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Environmental Advocacy awards presented
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Photo courtesy of VALERIE LANE
Caio Adams is the winner of one of Dunedin’s first-ever Environmental Advocacy awards. He helped get recycling bins in every classroom at his school, Curtis Fundamental, and helped the school become LEED certified.
DUNEDIN – Fifth-grader Caio Adams and the Royal Stewart Arms condominiums were awarded Environmental Advocate awards in recognition of their projects to help the environment in the city.

Kids can change the world

Caio, 11, of Dunedin helped get recycling bins in every classroom at his school, Curtis Fundamental, and helped his school become LEED certified. After Caio’s father, David, spoke to his class about recycling and carbon footprints during the Great American Teach-In when Caio was in fourth-grade, his teacher decided to start recycling in the classroom.

“That gave me the idea, well, if we have that in one classroom, why not in every classroom?” Caio said.

This idea turned into Caio’s fifth-grade service project for his gifted class. Now, students on the multicultural committee empty the recycling bins and bring teachers more bins as needed, Caio said.

“It’s important because one, it gets kids aware of recycling and the earth and the help that we need to give it, and two, considering all the paper and plastic that we use in the school every day, if we recycle all that, it will make a huge difference in reducing our carbon footprint,” Caio said. “(That’s important) because if we reduce our carbon footprint, our world can stay cleaner and healthier and greener.”

Valerie Lane, sustainability coordinator for Dunedin, said the Environmental Advocate awards are designed to identify members of the community who serve and protect the environment as well as call to attention environmentalism and how everyone can do their part to help the planet. Because of Caio, she said, the amount of waste coming out of Curtis Fundamental has been significantly reduced, the school saves money, and the kids now understand conservation and recycling and many bring those lessons home.

“I hope this inspires them and shows them that just because you’re young, just because you’re small, you’re not an adult, doesn’t mean you can’t do something big and important,” Lane said.

It is especially important that children understand these lessons, she said, and learn to care for the environment.

“They’re going to inherit the planet when we go away, and they need to understand the challenges that we have so they can live healthy, good lives and have a good quality of life,” Lane said.

Caio said his friends are excited that he won the award and some have volunteered to help him continue the program when they get to middle school. Caio said he hopes his award shows other kids that they can make an impact.

“It only takes one person to make a big difference,” Caio said. “And if we all get together, we can basically save the world.”

Caio’s parents, David and Monica, said they are proud of Caio’s achievements and that they strive to teach both their sons about recycling and conservation being a way of life. They recycle, keep a compost pile, take short showers, have turned off their sprinklers and walk or ride bikes whenever possible, they said.

“It’s more than a project,” David said. “It’s just how we go about our daily lives.”

The winners of the award received a plaque mounted on a recycled circuit board. Caio said he was “stoked” when he found out he won and that his friends all liked the look of the award. He said he plans to continue his recycling efforts throughout middle and high school and is considering a career as an environmental engineer.

Making water conservation beautiful

Royal Stewart Arms won the other Environmental Advocate award for its water conservation and recycling efforts.

The development is at the very end of the Dunedin Causeway right before Honeymoon Island, and it does not receive recycled water, so it must irrigate with drinking water, said Sharon Wilson, property manager. Despite spending tons of money on irrigating, the previous landscaping still looked horrible, she said. They did some research and decided to apply for a grant to get rid of as much turf as possible since it is a huge water guzzler and instead plant Florida-friendly plants, drip irrigation and rain sensors.

“We spend $37,000 (on irrigation) in 2005, $38,000 in 2006, $16,000 in 2007, $3,800 in 2008, and thus far this year, after five months, $128,” Wilson said. “So we spent $75,000 in two years, and in three years we’ve only spent $20,000.”

Their remaining turf has become more drought-tolerant, she said, because it has been trained to not need as much water by not watering it at all in the winter and fall and rarely in the spring and summer, she said. Watering in the winter and fall makes the roots thirsty and makes them shallow, she said, instead of forcing the root system to look for water deeper in the soil by growing deeper.

In 2006, RSA used 8,078 gallons of water, whereas in 2008 it used only 650, and to date has only used 35 gallons in 2009. The development has also started a recycling program for its 449 residents, and Lane estimates the development recycles about 2.6 tons of materials each month.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Wilson said. “I think that the polluting of our water is one of the biggest challenges in the Tampa Bay area. We’re surrounded by water, but we don’t have enough usable water to drink or irrigate, and I think if we don’t start conserving on our outside irrigation, it will only be a matter of time before we don’t have enough water to drink and to use indoors, so I think that it’s important that everybody does their part.”

The drip irrigation system runs once a week and drips water through tiny holes directly to the root systems, Wilson said. Before, the development used traditional sprinklers which were inefficient and wasted water, often with the wind blowing the water away from the plants.

Lane said the award committee was impressed by how many resources are being saved through RSA’s efforts.

“We’re in a huge water shortage and they took it on themselves to say, ‘You know what? We can do something about this,’” Lane said.

Wilson urges other developments to look into Florida-friendly landscaping because not only does it look beautiful and save water, it saves money, too. There are many grants available through local governments, she said, as well as through Swiftmud.

The next awards are scheduled to be distributed in a year, Lane said. Applications are available at through the Sustainability Program section.
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