Victor Blanco Receives 2024 Don Sweat Award for Exemplary Marine Extension Work in Taylor County

Dr. Maia McGuire presents Victor Blanco the 2024 Don Sweat Award.

Victor Blanco, Florida Sea Grant UF/IFAS Extension Agent in Taylor County, has been presented the prestigious 2024 Don Sweat Sea Grant Extension Award.  

The award was created to honor the retirement of the late Don Sweat, a trailblazer in Florida Sea Grant’s early Marine Extension programming.  This accolade is presented annually upon a Florida Sea Grant agent who embodies the motto “Science Serving Florida’s Coast.” The recipient is recognized for displaying initiative, innovation, creativity, and leadership in their extension programming.

“Receiving this award means a lot to me, as it is an award for agents, made by agents,” says Blanco. “It is a way for your peers to let you know the impact of your work on them. I feel honored to be included in such an incredible and talented group of peers with this award, and it is also a way to stay motivated, to keep creating, and to keep working for our organization.”

Throughout his impressive eight-year career, Victor Blanco has been dedicated to various programs addressing recreational fishing, scallop harvesting, artificial reef monitoring, marine habitat conservation, and enhanced navigational safety in county waterways. His extension efforts cater to a diverse audience, including adults and youth from K-12, 4-H, and homeschooling communities.

In the past year, Blanco showcased his creativity by integrating SCUBA diving into environmental literacy initiatives. Noteworthy programs included organizing a 4-H Youth Summer Dive camp and earning certification as a Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) Instructor. He introduced an inclusive “Try Scuba” course for individuals with disabilities, utilizing underwater tools for innovative environmental education.

“In doing this, Victor [Blanco] is actively addressing the important topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, opening up experiential learning opportunities to an audience that historically has been limited,” says Ana Zangroniz, Florida Sea Grant UF/IFAS  Extension Agent for Miami-Dade County.

Blanco instructing a Scuba Diving Workshop for Persons with Disabilities at University of Florida‘s Florida Pool.

Engaging in citizen science, Blanco collaborates with various groups, including recreational SCUBA divers, snorkelers, and youth in programs like the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch and artificial reef monitoring. Collaborating with resource managers, Blanco has worked to address marine debris issues and made a significant impact, removing 876 derelict traps and two vessels in 2022. He also assisted in installing nearly 15 navigational markers to enhance boating safety.

In his involvement with the recreational scallop fishery, Blanco facilitated a compromise when lobbying for a longer harvest season. This resulted in an extended season with lower harvest limits, in effect this year. Additionally, he introduced the concept of a pocket-size scallop sorter as an effective non-regulatory harvesting tool. As of the 2023 season, 1,578 sorters have been distributed to prevent the harvesting of smaller scallops and contribute to the sustainability of the local scallop population.

“From my own personal experience scalloping with my family in Steinhatchee, I can bear witness that Victor’s contributions to Taylor County are appreciated. Over the last several years, I have booked scalloping trips with 2 local captains who have expressed their gratitude and respect for Victor’s work on behalf of the county. I could gather from them that his presence in the county is widely appreciated,” says Vincent Encomio,  Florida Sea Grant UF/IFAS Multi-County Extension Agent for Martin and St. Lucie Counties.

Blanco’s public education efforts extend to local media outlets, with award-winning radio broadcasts “Marine Science Minute” and YouTube videos providing scientific training for the diving community. His creative approach also includes a cartoon series educating youth about marine science and local topics. Additionally, Blanco contributed significantly by translating health advisory signs on cyanobacteria for Martin County’s health department, addressing a crucial gap in local efforts. The revised sign now benefits Spanish-speaking residents in areas prone to cyanobacterial blooms.

Victor Blanco’s contributions underscore his exceptional dedication to marine conservation and education in Taylor County.