Monica Scroggin Has Smelt It, Can Tell Visitors Which Manatee Dealt It
She gets this question a lot:
What are those bubbles around the manatee?
Ever the professional, Monica Scroggin answers with a straight face.
Farts. Manatee farts.
And this: They’re pretty strong.
When you’re the head of visitors’ services at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, you learn all about manatees — their behavior, their travels and, yes, their flatulence. You want to know something about Trichechus manatus latirostris, ask Scroggin.
It’s All Relative
Here’s another question:
To what animals are manatees most closely related?
Seal? You’re barking in the wrong direction. Whale? Fat chance.
Ranger Scroggin, help us out. “Elephants,” Scroggin said in a recent interview. “Who would think that?”
The world is full of imponderables, but it’s no mystery why a Miami girl found herself working in a Florida refuge that is a literal hot spot for manatees. The simple answer: No one has ever created four walls more interesting than the sprawling outdoors. Scroggin, 28, intends to spend as much of her life as she can poking and prowling in earth’s natural corners.
The contributions of women throughout history have often been overlooked. Think about that the next time you flick on the windshield wipers. If it weren’t for Mary Anderson, who invented them in 1903, you’d probably be in a ditch. Scroggin, too, is worth notice.
‘Big Hole to Fill’
Scroggin came to Crystal River in January 2020. Her arrival was timely. Hardly two months after the refuge’s visitor’s center director settled in, a pandemic swept the world. Scroggin, the new hire, suddenly found herself handling surprisingly large numbers of refuge visitors eager to get out of their homes.
“She had a great big hole to fill,” said Joyce Palmer, who manages the refuge. “She’s done great.”
Scroggin directs the activities of 158 volunteers who donate time and energy at Crystal River and a neighboring refuge, Chassahowitzka. (Crystal River oversees the operations of that refuge, plus three in the Tampa area — Egmont Key, Pinellas and Passage Key.)
Despite COVID-19, Scroggin has organized events, engaged in public outreach, cranked out social media posts, shot video, and taken tons of still images showcasing the Crystal River critters. Her boss, Palmer, wonders where Scroggin gets all that energy.
“She’s very personable, outgoing, has a can-do attitude,” said Palmer. “She’s a strong, independent person.”
Scroggin is more modest. “I was surprised,” she said, “to get my undergraduate degree.”
That degree was only one step in a journey that began on the deck of the family’s boat.
Growing Up Outdoors
It’s a Grady White, 30 feet of cruising adventure. The Scroggin clan — mom and dad, plus two younger sisters — regularly boarded the boat for weekend camping adventures. It took them to quiet, watery places on the Florida coast where the girls could paddleboard and snorkel.
Summers, they visited family in Oregon, where forests and horses awaited.
Those outdoor experiences, Scroggin said, prompted her to get an undergraduate degree in environmental science from Florida Gulf Coast University.
Finding Her Place
Degree in hand, she took an internship at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, about 160 miles south of Tampa. There, she got an education in the refuge’s winged residents — there are many — and took a particular shine to great blue herons.
“They can fly through the woods and never hit trees,” she said. That is no small feat for something so big.
Scroggin also made time to get a master’s degree in natural science education through online courses offered by Colorado State University. Then she learned about an opening at Crystal River and jumped on it. Scroggin got a ranger’s uniform, topped by a sun-proof brim.
“I feel really proud when I wear it,” Scroggin said. “And I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to wear every day, so that is nice.”
Equally nice: Her job dovetails closely with her personal life. When she’s not working outdoors, dealing with people and manatees, admiring Florida’s endless sky, or strolling under moss-bearded oaks, she’s …
…playing outdoors, admiring Florida’s endless sky or — well, you get it. Open a door leading outside, and Scroggin is the first one through. She likes to camp, hike, and ride her bike in the woods. The Withlacoochee River, a silver thread running through a fabric of Florida greenery, is a favorite place. Life is full, and fun.
Scroggin cannot imagine a better existence than working among the manatees. “Just to be here and protect their habitat is an honor,” she said. “I really like the mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
A mission that includes manatees — bubbles and all.
By Mark Davis, South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Regions
Photos courtesy Monica Scroggin