conservation Education Central Florida land conservation specialist Chelsea MacKenzie provides fire equipment orientation to Student Conservation Association interns at Disney Wilderness Preserve. © Roberto Gonzalez

Upcoming Events at CCI Campus Preserves

Get Involved

The campus preserves provide opportunities to partner with education programs, schools, universities, colleges, agencies, and communities to provide a hands-on environment to learn about and address critical conservation questions. There are also numerous volunteer opportunities available at the campus preserves. Click the appropriate button below to learn more.

CCI Public Outreach

Learn about public outreach opportunities at all CCI preserve campuses.

Find Opportunities

Public Outreach

Connecting People and Nature

It is more important than ever for people to understand the role that nature plays in our everyday lives. CCI’s goal is to create an inclusive environment for people and communities that will inform and expand their awareness and appreciation of nature.

CCI outreach programs and activities provide opportunities to connect with TNC, experience nature, and contribute to conservation efforts in our communities to foster a deeper understanding of the critical role that nature plays in our lives and be inspired to step-up and speak-up for nature.

Get Involved

Make a positive difference in nature by becoming part of our CCI volunteer team.

Explore Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer with CCI

Achieving our mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends would not be possible without the efforts of our volunteers. Whether assisting with conservation work in the field or public outreach, wildlife monitoring or social media communications, our volunteers are an integral component of the work we do.

We invite you to turn your passion into action by volunteering at our CCI campus preserves.  

Visit a CCI Campus Preserve

Connecting people and nature is one of CCI’s goals for outreach and increasing appreciation of conservation. One of the best ways to connect with nature is to visit a campus preserve and enjoy all the recreational activities we offer. Some of the activities include:
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Birding
  • Galleries and Exhibits
  • Guided tours
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking

Upcoming Events at CCI Campus Preserves