Use your phone onsite to learn about history, flora and fauna
By Jessica Creagan
SEBASTIAN -- When is a phone not a phone? When it's used as an informational tour guide on the nation's oldest national wildlife refuge.
Smartphone users now have the opportunity to use their phones to enhance their self-guided tour experience at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Indian River County, thanks to collaboration between the Pelican Island Audubon Society, Indian River County and refuge staff.
Eleven signs with quick response codes, a square two-dimensional black and white barcode, have been installed on the refuge property in various locations long Centennial Trail, Joe Michael Trail, and the Bird Impoundment area, said Kevin Lowry, refuge ranger.
Visitors can download a mobile application, called a "QR reader" to their smartphones or other mobile devices and scan the barcodes on the "iNature Tour" signs, directly accessing information about the refuge recorded by a number of volunteers.
Each sign has a different short video recorded by volunteers that covers an informational topic relevant to where the sign is located on the refuge property.
For example, at the beginning of Centennial Trail, Mr. Lowry narrates a video clip welcoming visitors to the refuge and talks about the early history of Pelican Island. Other videos educate visitors about mosquito control impoundment management, mangroves, butterflies, predators and prey in the refuge and more.
Funding for the signs came from a grant from Audubon Florida to the Pelican Island Audubon Society.
About 40 percent of 100,000 visitors to the wildlife refuge use smartphones so many people have access to the new signs and information, a press release from the Pelican Island Audubon Society said.
At 11 a.m. on April 7, refuge staff, as well as volunteers from the Pelican Island Audubon Society, will have a short inaugural ceremony to celebrate the installation of the QR code enhanced signs and will be available to demonstrate the sign operation for refuge visitors, said Richard Baker, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society.
The original idea for the QR codes came from Bob Bruce, the first vice president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, and Keenan Adams, former deputy manager of the refuge and a Pelican Island Audubon Society member, Mr. Baker said.
The local Audubon chapter had the vision and was able to secure funds, the county public works department was able to manufacture the signs and refuge staff and volunteers installed the signs.
"This is the power of partnership," Mr. Lowry said.
With a limited budget and staff, the refuge has largely relied on signs in the refuge to explain to visitors what they are seeing, and educate them on the history, or importance of the refuge, he said.
"This is another tool to connect people to nature, and in a roundabout way, connect families too," Mr. Lowry said.
He envisions the QR code signs to be something that young and old can do together and both get something out of the experience.
"For most kids, learning about history or going on walks doesn't really have that 'wow factor,'" Mr. Lowry said.
Even on nature walks people are still attached to their smartphones, so the QR codes are a great way to tie the natural and technological worlds together in a way that is memorable and convey a message that some people will likely retain better than reading a passive sign, he said.
"Grandparents can go on a walk in the most historic refuge in the country with their grandchildren and using the most modern technology, get a brief video about where they are," Mr. Lowry said.
To his knowledge, there aren't other refuges in the U.S. that have taken advantage of the QR code technology. Another advantage of having it though, is that it can cut down on the number of paper brochures that are printed every year, conserving paper and printing costs.
"We are trying to be ahead of the game here, offering something new for visitors and distinguish ourselves.
"Ultimately though, it's about customer service and how visitors retain and receive messages," Mr. Lowry said.
"Hopefully individuals of all ages can come and enjoy what nature has to offer here at the refuge," he said.
In the future, the Pelican Island Audubon Society hopes to find funding to provide QR code enhanced signs at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, adjacent to the Audubon Community Center currently under construction, Mr. Baker said.
For more information about the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/pelicanisland, or www.facebook.com/PelicanIslandNWR.
For more information about the Pelican Island Audubon Society, visit www.pelicanislandaudubon.org.