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New operations manager joins the Randell Research Center

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Aug 3, 2021

Annisa Karim. PHOTO PROVIDED

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

In mid-June, the Randell Research Center hired a new operations manager, Annisa Karim, who will replace Cindy Bear, as she is retiring.

Karim, who has had a life-long love for the environment, is a wildlife ecologist. She holds a master’s degree in wildlife ecology and conservation, and said she has much experience with environmental education.

“You get a lot of clues along the way as to what your life will be,” said Karim. “My dad took us to a lot of national parks in Nairobi every weekend and that was a way for him to spend time with us and impart the love he had for the outdoors, and then we moved to Florida which is very diverse biologically.

“I went to Marjorie Sherman Douglas High School, where I learned about this amazing woman, who really didn’t like being outdoors, but through her advocacy, saw the importance of saving the Everglades and her role in that. I saw that normal everyday people have a role to play in the preservation of our environment. The Randell Research Center is this unique place where the Calusa Indians, we believe, had their second largest township in Southwest Florida,” said Karim. “Pineland is an archeologically sensitive area.”

Karim explained that back in the 1980s, the Randells recognized the property they had purchased in the 1960s contained archeological mounds. As they wondered what might happen to the land if something were to happen to them, the Randells had archeologists from the University of Florida come down, she said, who discovered the site was indeed extremely significant for the Calusa. The Randells donated a portion of the preserve to the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History.

“My job is to make sure the archeological remnants are preserved until we’re able to do more archeological digs,” said Karim. “Over the years they’ve had many archeological digs and excavations on site and we expect to do more in the coming years, but until that happens, it is a perfect place to show the people that live in Southwest Florida today how important this place was to the people who came before us.”

Records show, Karim said, that people were here in Pine Island as early as 100 A.D. (2,000 years ago). The reason they stayed on in Pine Island, she said, is that the estuary is so biologically productive they were able to build an incredibly diverse political and societal structure.

“The people relied on the estuary for their food, so they didn’t have to plant anything,” Karim said. “My job is basically to educate people on the benefits and the significance of the estuary, to take care of the archeological portions of the research center, and to foster education as we continue to do more work.”

Much evidence exists on site at the center to indicate that people lived here, Karim said, such as mounds made of shell built by the Calusa Indians, that they then built their homes on in an effort to get off of ground level. There have also been discoveries of tools, pottery and nets, making this an archeologically sensitive site.

Karim has gained a love for environmental education, for which she credits her time as an intern with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. She now embraces the opportunity to help people make the connection between the preservation that has to occur in the environment to maintain their quality of life.

While she was with the Lee County Department of Parks and Recreation, Karim said she managed facilities, in addition to conservation lands. Being well rounded did not go unnoticed by the Randell Research Center.

“My educational background, my love for environmental education, and practical experience, working outdoors and facilities management all came together to make me the candidate they accepted for this position, because all those things will play a role. This is the 25th anniversary of Randell Research Center. It is an amazing place for people to come and learn about the history of their area.

“The people that live here and call Southwest Florida home should take pride in the fact that this has been home to many people from many different times and that Southwest Florida is a destination for so many different people because of our incredibly biologically productive environment.”