Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast are entering the third phase of Project Nature Bridge, an initiative to increase environmental literacy and increase appreciation and use of nature by the underrepresented and underserved area youth. It is funded by the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation. Since 2018 this project has fostered transformative experiences in local youth through education and hands-on experiences.

Building on the previous Project Nature Bridge efforts, this phase focuses on two main goals: implementing nature-focused programming at youth-serving partner organizations (YOs), and broadening the impact of the project by utilizing previously developed materials to provide professional development to the staff of YOs. Organizations involved in the project include the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota and Desoto Counties, Girls Inc. and Laurel Civic Association.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to dive into this new phase of Project Nature Bridge, taking our passion for nature and learning to the next level,” said Elaina Wheaton, Mote’s Director of Education. “By combining nature-focused education and providing the dedicated staff of our partner organizations with the tools they need, we’re hoping to reach more of the underserved and underrepresented youth in our community. It’s all about empowering the next generation with a deep love for the environment and the knowledge to make a difference.”

Mote and the other environmental organizations (EOs) provide expertise, guidance, additional training, and support in developing and implementing nature-focused programming. This approach is rooted in the research-supported idea that individuals who aren’t already strongly connected to nature view it as unsafe, uncomfortable, and not enjoyable. By facilitating the creation of ongoing, embedded opportunities to enjoy nature within the YOs, these experiences would come from ‘insiders’ who share a similar perspective and culture, compared to ‘outsiders’ meaning EOs. By creating positive nature experiences in a hyper-local context, youth participants will understand that nature is all around and not something you have to go to, resulting in more relevancy and a sense of belonging.

Staff from the youth organization (YO) establish and form the materials and lessons for their members. Each program is created specifically to meet the needs of that YO, but all programs build on the previous two phases of Project Nature Bridge. As youth-seeking organization staff complete the series of professional development workshops, they will be eligible to implement their own nature-based programming at their clubs, working with EOs in applying the skills and knowledge they have gained to enhance the positive nature experiences of their participants.

“Getting kids and teens outside and excited about nature is a core component of Conservation Foundation’s work,” notes Christine P. Johnson, president of Conservation Foundation. “Experiences in nature help shape our lifetime perceptions, build confidence, instill a love for the natural world, and motivate us to protect our environment. We are excited to enter the next phase of Project Nature Bridge and continue this collaboration’s work of empowering area youth and connecting them to the wonders of nature.”

About Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium has a nearly 70-year legacy as an independent, nonprofit, 501(c)3 global marine research and science education institution. Mote began in 1955 and flourished on the foundational pillars of “Passion, Partnership and Philanthropy” – the passion of a single researcher, Dr. Eugenie Clark, her partnership with the community and philanthropic support, first of the Vanderbilt family, later with the significant support and guidance of the William R. Mote family, and today through donations by thousands of individuals who believe in the mission of Mote.

Today, Mote has grown into eight campuses stretching from Tampa Bay to Key West, with a ninth new campus, the Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA), currently under construction. Mote has more than 25 diverse world-class research programs studying oceans locally and internationally, with an emphasis on positively impacting conservation and sustainable use of marine resources. The current Mote Aquarium in Sarasota showcases Mote Research and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 365 days a year. Learn more at

About Conservation Foundation

Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast protects land and water in Southwest Florida for the benefit of people and nature. Through strategic collaborations with individuals, groups, organizations, and government, they work to ensure all people have access to clean water, fresh air, nutritious food, abundant wildlife, beautiful natural areas to enjoy, and all the other physical and mental benefits nature provides. Their vital work strengthens Southwest Florida’s resiliency to storms and floods, enriches lives, and helps safeguard our community for generations to come. Learn more at