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Love wild Florida? Oceanography researchers create an informational website all about the local environment

Kirstin Eller rinses sample fibers used to measure the concentration of radium in St Andrew Bay near Panama City Beach.

About a year ago, Jeff Chanton, an oceanography professor in Florida State University's Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science (EOAS), was struck with an "aha!" moment: Why not create a website highlighting a topic important to a new generation of students who care deeply about environmental issues?

So Chanton, along with two fellow environmental enthusiasts — EOAS staff researcher Kirstin Eller and Lou Cross, a Web designer at FSU's Florida Resources and Environmental Analysis Center, recently launched the website, called "The Environmental Experience," at

"It was Jeff's goal to have a website where anyone could go for all the environmental information at FSU and in Tallahassee," said Eller, an outdoor aficionado herself who earned her master's degree in oceanography at Florida State and helped with the research and writing of the website. "The website has a lot of solid information for students, professionals and anyone who just enjoys the outdoors."

The site includes nuggets for lovers of hiking, biking, birding, kayaking and canoeing (links are provided to great paddling sites in North Florida), along with listings of local environmental companies, public-sector environmental agencies, a calendar of events, and information on related nonprofit organizations.

There also is information on EOAS and other FSU graduate and undergraduate environmental programs and fellowships, as well as the plethora of environment-related institutes and centers connected to the university. Also of interest is the easy-to-read graph showing students the level of math difficulty (from low to high) necessary for attaining various environmental degrees.

Chanton, who is FSU's John W. Winchester Professor of Oceanography, created the graph because he believes in getting students who are interested in the environmental sciences — but maybe a little intimidated by the mathematical requirements — into courses where they are challenged intellectually and getting them to "want" to take more difficult math courses.

"I think the sciences need to be more available to students — we need to entice them into science and math," said Chanton, who ran the website's "math graph" past other FSU faculty members to ensure accuracy. "There needs to be an initial lower bar to jump over. You can still do the science but at your own level. As you get more interested in science, it becomes easier and you can take more challenges. There needs to be a ramp into the hard sciences rather than a wall."

Chanton has also helped raise environmental awareness in non-academic ways, including promoting two critically acclaimed books of essays on the environment, "Between Two Rivers" and "Unspoiled," that were edited by his wife, writer and naturalist Susan Cerulean, and others.

The website is Chanton's latest effort to bring attention to Florida State's environmental science programs — both at the bachelor's and master's levels — as well as "the great environmental area we're in."

"We have whitewater canoeing, sinkholes, rivers and marshes for exploring," Chanton said. "There's the Apalachicola National Forest to the west, the coast to the south and wild rivers to the east."

For more information on The Environmental Experience, contact Chanton at (850) 644-7493 or or email Eller at

By Elizabeth Bettendorf
12 October 2011

"The website has a lot of solid information for students, professionals and anyone who just enjoys the outdoors."

Kirstin Eller
Florida State University Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science