Meet Kirsten Hines, Florida wildlife chronicler

📸 Photo by James A. Kushlan

Hiya Kristen! Who are you? What do you do?

I’m a writer, wildlife photographer, and conservationist with a master’s degree in biology and a background as an environmental educator. I’m super passionate about the environment and aim to inspire others toward a little more greenness in everything I do, ranging from leading bird walks for Tropical Audubon Society or Phoebes Birding (a Miami-based group I helped co-found to connect women through nature), teaching photography workshops, or working on one of my own writing and photography projects.

I’ve published six books on Florida’s nature and history, including the gardening reference Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens (University Press of Florida, 2014) to help people create more wildlife-friendly spaces. I’ve got three more in the works, including a photographic identification guide to the Birds of Florida (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2024) and one on Florida’s wildlife that comes out in November.

I’m particularly excited about the one coming out this fall — Wild Florida: An Animal Odyssey (University Press of Florida, 2023) — in which I share images and stories from my three-year-long expedition through Florida’s wilds to photograph some of the state’s incredible animals, including Florida panthers, bears, crocodiles, and the beautiful red widow spider that only lives in parts of South and Central Florida. I’ll be sharing that book at the Miami Book Fair on November 18 and 19.

What neighborhood(s) are you reppin’?

I moved to Miami for graduate school more than 20 years ago, so I have lived in several different neighborhoods. The lush vegetation and history of Coconut Grove has always attracted me and that’s where I live now, but I continue spending time in some of my old haunts: Key Biscayne, South Miami, and Coral Gables in particular.

What brings you most alive about the 305?

The nature! Miami is a tropical biodiversity hotspot both within the nation and the state. There are high numbers of plants, animals, and habitats that have very limited ranges beyond the 305. On top of that, we’re near three different federal parks — Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park, and the Big Cypress National Preserve — as well as any number of state, county, and municipal reserves that offer year-round access to these natural treasures. I also love that the people and cultures of Miami are super diverse.

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?

It would have been the vegan jambalaya at Lokal in the Grove, BUT it was no longer being offered last time I was there so this is my plea to them to bring it back! Instead, my choice is the arroz con pescado at Boater’s Grill in the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne — preferably with a starter of their mixed ceviche and fried platanos with a glass of sangria while watching the sunset over Biscayne Bay.

Outside of the obvious stop above, share your other top three destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Miami day.

It would obviously be one of those perfect winter days with clear blue skies. As the sun sends its first warming rays glittering across the Atlantic, I’d be at the Crandon Park beach on Key Biscayne watching plovers, sanderlings, gulls, terns, and other shorebirds skitter across the sand. Perhaps later that morning, or maybe at the start of a different perfect winter day, I’d be at the Matheson Hammock Park watching woodpeckers in the palms and Short-tailed Hawks above. Ideally, in both cases, I’d be with a group of women gathered for a Phoebes Birding outing with lots of laughter and ending with a potluck picnic of homemade goodies and bubbly mimosas. And in my opinion, the perfect way to end a perfect day in Miami is at Books & Books in Coral Gables — an enlightening talk by an author in the intimacy of one of their book-lined rooms, followed by a light meal in their outdoor café, possibly to the tunes of a local musician. Hidden and not-so-hidden gems such as these are what make Miami perfect.

What’s a project you’re working on (big or small) and how can our readers help you with it?

I’m always looking for ways to protect and restore the environment. It’s a project that benefits people, plants, animals, and nature as a whole, but will only truly succeed if everyone plays a part. Every action matters, ranging from tasks as simple as using reusable shopping bags or planting native plants, to as complicated as holding politicians and developers accountable to sustainable policies. No matter the scale, the best advocates are those who know and love their natural surroundings. I hope your readers will take a moment to appreciate Miami’s nature, and perhaps join me at the Miami Book Fair for an introduction through my Wild Florida: An Animal Odyssey book.

What’s your favorite local social media account and why?

Tropical Audubon Society for their expansive coverage of Miami area nature and conservation issues and happenings, including their annual native plant sale.

How does Miami help you do what you do or influence your work?

I’m influenced by the juxtaposition between Miami’s nature and its human-altered landscapes. The city is situated within some incredibly unique habitats — natural beaches, hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, and nearby coral reef and Everglades ecosystems — but it is also one of the densest urban areas in the nation. Living within this mix has made me acutely aware of the need for people and nature to coexist, particularly in a city like Miami with its geographic vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise.

I’ve been inspired by various local programs working to protect and recreate nature within our urban matrix — Natives for Your Neighborhood by the Institute for Regional Conservation, Connect to Protect and Million Orchid Project by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Million Trees Miami by Miami-Dade County, to name a few. I aim to continue these efforts through my own writing and photography, my Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens and Wild Florida: An Animal Odyssey books being particularly good examples.

If there was one thing you could change, address, etc. about Miami, what would it be?

It would be the landscaping. Miami is blessed with greenery year-round, but so many urban spaces are planted with tropical plants from other parts of the world — beautiful plants that are wonderful in their own right, but provide little to no food and shelter for our native wildlife. By including native plants, we can showcase Miami’s unique tropical biodiversity while also providing numerous ecological benefits, and saving on energy and maintenance costs.

What are you looking forward to between now and the end of 2023?

I’m looking forward to sharing my new Wild Florida: An Animal Odyssey book at the Miami Book Fair on November 18 and 19. I hope folks will join me there on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 1:00 p.m. in room 8202. They can learn more at miamibookfair.com and on my website at KirstenHines.com.

That’s a wrap on this week’s Locals to Know, sponsored by Miami Book Fair. Know someone who ought to be featured or would like to be featured yourself? Reach out by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line “TNT Locals to Know 2023.” If chosen, you might just see yourself or a friend in a future newsletter.