Volusia County’s Billy Rotne Honored With MDC’s Conservation Hero Award
The nature center had hoped to present its Rhizophora Award to Rotne in 2020 during one of its larger sponsored events, but due to Covid-19 restrictions, MDC honored the Volusia County resident at a small, outdoor gathering of the center’s staff and board members.
The award is presented to an individual who has worked to make a positive impact on the health of the Indian River Lagoon by demonstrating the Marine Discovery Center’s mission “to protect and restore the Florida coastal and Indian River Lagoon ecosystems through education, research and community stewardship.” It is the highest conservation honor bestowed by the center.
“It feels great to be recognized for my efforts and only gives me more resolve to push forward to make a difference in the lagoon,” said Rotne, a third-generation Floridian of New Smyrna Beach who runs his business out of Ponce Inlet Charters. “I’ll do everything I can possibly do in the effort to restore the Indian River Lagoon to its former glory.”
Rotne has led charter fishing tours in the lagoon and said he was pushed into advocacy for the estuary following the 2011 algal bloom that ultimately killed 47,000 acres of seagrass – critical habitat for many fish and estuarine species.
A massive 2016 fish kill in Brevard County in the lagoon’s nutrient-challenged Banana River also was a wake-up call for Rotne and others making their living on the water. Due to impaired water quality that killed hundreds of thousands of fish and has largely wiped out the lagoon’s seagrass, Rotne admitted he had to move past his own anger and despair and work to bridge the gap of understanding between commercial anglers and the science community.
He updated scientists on what he was seeing daily in the lagoon, reporting seagrass loss and algae sightings to researchers, while also relaying scientific information to the fishing community to help them understand what they were seeing. He even changed where he fished to avoid “over-pressuring the resource.”
As a result of his efforts, Rotne was asked to serve as a Volusia County representative with the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program Citizens’ Advisory Committee. He also helped form the Lagoon Watermen Alliance, a policy advocacy group composed of lagoon stakeholders and scientists.
“Billy grew up in Volusia County and has built his young profession on the need to protect and restore the Indian River Lagoon,” said Chad Truxall, MDC Executive Director. “His knowledge of the living and non-living components of the lagoon and how they relate is extensive, but his real talent is his passion to teach all of those around him why we should care about the lagoon.”
Grateful and honored to have received the 2020 Marine Discovery Center Conservation Hero Rhizophora Award in recognition…
“Billy understands the delicate balance of using the resource in a way that allows the same level of engagement or better for future generations,” Truxall added.
In addition to his work as a charter captain, Rotne also works as a professional marine aquarist, specializing in system design, installation and maintenance, as well as coral propagation. He currently farms coral for the reef aquarium industry, growing more than 75 species of stony and soft coral.
Rotne follows Volusia County Schools teacher Louise Chapman, who was the Marine Discovery Center’s 2018 Conservation Hero Award inaugural winner.
About The Marine Discovery Center
The Marine Discovery Center (MDC) was founded in 1997 with the goal to protect and restore the Florida coastal and Indian River Lagoon ecosystems through education, research and community stewardship. A 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, MDC has become widely recognized for its quality educational and hands-on, feet-wet learning programs for kids, as well as adults. Using its 40-passenger Discovery boat and fleet of kayaks, the center offers learning opportunities as a floating classroom, in adventure camps, as well as for guided eco-tours by certified naturalists. The center showcases engaging exhibits for experiential learning and invites community participation in stewardship opportunities. For more information, visit www.marinediscoverycenter.org.
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