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Networking with Gators: My Trip to Fort Lauderdale

By Emma Hudgins

In the context of my PhD, I attended the 2016 Ecological Society of America conference taking place in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida. All in all, this was an unforgettable experience – both
because it was the first conference I had ever attended, and because of the
incredible opportunities it gave me to see the Everglades up close and to learn
more about the communities that depend on this ecosystem.

The conference took place in the Fort
Lauderdale Convention center – an expansive building that was way too heavily
air-conditioned. An Australian student whom I met had been hiking in the
Rockies prior to attending, and was wearing his heavy parka at all times inside
the building.


from a freezing ballroom:
The intricate ceiling of
the conference centre.

Conference attendance was lower than in
previous years for ESA 2016, likely due to fears of Zika in the Southern US.
Nonetheless, the conference was huge, with over 4000 people in attendance.
There were dozens of talks occurring simultaneously throughout the entire
event, and there was even an app to help schedule your darting around the
conference rooms.

to say, I was terrified that this huge production would be my first graduate
presentation experience, but very thankful for the opportunity. I ended up meeting
some wonderful fellow students from near and far, and I am excited to see them
again at subsequent international meetings. I shared a hotel room at the
conference with a departmental colleague from across the hall, and though we
had never spoken despite our proximity prior to this conference, we’ve remained
close friends ever since.  My
presentation ended up being scheduled for 8:30am, so attendance wasn’t that great, but I was proud to have
presented my work on an international stage nonetheless.


Relaxing by the hotel pool on the night
before my oral presentation.

from the proceedings themselves, this conference afforded participants the
opportunity to take part in a variety of field trips, including several to the
Florida Everglades. The scenic Everglades exist in stark contrast to the
extensive concrete network that is Miami-Dade county. This region is at the
forefront of concerns surrounding climate change due to its low elevation. Nonetheless,
denialism reigns supreme in this region, where state politicians are
reprimanded for even using the term ‘climate change’. Interested in the
Everglades, and honestly not sure how much longer they’d be around, I signed up
for a field trip comprising an airboat tour.


Smooth sailing: The airboat we rode on our Everglades tour.

The tour was organized by the Love the Everglades Movement –
a local multi-stakeholder group comprising clergy members, Indigenous groups,
politicians, teachers, and the broader South Florida community – pushing to
restore the Everglades region through direct action. Our tour was facilitated
by members of the
local Miccosukee tribe.

tour gave me a chance to see how sea level regulation in Miami-Dade county
adversely affects water quality for Indigenous peoples living in the Florida
Everglades, and that these peoples are likely to be continually deprioritized
as sea levels rise. Mrs. Betty L. Osceola, a renowned clean-water advocate from
the Panther clan acted as our guide as we traversed the ‘River of Grass’. The
tone of this tour was serious as Betty explained how this area had deteriorated
in recent years. I went into the tour very ignorant to the nuances of these
issues, and somewhat selfishly just hoping to see an alligator. In addition to
being extremely fun, the tour accomplished a broader goal – where it allowed
environmentally-conscious academics, who often work at desks very far away from
the problems they seek to solve, connect with these at-risk ecosystems and the
people who depend on them.


beautiful neighbour:
A deck of cards-sized Lubber
grasshopper spotted on a grass island.

stopped the airboat at a small island, where we were able to taste wild fruits
native to the area to catch a glimpse of some local animals (including an
alligator!) We then travelled to a traditional Miccosukee village, where we
were taught about traditional trades and other cultural practices.

this field trip allowed me to learn about Indigenous communities in Florida and
motivated me to do all I can to protect fragile ecosystems such as the Florida

can find out more about the Love the Everglades Movement at



I had been waiting for:
A couple of captive alligators relaxing at the
Miccosukee traditional village.

Emma Hudgins is a PhD candidate in Brian Leung’s lab at
McGill University, where she studies computational invasion macroecology. She
builds simulation models for the spread and establishment of invasive forest
pest species, as well as human transport models for the spread of freshwater
aquatic invaders.

Post date: January 27, 2018


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