homepage logo

‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge announces high school photo contest winners

Six students from Cape schools earn honorable mentions

By Staff | Mar 25, 2021

Rheannon Hill’s “Flowers” won first place.

Following judging on Feb. 25, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge announced the winners and finalists of the eighth annual “Ding” Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. Due to COVID protocols, the DDWS will not hold an award ceremony this year.

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 it. Cross published “Waterbirds” in 2009 at age 85; he passed away shortly after that in 2010.

Refuge staffer Katy Hosokawa, photographer David Jeffrey, and Cross family friend and DDWS volunteer Jennifer Littman judged the contest. They reviewed 179 images taken by students from 19 different schools. First place went to “Flowers” by Rheannon Hill, of Lehigh Senior High School.

“This photo is stunningly beautiful,” Jeffrey said. “It’s subtle, the depth of field is great, and the composition is really well done. The lighting is also very subtle, yet the colors are beautiful. It makes me want to know what type of flower this is.”

In second place, Lehigh Senior student Melinda Garvey portrayed “The Lifespan of Green Fungus.”

“I chose this photo because it has such vibrant colors — it feels so alive,” Littman said. “I like how the sun is coming through all the ferns in the background, and it really shows the fungus on the tree in all its glory.”

Third place winner “Wings of Sun” was submitted by Virginia Bayne, of Fort Myers High School.

“I love this photo because of how the artist captured a beautiful moment in nature,” Hosokawa said. “I love the light glowing through the wings, and the anhinga looks so welcoming.”

The honorable mention winners are as follows in alphabetical order:

* Aspen Combs of Cape Coral High School

* Abby Corcoran of Cypress Lake High School

* Anna Gibson of Cape Coral High School

* Kendra Hernandez of Lehigh Senior High School

* Amber Irwin of North Fort Myers High School

* Natalee Jones of Cape Coral High School

* Juan Matos of Cape Coral High School

* Julia Miller, of Lehigh Senior High School

* Karla Pichardo of Lehigh Senior High School

* Chase Qurollo of Cape Coral High School

* Kailyn Giselle Uria, of Island Coast High School

In addition, monetary awards went to two teachers who made special efforts to engage their students in entering the contest: Amy Smith of Cape Coral High and Maryellen Montana of Lehigh Senior High. The awards were donated in honor of one of the judges and a current DDWS board member — Jeffrey.

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.

To view the winning images online and for additional information on the 2022 photo contest, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/photo-contests.