The annual Right Whale Festival (RWF) returned to Jacksonville Beach Saturday, Oct. 1 with a day of activities and education to raise awareness for the return of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., guests were beckoned to the Seawalk Pavilion to learn about the right whales’ annual migration to the warm coastal waters of Northeast Florida and Georgia, where they give birth and nurse their young. Today, fewer than 500 right whales remain – and the festival’s tradition of bringing a day of family fun to the area imparts both awareness of the threats the whales face and the ways residents can aid in their recovery.
“This is the eighth year we’ve held the Right Whale Festival and each year we come to raise awareness to more and more people,” founder Cheryl Munday said. “I’m always amazed by how many people don’t know about their plight….”
The event included all the trappings for which Jax Beach festivals are known, with live music by Jacksonville musicians The Crazy Daysies, The George Aspinall Band, De Lions of Jah and returning RWF favorite Kalani Rose. Exhibitors displayed an array of goods running the gamut from presentations to gifts; educational materials about marine conservation and water recreation, food trucks, fine art and photography dotted the pavilion as visitors perused the offerings of the festival.
The 2016 festival also marked the debut of a bus renovated by the Sea to Shore Alliance Healthy Habits and Oceans program (H20) to be used as a mobile debris classroom where visitors were given a “tour” of entanglement, ingestion and rafting.
Those efforts to improve the quality of life of sea animals didn’t start and end with the festivities. The festival began with an early morning beach cleanup alongside Keep Jacksonville Beautiful as part of the organization’s support for International Coastal Cleanup Day, and the festival was hosted with the help of co-founders Sea to Shore Alliance (S2S) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in addition to several community sponsors. The celebration continued well into the night with an after party hosted by local microbrewery Green Room, where a hand-crafted “Save the Whale” Imperial Stout was served and 20 percent of the brew’s proceeds were donated to RWF from noon to 2 a.m.
“Beach festivals are always a fun way to bring issues to the forefront because there’s a level of immersion and fun and that’s one of the best ways to teach,” said returning visitor Darrius Johnson.
With the event attracting more than 5,000 people, Jones is hopeful that the work to bring awareness to the issue won’t go unnoticed.
“Jax Beach has always been an area that’s big on sea life and conservation … keeping the ocean and the shore clean and beautiful,” he said. “I have faith that everyone here will leave a little more enlightened because that’s just the type of community that this is. And I hope they feel inspired to continue to create change.”