The award is presented annually to a Florida Sea Grant agent who takes initiative, creativity and leadership in his or her extension program.
“Don Sweat was an amazing agent and truly cared for his clientele,” Verlinde said. “I am truly honored, humbled and surprised to win this award.”
In her 18 years with UF/IFAS Extension, Verlinde has educated residents about their environment and local waterways, planned and secured funding for living shorelines projects and spearheaded local estuary monitoring programs.
In a nomination letter for the award, Verlinde’s colleagues noted that she is a skilled grant writer. In 2017 alone, she was able to secure $2 million through grants to fund efforts such as purchasing channel markers for neighborhood waterways, and sea-turtle lighting education and retrofits for homes.
Since 2011, Verlinde has been a member of an advisory committee with the RESTORE Act, which provides for the allocation and use of penalty funds paid by BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“Working with the RESTORE committee, Chris has been part of the sea turtle lighting retrofit program on Navarre Beach,” said Rick O’ Connor, Florida Sea Grant agent with UF/IFAS Extension in Escambia County. “With her help, they have been able to retrofit 621 balcony lights, 33 pool deck lights, and 48 pole lights, and then publish education materials to help curtail this problem in her county.”
Since 2000, Verlinde has offered advice to the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners about how to use natural resources responsibly. She is a key member of the board’s marine advisory committee. She also been an active member of the National Marine Educators Association, where she has served in several leadership positions including as the Association’s president.
Some of Verlinde’s first efforts as a Sea Grant agent have become staple programs in her area. During her first year with Sea Grant, Verlinde created an annual Seagrass Awareness Day. This spring event attracts visitors and vendors from all over the Pensacola Bay area, teaching them about threats to seagrasses and local waterways. In 2017, nearly one thousand people attended. She also organizes the Santa Rosa Bay Day, where busloads of public school kids spend the day at Blackwater River learning about their local environment.
When she’s not focused on youth education, she is also well-connected with the local boating community. Working alongside FWC, Verlinde serves as the lead author and developer of the Pensacola Bay Boating and Angling Guide, a popular publication among boaters.
O’Connor said Verlinde has become an integral part of marine resource planning and education in her county.
“She has done so many things to make the local waterways cleaner and educate all members of the community on marine-related issues,” O’Connor said. “In her own quiet way, she has made a big impact on her community.”