An environmentalist, an adventure seeker…
BY OLIVIA CAMERON- Nature enthusiast Khoreen Vetter has been welcomed to the island by Lee County Parks and Recreation as a new specialist and camp counselor. Her position has joined her passion for conservation and her enthusiasm to make a lasting impression on younger generations.
As a child, Khoreen frequented her grandmother’s condo on Palm Island, for she was convinced Placida was her home away from home. After moving many times in her adolescence, she is glad to have returned to the small town.
Prior to her new position with Lee County, Khoreen obtained extensive experience working directly with conservation efforts and education. In 2005, she began her career in conservation at Wildlife Encounters, where she would spread the word on conservation efforts to a multitude of generations.
For years to come, Khoreen would learn to gain the trust of animals from all walks of life.
“From alligators to kangaroos to snakes, I worked with a variety of species,” said Khoreen.
As an animal behaviorist, she trained exotic animals that she brought to school campuses for educational purposes. These animal ambassadors would tie together lessons on conservation and how our efforts can have a positive impact on individual animals.
“To work with any animal, you first need to gain their trust,” said Khoreen. “Not only are the species different, but each individual animal has its own personality.”
To gain an animal’s trust, Khoreen specified the importance of letting them get used to you first. It would take between a few days and a few weeks for an animal to watch her moves and gain trust.
“One of the biggest things is the time you put in with them, especially when it comes to working with frightened rescue animals. You have to keep your distance and let them watch you, especially with primates, because eye contact is threatening to them. Once they warm up to you, that’s when you can start to add treats to the mix,” said Khoreen.
From there, she’d train each animal based on what they were most receptive to, and she found it rewarding to connect with each species on a new level.
But for Khoreen, creating a message that would apply to people of all ages was a task in itself. Despite the difficult task, she was able to work with passionate environmentalists to spread the word.
“I felt like I was making a difference because kids actually listened,” she said.
Khoreen described younger students as most impressionable when it came to lessons on conservation efforts.
“In schools, we would have the kids take pledges to switch water bottles and recycle. The best way to make a conservation message known is to give it to the kids, and then they go home and tell their parents about it.”
With her new position at Lee County Parks and Recreation, Khoreen has been able to get to know the kids of the island as a summer camp counselor. Recently, she took pride in the conceptualization of the Halloween Carnival held at the Boca Grande Community Center.
“The community was so receptive, and everyone came together for a great time. I met so many kind and gracious locals. I may be newer to Boca Grande, but thanks to everyone’s warm welcome I felt like I was already a part of the community.”
During the Halloween festivities, Khoreen enjoyed getting to see kids of all ages gather for a sense of normalcy and a night of tricks and treats.
“I am continuing to learn and grow with my position. The more people I meet and the better sense I get of past events, the more ideas I have for creating new ones.”
Working in a coastal community now, Khoreen stressed the importance of keeping plastics out of our oceans. Routine water samples indicate that the level of microplastics is rising at increasing rates. This problem may be irreversible, and Khoreen discussed how fragile this would make the ecosystem if the problem continued.
“One of the biggest things we can do is use less plastics. When the water is full of microplastic particles, it causes problems with the food chain, water levels and temperatures,” said Khoreen.
She is hopeful the future will bring a way to remove the plastic particles invisible to the naked eye, but for now our oceans require preventive measures.
Khoreen discussed the direct correlation between the abundance of microplastics and the warmth of the oceans: Those plastics are one of the greatest contributors to the temperature rise.
Khoreen’s free time is spent with a dip in the water. Some of her nights are dedicated to working as kayak tour guide for Glass Bottom Rentals on the island.
“The night tours are exciting and serene,” she said. “We paddle out thirty minutes before sunset, anchor everyone at the sandbar and look at some of the critters. Then, when we light up the boats, you can see the fish underneath. Some of the fish will even jump into the kayaks.”
Khoreen can’t imagine her life without the ocean, or her dog, Princess.
“I bottle-fed her when I used to do volunteer work with rescues. She was in one of the litters I had fostered, and I couldn’t say ‘no’ to that face,” she explained.
Of course, her home wouldn’t be complete without her cat, gecko and three turtles.
Khoreen’s parents aren’t far from home, either. Khoreen’s mother has been the activities director for many years at Palm Island Resort and has recently retired her paddle as a kayak tour guide. Like mother, like daughter.