Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Friday, September 2, 2016

Suzy Roebling, Rock Harbor

“Our family moved to Key largo in 1968. My dad and mom were both Miami natives and we were always in boats. At different times, my father, Tom Roebling, had an airboat for the Everglades. He ran a charter boat, and fished commercially for yellowtail, all while building houses. We spent many days and nights coming south for skin diving and fishing, both in the backcountry and off the ocean side of the Keys. After many trips and vacations, we five kids were ecstatic to live here full time. A few years after we moved here, my mother, Marilyn Roebling, began teaching and founded the Canettes at Coral Shores High School.
The memories from those days are like we were living a dream. The ledges on the inside of our basin were stuffed with lobster; they were stacked atop one another in June. We rarely went to the reef or beyond to fish because we could run out a mile or so to some sweet spot and return with a 15 pound mutton or grouper within an hour. Our neighbor, a native Conch, kept sea turtles in his salt water pool, and our land sheltered families of both marsh rabbits and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The waters over the reef tract were crystalline and filled with colorful life, but our nearshore flats on the ocean side were also highly productive. We used to find conch grazing, numerous sponges, and all types of mollusks in the rocky shoreline in quantities I rarely see anymore: Deer Cowries, Bleeding Tooth, and Tulip snails. Under every rock there'd usually be several brittle stars, and sea stars, sea cucumbers and many other invertebrates that were numerous in the shallows. One of our favorite adventures was to explore the flats at the low spring tides. Living this lifestyle, I always dreamed of working some day with native wild life or as a marine biologist.
Taking some advice which discouraged that type of career path, I went away to school, where I studied and graduated, working towards a law degree. I quickly realized after starting law school, that it wasn't for me, and so I went to work in various jobs and lost focus on the career I'd always desired.
By then, the Keys had rapidly changed - and not for the better. I was appalled at the conditions of our islands after only a decade or so. The clear waters and abundant animals and plants I had taken for granted were gone, or with only a vestige remaining of what they were. Suddenly, it seemed, those quiet days and evenings - sometimes hearing only the hum of mosquitoes, and a languid US1 transecting the islands - were replaced by bustling development; suddenly more houses, people, and shopping plazas were everywhere.
It was soon after my son (his name is Buck Wiseman and he is now a new Professional Architectural Engineer in Key Largo!) left for college, that I began to notice different organizations and agencies working to help protect, repair and restore this wondrous, unique and complex ecosystem of the Everglades, Florida Bay, and our coral reefs. These components are intertwined and equally dependent on all parts to function as they have for 10,000 years. 
In March of 2005, over a hundred Rough-toothed dolphins became stranded on flats near Marathon. This event was the catalyst to propel me to step up, to become proactive and begin working to assist our ailing habitats and wildlife. After a few years and many learning experiences later while volunteering to help distressed whales and dolphins at the Marine Mammal Conservancy, a day came that a rare, live, stranded, but elderly, beaked whale died in my arms. I decided that day that I must return to school so I could better understand biological processes and the wildlife sciences in this incredible ecosystem. So I did.

I wanted to make a difference and be effective on a larger scale, as I learned that all habitats and animals are part of a web that is so complex we may never discover all of its workings, so I added more organizations where I volunteered. I rescued birds and assisted staff at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary hospital. I applied and currently serve as an alternate on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council to act as a liaison between the Sanctuary staff and citizens of the upper Keys. Lately - with my degree almost complete - I help out at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge assisting with crocodile nest monitoring, exotic plant removal, building Key Largo Woodrat nests or whatever is needed. I also work with Save a Turtle to help with sea turtle nest monitoring and documenting stranded sea turtles for FWC, at Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), and with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). I find myself working in all parts of our ecosystem - unable to separate out one particular component, perhaps similarly to how this system naturally operates.
If I had to choose the volunteer work closest to my heart, however, it would be when I helped out with the Audubon Everglades Science Center in Tavernier's Roseate Spoonbill and other wading birds nest monitoring in Florida Bay. Working from boats out in the backcountry and in the Everglades National Park brought recollections of the happiest of childhood memories lived in that peaceful place of many little islands, stunning sunsets and statuesque egrets and herons.
It's never too late - and dreams do come true! I work now as a seasonal field ecologist at the Science Center assessing populations of wading birds, and especially the Spoonbills, who are dependent and bound to the natural cyclical flow of fresh water into the Bay from the Everglades. These pink beauties serve as indicators regarding the health and any recovery of Florida Bay. I am fortunate to be sharing this important work with an unassuming group of dedicated biologists who are out there almost every day to keep check on the pulse of the Bay: its salinity, sea grasses and density of small prey fishes. This organization has done so since the 1930's, and our data is likely critical to detecting any successes from Everglades hydrologic restoration. Also I have seasonal employment as a biological scientist to survey for special species in Wildlife Environmental Areas found from Key Largo to Sugarloaf for the FWC, and I guide kayak Eco tours for Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo.
The Florida Keys are unique and blessed, as well, with local communities of generous, caring, and hard working families. Sometimes they are hard to spot - buried under the droves of guests visiting the Keys - but if you find yourself ever in need, they are the first to be there for you, giving what they can. You can count on that. Their kindnesses have helped to make this a wonderful place to grow up. Indeed our humans are as precious a resource as our animals, plants, and waters!
How lucky are we who live in this majestic group of islands with gorgeous sunrises, sunsets, and sea breezes, surrounded by life giving waters for many creatures and by the local folks who care for each other and for our Florida Keys!”

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