This month Elena Muratori celebrates 25 years with the Florida Park Service. With two decades of working at John Pennekamp Coral Reef and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical state parks, she’s one of the longest-serving stewards at any Florida Keys state park.
A Florida Park Services specialist, Muratori grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. She graduated from Florida’s New College in Sarasota as an environmental studies major, working as a reference librarian to pay for her education.
Muratori also earned an master of science degree in counseling psychology at Florida State University. A former paralegal for a civil rights law firm, she helped manage a Leon County food co-op and health food store. As a paid peace and justice activist, she learned how to manage and motivate volunteers — a useful skill, as she oversees volunteers in her park service job.
After frequent long weekend drives to Key Largo to snorkel and dive, Muratori moved to Miami’s Coconut Grove from northern Florida with $1,000 and volunteered at the Barnacle Historic State Park in Coconut Grove. She was hired as a ranger there, and later at Oleta River State Park in North Miami Beach and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne.
Her Keys community activities have included steering Pennekamp’s 50th birthday celebration in 2010 and advising Coral Shores High School’s Student Peace Alliance, supporting students to get Monroe County parks designated as “peace parks” with plaques throughout the Keys.
Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Florida Keys and why?
Elena Muratori: In November 1975, when I moved to Florida and my sister moved to Key West. I started visiting regularly in 1985 to snorkel and later to scuba dive. Eventually, I just had to move here! I wanted to be a park ranger at Pennekamp, but it took me five years with the Florida Park Service in Miami until I got the position at Pennekamp.
KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
EM: I love the ocean and climate, the warm breezes, salty air and tropical smells. Island life appeals to me; caring for our neighbors.
KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
EM: My mother instilled in me a reverence for nature. She would point out animals and insects at the park when I was quite young, and I took classes at our city science center when I was six. I have always loved the water and have been called both a fish and a mermaid. When I discovered the undersea world, I was ecstatic!
KT: How does that passion influence your work or profession?
EM: I am joyful to have found work with the Florida Park Service. As both a park ranger and in my current position as park services specialist, my work includes restoring and preserving natural resources and — possibly more importantly — educating others. In Key Largo we have some park lands that protect the upland tropical forest. Protecting both environments is important because the health of one relies on the health of the other.
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?
EM: Personally, my friends and contacts in the Keys often ask me questions about the environment. If I don’t have the answer, I try to get them to the best person or source. As an advocate for the Keys environment, I often talk about or post information that will help protect it. I’m a known networker, often putting people and issues together, and I have volunteered for or been on the board of several Upper Keys organizations. Through work, I organize the annual Native Plant Day with our volunteers and recruit speakers for our annual Delicate Balance of Nature Lecture Series, now in its 30th year.
KT: What keeps you energized, challenged and focused on your path?
EM: People, our community and our unique environment. I am blessed with a strong sense of commitment and optimism. There’s always something new.
KT: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
EM: Sustainability, and that future generations will be able to enjoy some part of what I have living in the Keys. Things change with life, but I hope for a positive evolution.
KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
EM: Caring for each other and the environment where we live. If we humans can understand that we are part of this ecosystem — not separate from it — and that everything we do has an effect, that would be world-changing.
KT: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
EM: Without a doubt, snorkeling at the coral reef. I love hovering in one place for an extended period of time, becoming one with the ocean, floating face down, just watching life on the reef. If it’s too cold, a walk in the tropical hardwood hammock of North Key Largo.
Elena hams it up with a feathered friend in Everglades National Park during a 2016 visit. Image: Terry Zimmerman
One of Muratori's favorite pastimes is snorkeling at the coral reef, and helping share the message of conservation.