UWF student leaves lasting legacy, creates community partnership to help coral reefs
A recent University of West Florida graduate is taking a class project to the next level and making a lasting impact through community partnership. Cliff Richardson, a Spring 2021 marine biology graduate, came up with the innovative idea to create a relationship between Buff City Soap and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium for the "Conservation in Practice" assignment in the Biology of Coral Reefs course.
A recent University of West Florida graduate is taking a class project to the next level and making a lasting impact through community partnership. Cliff Richardson, a Spring 2021 marine biology graduate, came up with the innovative idea to create a relationship between Buff City Soap and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium for the “Conservation in Practice” assignment in the Biology of Coral Reefs course.
Dr. Alexis Janosik, associate professor and graduate program coordinator for the biology department, created the semester-long assignment five years ago to get students “engaged, excited and taking action on behalf of coral reef ecosystems.”
“Reef ecosystems face so many human-induced challenges, and I wanted to offer students a way to act as change-makers, helping provide solutions to specific conservation or environment issues,” Janosik said.
Richardson said he chose to focus on toxic chemicals in personal care products that make their way into waterways and have proven adverse effects on coral reefs and the marine environment. He approached Buff City Soap, a company that makes plant-based, chemical-free personal care products, and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, a leader in coral research, education and conservation, to propose a collaboration that would align with their mutual missions and goals.
His idea: the development of a special edition coral reef conservation soap bar by Buff City Soap, with proceeds donated to Mote to raise awareness and fund critical research and programs. In February, Richardson approached the owners of Buff City Soap in Gulf Breeze, Jeff and Jennifer Nolan, as well as Kevin Cooper, the vice president of strategic initiatives at Mote.
He offered ideas for the scent and appearance of the soap design, and developed a scientific-based poster outlining the issues, value of partnership in conservation and potential benefits of this collaboration based on his review of scientific literature. He also spent time with customers at the Buff City Soap location in Gulf Breeze, explaining his project and how their purchase of the “Coral Reefer” soap could help benefit coral reefs in Florida waters.
“This project challenged me to be bigger than myself, working with organizations and their staffs to create a product and narrative that is beneficial for all parties,” Richardson said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to research scientific work that has been done by many others in the hopes that we as global citizens can gain a better understanding of the world and oceans, and hopefully be better stewards of nature than we have been in the past.”
Since the beginning of the project, the Buff City stores in Gulf Breeze and Naples, Florida, have opted to participate through their own locations, and Naples is also participating with sales in the Mote gift shop. Richardson said the next goal is for every independently owned and operated store in Florida to come on board.
“I wanted this to be a project that would go forward and continue to grow long after I graduated this spring,” he said.
Janosik said Richardson’s project achieved his goal, standing out from the rest in the opportunity it created for students to “sea-change” for important marine biology topics.
“Usually there are a few projects that hit it out of the park each time I teach the class,” Janosik said. “Cliff’s project with Buff City Soap and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is certainly one of them. He has helped forge an amazing partnership and solidified a relationship that will extend beyond the Spring 2021 class.”
To learn more about the marine biology program housed within the UWF Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering, visit uwf.edu/biology.