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DDWS announces high school photo winners of refuge contest
March 23, 2020

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At a special ceremony on March 14, the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge announced the winners and finalists in the seventh annual "Ding" Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.

Sponsored by the Theodore Cross Family Charitable Foundation, the competition invited high school students from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties to compete for prizes that included a Canon digital SLR camera package, chartered class trips to the refuge, Tarpon Bay Explorers excursions and copies of "Waterbirds: Portraits and Anecdotes from Birding Adventures" by contest namesake, the late Theodore Cross.

Cross, who lived part-time on Sanibel, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; advised the Johnson and Nixon administrations on anti-poverty programs; wrote the book "Black Capitalism," among others; and created Birders United, a birding Web site that ranked legislators according to their record of bird protection support.

Late in life, Cross decided to indulge his love for birds and photography and traveled the world to collect stunning portraits and stories to chronicle his adventures. He photographed often at the Sanibel refuge, and a number of the images in his book reflect his love for the refuge. Cross published "Waterbirds" in 2009 at age 85; he passed away shortly after that in 2010.

Wildlife photographer Steve Allen, acting Refuge Manager Kevin Godsea and Sanibel resident Jeff Beale judged the contest. They reviewed 121 images taken by students from 14 different schools. First place went to an image titled "Lip Smacking Good" by Virginia Bayne, a junior at Fort Myers High.

"I really liked the subject matter," Godsea said. "This photo had great light and it is centered and in focus, but still leaves a lot to the imagination. There's a sense of mystery as to what else is going on in the photo. Great shot."

In second place, Cypress Lake High junior Mouna Benmerabet portrayed "The Shining Snail Shell."

"This is a very interesting photograph," Allen said. "The framing and contrast of the swirl on the shell to the upright trees is very visually appealing. Because the background is out of focus, your eyes go up to the tops of the trees and swirl back down to the shell. I also really love this photograph because it shows the habitat the snail lives in very well."

Third place winner "Changing Perspectives" was submitted by Christina Walch, senior at Cape Coral High.

"This is a very creative photo and makes you think and ask how this happened," Beale, who is a former art and photography teacher, said. "I also really enjoyed the warm orange colors and cool blue tones."

The honorable mention winners are as follows:

- Ashby Beckner, of The Village School of Naples

- Kylah Engh, of North Fort Myers High

- Hailey Gale, of North Fort Myers High

- Adriel Gomez, of Cape Coral High

- Natalie Handzlik, of Cape Coral High

- Lillian King, of Cape Coral High

- Juliet Nelson, of Island Coast High

- Jillian Peska, of Cape Coral High

- Michelle Rodriguez, of Cape Coral High

- Serra Roiland, of Lehigh Senior High

- Alex Sanchez, of North Fort Myers High

- Jori Webb, of Cape Coral High

Judges and contest coordinators expressed great difficulty in narrowing down the choices.

"It always amazes me, the quality of photos we get from these young adults," Sierra Hoisington, who coordinates the contest, said. "We marvel at the unique perspectives and angles."

"Theodore Cross' family made this contest possible, and it has become a solid success story," DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. "We couldn't be more thrilled that the family wants its donations used in this way - to reach an age group that often falls through the cracks of conservation education. Kudos to development officer Sierra Hoisington, volunteer Terry Baldwin and our staff for a fabulous job of running the contest."

"We are so happy to be supporting a contest in my father's name, a contest that will get our youth involved with nature by looking at it - as my father so loved doing - through a camera lens," Amanda Cross said.

Students were able to submit up to two photographs.

The winning and honorable mention images are on display in the refuge's Education & Visitor Center. To view them online or for more information, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/photo-contests.

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