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Refuge society accepting photos for annual high school contest

November 29, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge is currently taking submissions for its annual photo contest for high schoolers in the five-county area of Southwest Florida.

The sixth annual "Ding" Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest kicked off in October. Open to students of all skill levels in ninth grade through 12th grade in Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties, it was created as a tribute to avid bird photographer Theodore Cross.

"Theodore Cross was a very famous photographer and loved coming to 'Ding' Darling and taking photos of the birds," DDWS Development Officer Sierra Hoisington said.

The part-time Sanibel resident, who still has family on-island, advised the Johnson and Nixon administrations on anti-poverty programs; wrote the book "Black Capitalism," among others; played a role in President Barack Obama's election; and created Birders United - a website that ranked legislators according to their record of bird protection support.

"He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," she said.

Late in life, Cross indulged his love for birds and photography. He traveled the world to collect portraits and stories to chronicle his adventures. A number of his shots from the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge are in "Waterbirds: Portraits and Anecdotes from Birding Adventures."

He published the book in 2009, at the age 85. Cross passed away the following year.

Hoisington explained that his family decided to set up a fund in his honor.

"They wanted a photography contest," she said.

The Theodore Cross Family Charitable Foundation provides a grant to support it.

"It was important to get the younger generation into photography because they are the future," Hoisington said.

Last year, DDWS received a total of 363 photo submissions.

"Every year it seems to really increase," she said. "A lot of high school teachers are actually using this as a classroom project."

Youth can submit up to two photos of any kind of "nature" shot - for free. They can be taken anywhere outside in Florida with any type of camera, even a smartphone or camera phone.

"A photo of a landscape, or an animal or plant photo, or a photo of a person in nature - it can be anything like that," Hoisington said. "If it's their school courtyard, that's totally fine."

"We just want to get the younger generation outside and appreciating nature," she added.

For each submission, youth must submit a 100-word description of the "moment" the photo was captured and how it reflects what nature and wildlife means to him or her, along with a title.

"They have to submit an explanation of the photograph," Hoisington said.

Prizes are awarded for first, second and third place, as well as some honorable mentions.

"This is a great resume booster, just saying you placed in a 'Ding' Darling photo contest, but there are some amazing prizes," she said, noting that 12 youth were awarded honorable mentions last year.

The first place winner will receive a Canon digital SLR camera package, valued at up to $1,000; a Tarpon Bay Explorers excursion; a chartered class trip to the refuge, with private tour and photography workshop; a 'Ding' Darling gift bag and Nature Store gift card; and a copy of Cross' "Waterbirds."

"They get a lot," Hoisington said.

Second place will win the chartered class trip to the refuge, with the private tour and photography workshop; the 'Ding' Darling gift bag and Nature Store gift card; and a copy of "Waterbirds." The third place winner receives the 'Ding' Darling gift bag, Nature Store gift card and copy of "Waterbirds."

"They all get a Nature Store gift card," she added of the honorable mentions.

Like DDWS' annual amateur contest, the winning photos will also be put on exhibit.

"These pictures are displayed in our Visitor and Education Center for the full year," Hoisington said, noting that the facility welcomes about 300,000 visitors annually. "Which is a lot of people."

Photos must be submitted by Jan. 15, with the winners to be announced in February.

"It's a great opportunity, it's a great resume booster, but also it's a way to show passion about conservation," she said. "It's a great way to convey the message, which is a super important thing."

"And there's great prizes," Hoisington added.

To submit digital photos, email

For more information about the contest, how to enter, photo guidelines and prizes, visit online at Interested youth can also contact Sierra Hoisington at 239-472-1100 ext. 4 or with questions or for additional information.

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel.



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