About Wildlife Research TeamWho we are and what we've accomplished
- Demonstrate sensitivity to habitat destruction and preservation;
- Accomplish research and environmental studies, exploration, mapping and charting, scientific, medical and stress-reduction programs;
- Perform cleanup and maintenance of waterways;
- Conduct studies of flora and fauna;
- Exercise charters of general and specific members of the public;
- Fulfill community service activities;
- Create opportunities for young persons to experience firsthand interaction with nature;
- Design therapeutic programs whereby persons with disabilities are able to gain enhancement of being through more intimate contact with flora and fauna in their natural homes;
- All of the above without endangerment to the environment or causing hazards of pollution;
- Make its presence known through lectures, classes, and demonstrations, publications such as books, brochures, newsletters, magazine and newspaper articles, and visual means of communication such as websites, social media, photography, videography and cinematography, and through displays at public events such as shows, fairs, festivals and fundraisers, and through sale of items created by Wildlife Research Team volunteers for purposes of raising funds, and through skills and activities that utilize the unique creative talents of Wildlife Research Team members.
Soon they realized that it was vital to share their experiences (and the fun!) with as many other people as possible, and also to educate folks as they paddled along. So they expanded their fleet of black-painted canoes, with names such as Do-It, Did-It, Dunnit, Duzzit, It’ll Do, Doable, Gotta Do, Sure-Do…yes, you are seeing a theme! Tom Kazo was that rare combination: a dreamer and a doer. His dream was to enlighten and share in a unique, hands-on, and just plain fun way; and he made this dream a reality. He was also passionate about keeping our world free from trash and litter!
Since its beginning, WRT has accomplished countless waterway and shoreline cleanups with community members happily volunteering “to get down and dirty for a good cause,” Dr. Tom would say. Tons of marine debris, to include derelict boats, motorcycles, computers, appliances, televisions, tires, car parts, miles of rope and fishing line, thousands upon thousands of bottles, cans, plastic bags, cigarette butts, etc. etc. have been removed from Florida’s troubled waters by WRT volunteers.
Yet, WRT’s primary purpose has always been education. Lessons learned from hands-on projects in the field are extremely powerful. Dr. Tom was very comfortable in the outdoors, having traveled to 62 countries, often for the purpose of animal studies in their native environment. He paddled canoes up the Amazon and in the Seychelles as he researched the wildlife and their habitats. He came up with the term, “Canoe View Classroom,” so that students of all ages could make use of WRT’s small but growing fleet for hands-on scientific studies. He also developed WRT’s first program, “You Point We Paddle” which meant that those persons unable to help with the paddling could still enjoy enhancement of being while he or Donna (and eventually, a few trained guides) were the “engine” of the canoe. As Tom had endured a long, difficult stay in nursing homes, the first passengers to enjoy this program were his fellow former residents.
In June 1993, less than a year after Hurricane Andrew destroyed the magnificent mangrove forest of Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve, Dr. Tom and Donna paddled Doer along the devastated coastline. Tom was a highly experienced boatman and had known the tricky waters and mud flats of Biscayne Bay, and the coastal environs like the proverbial back of his hand. He was both sickened and inspired by what he saw that day. As Donna likes to say, “Only a crazy guy with no money would decide that he could fix Matheson’s forest.” So, as they built their fleet (and found places to keep these canoes, often in the back yards of friends!), research began on how to follow through with that crazy dream.
Research indicated that nonprofit organizations were able to obtain grant money, so in 1999, with the approval of the State of Florida, Wildlife Research Team added “Inc.” to its name, and applied for 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service. As soon as it was granted, Dr. Tom and Donna, with guidance from friendly officers from NOAA’s Restoration Center, applied for, and won, the first of six grants from FishAmerica Foundation to restore the mangrove forest of R. Hardy Matheson Preserve. WRT had the wholehearted endorsement of Matheson Hammock’s Park Manager, Jeff West. Beginning in fall of 2001, the next five years until “Project Baitfish” was successfully closed out were intense, as they included numerous hurricanes and hospitalizations of Dr. Tom. The grant money had to be matched with volunteer hours, and over 10,000 of these were logged by the time the grants ended in 2006.
At the same time, Wildlife Research Team was involved in the restoration of the North Fork of the New River in Fort Lauderdale, as well as helping Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Management (DERM) with canoe cleanups in environmentally sensitive areas.
to be continued…