The ocean is an inspiration for many Palm Beach County residents, but Rachel Shanker of West Palm Beach has taken her passion for the environment a step further than most. As a student pursuing a master’s degree in marine biology at Florida Atlantic University, a scuba diver, and a nature photographer and painter, Shanker has dedicated her life to the ocean.
Her most recent pursuit is sharing her love of marine life with visitors from near and far as a Manatee Master at Manatee Lagoon, an FPL Eco-Discovery Center. There she offers engaging opportunities for people of all ages to learn about the endangered and unique Florida manatee, the Lake Worth Lagoon ecosystem they inhabit and the role power plants play in sustaining the species.
Positioned adjacent to Florida Power & Light Company’s Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center, Manatee Lagoon provides an unparalleled view of the manatees attracted to the plant’s warm water during cold winter months.
Throughout the year, Manatee Lagoon’s visitors are invited to enjoy the multi-level, 16,000-square-foot facility’s hands-on exhibits, educational activities, picnic area, pavilion and a gift shop.
Shanker and her nine fellow Manatee Masters provide informative and interactive public tours throughout the Riviera Beach facility. Every Manatee Master receives comprehensive training about manatees, the Lake Worth Lagoon and their role in staffing the center’s educational offerings, such as the Junior Aqua Labs and the Manatee Tales children’s storytelling sessions.
“One of my favorite parts of being a Manatee Master is increasing awareness of what is outside our front door at the Lake Worth Lagoon. I love meeting people in the community who come to this center knowing nothing about manatees, then leave here inspired,” Shanker said. “The more people we reach with our tours and special programs, the better off we will all be. A little inspiration for environmental stewardship can go a long way in this community.”
Manatee Masters also engage in other environmental protection projects, such as waterway cleanups, fish and invertebrate collection, fish tank maintenance; and assist with center operations by organizing supplies, and creating fliers and calendars.
While Shanker’s work as a Manatee Master is vital to Palm Beach County and its marine environment, her experience has been valuable to her personal growth as well. By interacting with visitors, she has utilized interpersonal and communication skills that will be important to her success in future endeavors.