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Keith Laakkonen named new director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

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Audubon Florida
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Special to WGCU
Keith Laakkonen, a long-time manager of beaches, parks and reserves in Southwest Florida, is now the director of Audubon Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary east of Naples

A long-time manager of beaches, parks and reserves in Southwest Florida is now the director of Audubon Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary east of Naples.

Keith Laakkonen now oversees the popular sanctuary, which sees 100,000 visitors a year. Most stroll along the two-mile-long boardwalk through the pristine Florida swamp to see iconic flora and fauna: alligators, otters, white-tailed deer, and red-bellied turtles; herons and storks; if lucky, the elusive ghost orchid in bloom.

Laakkonen was the director at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Naples, and the regional administrator for the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection.

“I have a passion for Audubon’s mission and purpose and am honored to be able to work in one of the most important and legendary conservation areas in all of South Florida,” Laakkonen said. “I am looking forward to joining the staff, board, and thousands of members in the fight to conserve and protect this special place.”

One of the main attractions at the sanctuary is the majestic bald cypress tree, which is more than 600 years old and towers over its surroundings.

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Tom Bayles
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WGCU
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a popular spot for birdwatchers as the area is home to more than 200 species of birds

The sanctuary also plays an important role in conservation efforts, and serves as a research and education center with programs for school groups and other organizations to learn about the importance of preserving natural habitats.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is also a popular spot for birdwatchers, as the area is home to more than 200 species of birds. Wood storks, which are considered a threatened species, the swallow-tailed kite and the red-cockaded woodpecker are a few of the birds that nest in the swamp.

Laakkonen’s 20-year conservation career began at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in Gainesville conducting research on American alligators.

Pronounced “LOCK-A-nin,”he was also the environmental sciences coordinator for the Town of Fort Myers Beach where, in 2011, he earned a prestigious award from Audubon Florida for his work protecting beach-nesting birds.

"I have a passion for Audubon’s mission and purpose and am honored to be able to work in one of the most important and legendary conservation areas in all of South Florida. I'm looking forward to joining the staff, board, and thousands of members in the fight to conserve and protect this special place.” - Keith Laakkonen

Prior to becoming director at Corkscrew Swamp, he also worked at the Charlotte Harbor State Buffer Preserve as well as St. Martin’s Marsh Aquatic and Buffer Preserve in north-central Florida.

Laakkonen is a Southwest Florida native, an avid birder, and a longtime member of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. A graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in wildlife ecology, he then earned his master’s degree at Florida Gulf Coast University with a focus on sea-level rise.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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