The 19 Best Environmentalists in South Florida

Panagioti Tsolkas: Today, everyone thinks of Lake Worth as a funky beachside city that harbors a bunch of radicals (like former Mayor Cara Jennings, the woman who yelled at Rick Scott in Starbucks this month). But the city was once a boring enclave for grannies and workaday folks. Tsolkas brought with him a lively spirit of environmental activism that had only been seen in hippie meccas like Berkeley. To protest the building of a new condo in Lake Worth, he sat atop a 25-foot-tall tripod and blocked traffic on Dixie Highway. He was protecting the Briger Forest before most of knew there was a forest in Palm Beach Gardens. These days, his civil disobedience has taken a backseat to running publications Prison Legal News and the Earth First Journal, but the mischievous and friendly character has inspired a spirit of activism that lives on. Read more about some of his greatest hits here. 

Beam Furr: At the beginning of 2016, environmentalists were starting to get that familiar feeling of disappointment in the pits of their stomachs when it looked like the state Legislature was going to pass a bill to prevent municipalities from regulating fracking. The Broward County Commission moved to do what it could by voting to ban the practice first. "This is about protecting our water supply and environment," said Furr, the commissioner from Hollywood who introduced the ordinance. Lo and behold, the sponsor of the state bill withdrew it from consideration. Even hardcore environmentalist Matthew Schwartz gives credit to Furr, saying the Broward commission's vote "sent a strong message to Tallahassee." In addition to having an awesome name and being a librarian, Furr is known by his fellow commissioners as the "King of Garbage" for his obsession with finding solutions to solid waste problems. Also, his yard is a certified wildlife habitat full of butterflies. 

David Shiffman:By combining a love for marine science with a deftness on social media, this PhD student and blogger inspires a love for learning about the environment. His Twitter handle @WhySharksMatter, has more than 25,000 followers. He will answer any question, argue any point, debunk any stupid petition, share pics of Hammerhead eyeballs, invite people shark-tagging, and tell science jokes. The man live-tweeted his thesis defense.  

Kim Porter:This diver and underwater photographer has taken it upon herself and her GoPro to call attention to the condition of coral reefs off the Broward County shores — treasures hidden in plain sight. The beach widening projects that so many property owners called for are actually harming the reefs, she says. "Last year," she told New Times, "I held a protest in the form of a 'funeral' for the inner reef system. [Recently], I did one at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea... Nobody even realizes there's a reef out there. They think the reef stops at the Keys. They see a dump truck [bringing sand] and they say, 'Yay, we'll have new, beautiful beaches!' I don't." 

David Fleshler, Christine Stapleton, and Jenny Staletovich: It takes a certain amount of institutional knowledge to know your DEP from your DERM and your CEPP from your CERP.  This dream trio of environmental reporters from the Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, and Miami Herald, respectively, cut through the proverbial crap and understand who needs to be publicly pressured on any given day. Stapleton untangled complicated rules about phosphorus and mercury used by the agriculture industry and told us straight-up that "the so-called emergencies aren't really emergencies and the state agency responsible for protecting the public... rarely inspects." Staletovich knows her way around Biscayne Bay like nobody's business. And Fleshler gives us awesome tales about the weird birds and giant snails that surround us. He's also very cute when he tries to catch pythons.   

Laura Reynolds: "Regulators are not protecting the environment," Reynolds wrote plainly in a Miami Herald op-ed last week, on the topic of radioactive leakage at Turkey Point (though that headline could have applied to numerous instances where the fox — or nobody at all — is guarding the henhouse under Rick Scott). Always a scrappy fighter facing a big, powerful foe, the past executive director of Tropical Audubon and current wonder woman at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy vowed that her organization "plans to do everything in its power to hold FPL to the high standards necessary to protect [Everglades] national park, our waters, and our drinking water."

Susan Hargreaves: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more compassionate person than the founder of Animal Hero Kids, who will sweetly and patiently describe how cruelty to animals is the source of many environmental ills and then scribble out a vegan shopping list for you to follow. A watchdog of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, she was an outspoken critic of last year's bear hunt. Her main gig, though, is harnessing young people's love of nature and empowering them to become leaders themselves. 

Chris Brennan: Last we checked, that rain tree was still standing. We owe it largely to Brennan, a park ranger turned water taxi captain turned bartender who led the public outcry against the potential moving of a hundred-year-old tree for a condo development and has never been meek about challenging Fort Lauderdale's moneyed political crowd. Last year, he had the gumption, smarts, and wonderful sense of humor to run for mayor on a "gonzo" platform: "Rip up all city streets with jackhammers" and "sod the streets at once," he said. "All public movement would be by foot and a fleet of bicycles." Here's hoping for his next act. 

Guy Harvey: Perhaps most influential in having given millions of dads something to wear, Guy Harvey has also helped the cause of conservation in a massive way. The fisherman/diver/scientist/artist seized on watermen's love of the water and helped direct their attention to marine conservation efforts. He also puts his money (from sales of 2 million T-shirts a year!) where his mouth is: He founded the Guy Harvey Research Institute with Nova Southeastern University in Dania Beach. South Florida is lucky to have him. 

Chris McVoy: Some people like their politicians to dole out "straight talk." We prefer ones that can speak five languages and have written books on the "predevelopment ecohydrology of the Everglades." McVoy worked for the South Florida Water Management District until the Legislature in 2011 cut funding and let go hundreds of scientists in an unprecedented "brain drain." McVoy decided to be the politician rather than be beholden to one. Can't this dude be the governor?

Sorry to anyone we missed! Feel free to give shoutouts in the comments.



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