Hooked on island life…
BY OLIVIA CAMERON- At the age of 22, Lily Taylor has already landed a position as the executive director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce. This full-time Florida girl is eager to bring the community together over something we all have in common – our love for Gasparilla Island.
Lily describes her childhood as fulfilling, growing up in the outskirts of downtown Orlando. Her family has enjoyed an escape to the Southwest Florida coastline for as long as she can remember.
“Even though I didn’t grow up in a tourist hot spot, I still looked forward to our getaways to Boca Grande. I even remember seeing baby photos of me sitting in a local condo,” she said.
“I fell in love with the ocean first. That was before my childhood became chock-full of fishing trips with my sister and our dad. It was those daddy-daughter moments that inspired my habitual fishing. I even skipped my prom to fish on the island.”
Prior to becoming the Chamber’s only staff member, Lily was studying communications and environmental science at the University of North Florida. Intrigued by Lily’s admissions essay on marine life, UNF offered her a position testing for mercury poisoning in sharks while she attended school.
“I wrote about my lure to sharks and obtained a position that drove me to get involved in conservation efforts,” said Lily.
On the path to enlightenment, Lily found herself accepting an internship with a great white shark conservation effort in South Africa.
“Swimming with the sharks was humbling. I was also working on a marketing campaign at the time to get the community involved with local conservation. I lived with international interns and have even seen one of my friends from the program on Shark Week.”
The sharks of South Africa’s waters became her muse. She planned to extend her internship and eventually seek job opportunities in the country prior to the sudden COVID-19 outbreak. “When the company closed up, I had to come home.”
She returned to her parents’ home in Placida without the intention of finding a position within her field of interest. She tirelessly applied for jobs across the country until she heard of an opening at the Chamber through the grapevine.
“I have considered Boca Grande home for so long that I decided to follow my heart,” she said.
After she joined the Chamber on the cusp of July, Lily has considered herself fortunate to be a part of a friendly community.
“The board and members have been so welcoming. This is quite the learning curve, but a rewarding opportunity already,” she said.
During the off-season, Lily has been able to research what has and hasn’t worked for the Chamber’s past coordinated events. While tumbleweeds dust the town, Lily has taken the unique opportunity to settle into her position.
“I can see myself growing into the new role. It’s hard to say what I envision for the future, but I am ecstatic to make the Chamber into a more interactive place of business.”
Her position entails a little bit of everything, from designing a plan to incorporate events into the town to keeping a constant flow of communication with Chamber members. Once the dust settles, Lily hopes to incorporate karaoke events, trivia nights and story times for the island’s kids.
Lily, a sixth-generation Floridian, still allocates a majority of her time to fishing. She believes her roots will provide the perfect blend with her career on the island.
“Coming from a close family that shares the same passion for Florida pastimes is what will allow me to excel. I want to make other people here feel the same way about Boca Grande that I do,” she said.
Tying conservation into her job remains a priority.
“Sharks are everything to me, but there’s more to our ecosystem here. From the mangroves and the oyster beds to the fishing industry and businesses, it’s a cycle.”
Lily indicated that the care we put out is what we are meant to receive.
“This specific ecosystem is unique. If we can educate the next generation on how to preserve the environment, it will prove useful for the future,” she said.
She hopes to encourage awareness of waste, including keeping fishing supplies out of the Gulf and practicing catch-and-release of less common species. She has seen tourists accidentally hook sharks on their lines, which brings up the issue of damaging hooks and use of the wrong bait.
Lily has admired marine biologist Sylvia Earle for her work in conservation and female inclusion in the workforce. Sylvia’s infamous walk on the sea floor has inspired Lily to persue her interest in the biological field as a young woman.
She has spent her free time replicating tarpon on canvas, using a variety of acrylics, watercolors and oil paints. She enjoys reflecting what is important to her through a creative outlet. The judge of her artwork is her beloved three-pound Yorkie.
Unsure of why her life brought her back to her roots, Lily knows one thing is certain: The future of the Chamber will surpass her expectations. In the meantime, she is eager to hit every note of “You’re So Vain” at future karaoke nights.
As Lily has awaited the Chamber’s floor renovation, she’s been reminded of what brought her back to the island.
“Fishing gave me an excuse to be near the water as a kid.” Now, Lily is able to work with a progressive community less than a mile from the shore.