VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: PENNY McDONALD
By Megan Maynard
This month’s volunteer spotlight is Penny McDonald.
As a child in Bay Shore, New York, Penny found herself boating and clamming during the summers along the beaches of Fire Island. Now as an adult, she has found her way back to the beach as a permit listed volunteer on the STPS nesting survey team after becoming a member in 2008. Teaching biology for 35 years, Penny seems to have a natural inclination to nature. Currently she is an associate professor at Eastern Florida State College, and it may be no surprise that two years ago she earned a second Master’s Degree in Conservation Technology.
Outside of teaching, she enjoys volunteering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and studying the local diamondback terrapin population. Her work with STPS also keeps her busy. She often helps with education by doing presentations or assisting with outreach. At Eastern Florida State College, she recruits new volunteers through a service learning program.
While out on morning nesting surveys, Penny taps into her teaching background and enjoys sharing her love of sea turtles with those she encounters on the beach. Being a conservation biologist, she recalls that the year she joined there were less than 5,000 green turtle nests statewide. Jumping to 2019, there were more than 53,000 green turtle nests in Florida. It gives her hope that we are making a difference, and that the species may recover.
Florida summers can be brutal, and Penny has experienced her fair share of exhaustive heat during nesting surveys, but says it was worth every minute. Penny relates that the beauty of her volunteer work is that she can arrange her teaching schedule in the summer months to permit nesting surveys. While work is at its peak, she still has time to participate at an occasional event. She loves having full control over her schedule.
In a year and a half, she is geared toward retirement and intends to shift her focus on more of Brevard County’s conservation work. She hopes to include more STPS hours, volunteering at the Brevard Zoo, and helping with the development and construction of the future aquarium.