Kristie Killam’s love of nature is an underlying theme in her life and career. As park ranger for the Florida Keys’ four national wildlife refuges, Killam oversees the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center, opened last fall, and the nonprofit Florida Keys Wildlife Society “friends” group of volunteers and partners.
Her love of nature has spanned diverse careers. After earning a biology degree from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s in marine science at the University of South Florida, Killam worked as a biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, an environmental consultant and a science teacher at an environmental science magnet school in Baltimore.
She and her husband Randy, a physical therapist, tired of long gray winters and cold weather and decided to move to the Keys.
With Randy the first to be employed in the Keys, Killam remained in Maryland to finish the school year and sell their house. After relocating, she was hired at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden as an educator.
Her current eight-year position evolved after a stint as a volunteer and intern at the Lower Keys’ National Key Deer Refuge.
Killam is recognized as a sharp-eyed, self-taught nature photographer and co-founder of the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Photography Club. She and Randy, with their “assortment of dogs,” live on No Name Key.
Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Florida Keys and why?
Kristie Killam:I first came to the Florida Keys in 1982 to do checkout dives for my scuba certification with our college dive club. We stayed on Sunshine Key campground and I remember cars were still driving on the old Seven Mile Bridge at the time, although the new one was built and we could walk and run on it. That was almost 40 years ago!
KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
KK:I love that many people care deeply about the environment. Whether you are a Key deer advocate, a bird buff or love fishing, kayaking or diving, the natural world is just outside our door. Nature is important to healthy living and we are surrounded by it in the Keys.
KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
KK:My parents were the first to instill my love of nature in general, but it was repeated trips to the Florida Keys to go boating, fishing, snorkeling and diving when I was younger that inspired me to ultimately move here permanently. My husband and I loved it so much we held our wedding on Pigeon Key, a place we have fond memories of with friends during our college years.
KT: How does that passion influence your work or profession?
KK:Being passionate about nature is my profession! Being a park ranger lets me blend my biology and teaching careers. I get to help others understand why nature is so important.
KT: What are some of the ways, personally or through your work, that you connect with and/or help protect the local environment and unique lifestyle?
KK: I’m constantly looking for ways to engage our visitors and local community to care about nature and our unique lifestyle. I work with volunteers and the refuges’ friends group on dozens of events that include kids’ programs, cleanups, adventure and science seminars, guided nature walks, bike rides, festivals and other outreach activities, photography club and contests. By helping people connect with nature, you’ll foster an appreciation for it that will last a lifetime.
KT: What keeps you energized, challenged and focused on your path? What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
KK:I hope we can get people to care about nature. When the nature section in our newspaper is as thick as the sports section, then I’ll know we’ve accomplished our task. Until then, there is still work to do.
KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
KK:You can make a difference. I know it sounds trite but it really is so very true. Every decision we make has consequences to the natural world. So plant a tree, let your yard grow naturally, plant a garden, take a kid outside, use reusable shopping bags, use refillable water bottles, don’t take single-use items, be an advocate for wildlife and special habitats, volunteer and work with other people to explain why protecting and enjoying nature is so important to us all.
KT: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
KK:Too many to list! On land, I love hiking in the woods, taking photographs of wildlife and exploring new areas. In the water, I love snorkeling, boating and just drifting and listening to dolphins and sea turtles breathe. Being surrounded by a school of giant tarpon is wonderful too.
Killam works with volunteers and the refuges’ friends group on dozens of events that include kids’ programs, cleanups, adventures and more.