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CJC Alum Skateboarded More Than 1,000-Miles Across Florida to Raise Money for Wildlife Conservation

This article originally appeared in issue 23 of The Post, a publication from Conservation Florida.  The article was published before Justin Bright completed his journey in February 2022. 

Bright, a 2020 Journalism graduate and a 2021 graduate of CJC’s Professional Masters program, skateboarded 1,016 miles — from Pensacola to Key West — in 36 days and raised $11,000 for Florida wildlife. He was the first person to skateboard the length of Florida, self-supported. 

His journey provides a glimpse of the obstacles and dangers faced by Florida’s wildlife as they search for wildlands that are connected and protected.

Justin Bright (click to enlarge).

By Justin Bright

My appreciation for Florida’s natural wonders started early. Growing up, I quickly realized I lived on a peninsula truly unique from anything else in the world.

I was born and raised in St. Petersburg in Pinellas County – the most densely populated county in the state, with almost 3,000 people per square mile. I spent my childhood weekends exploring the area’s beautiful coastline with my dad and younger brother, and I experienced firsthand the consequences of relentless concrete expansion on native ecosystems.

I dreamed up a self-supported trek across my home state from these childhood experiences that cultivated my great appreciation for Florida and its wildlife, and, of course, my passion for skating long distances. A journey from the Florida Panhandle to Key West is incredibly difficult for a human. So, imagine the dangers facing our state’s wildlife as they try to navigate roads and developments that have fragmented the land they need to survive.

I started skateboarding when I was 13. Besides learning new tricks, I was pushing my board 10 miles to find a skate spot or to meet friends; planting a seed for distance skating without realizing it. Around the same time, I discovered I had a knack for skate filming, which helped keep me skating for the next decade.

I graduated from the University of Florida [College of Journalism and Communications in 2021] with a master’s in mass communications after studying journalism and wildlife ecology as an undergrad. I took an avian ecology class during my third year that completely blew my mind about the incredible biodiversity in the bird world and ecosystems at large.

This live oak along the Peace River near Bartow provided a cozy shelter. The next morning, Bright would enter the ancient Lake Wales Ridge and the largely treeless section of southern Florida’s grasslands and swamps. (Photo by Justin Bright.)

I started birding more and covering environmental issues as a photo and video journalist, which led me to more deeply understand the urgent ecological threats that my home state is dealing with.

We live in one of the most biodiverse places on earth, with life found nowhere else but here – from scrub jays to gopher tortoises, coral reefs, and pine savannas.

When I first had the idea of a self-supported trip on my skateboard, I couldn’t ignore the similarities between a person undertaking a trip like this and native wildlife trying to cross the state in the same way. My statewide skateboarding trip is about more than just a guy and his board making it from the Alabama border to Key West. It is about the connectivity needed to do that for the safety of both people and animals.

Finding Hope Through Florida’s Habitats

My 1,000-mile skateboard journey took me through every critical Florida ecosystem, and it provided me with a unique glimpse of what it is like for Florida wildlife to navigate between the diminishing habitats they call home.

This map shows Bright’s 1,016-mile route overlaid on the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Corridor is a ribbon of connected wildlife habitat under direct pressure from human development. (Click to enlarge.)

Some of the damage we have done to this one-of-a-kind landscape is irreparable. The Everglades will never flow the same way it once did. Our old growth forests and the communities they supported are long gone; but we still have so much to conserve for the present and future.

If we want to point things back in the right direction, we must be aggressive about prioritizing land over profit. To me, conservation and environmental justice are invaluable parts of social progress around the world.

I hope that my trip can draw attention to the challenges that wildlife face as their habitats continue to diminish, with the greater goal of spreading awareness of the need for a connected Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Bright reached Key West on Feb. 11, 2022. He became the first person to skateboard across the state of Florida from border to border.

I hope that folks might feel inspired to visit a new part of Florida and fall in love with it. I saw nearly every ecosystem the state has to offer (and there are a lot!).

I want people to see the results of ongoing habitat fragmentation and the perils that roaming wildlife face while trying to access resources to survive. That realization should spark hope and accountability for the future. I also hope that people go out and skate!

Posted: January 25, 2023
Category: Alumni Profiles, College News, Profiles