The Palm Hammock is approximately 12 to 15 acres of undeveloped land on Eckerd’s campus, giving students the unique opportunity to come in contact with a diverse species of animals, as well as get hands-on experience in their classes.
A common misconception about the Palm Hammock is the origin of its name.
“It has nothing to do with a hammock that hangs from a tree,” Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Beth Forys said.
While some students have put hammocks up there, the name actually comes from the trees themselves. The word “hammock” is a Floridian and Caribbean term for a dense forest.
“There is no plural,” Forys said. “It’s the Palm Hammock. That’s like saying ‘the palm forests.’”
The Palm Hammock contains a wide variety of animals, including: birds, raccoons, otters, bats, possums, snakes, frogs, lizards, butterflies and ants. Not native to Florida, coyotes sometimes frequent the area to hunt.
Faculty throughout campus use the Palm Hammock for classes, but the biology, marine science and environmental studies classes frequent the area most often.
“It provides for us a wild ecosystem where we can teach students about different methodologies, samping animals and plants... I use it in all my classes,” Forys said.
Environmental Studies and Animal Studies major Fairl Thomas, sophomore, has used the area many times for classes, studying plant succession, removing non-native plants and identifying birds.
“[The Palm Hammock] is very helpful in the lab because I get field experience without having to leave campus or get an internship,” Thomas said. “It’s an opportunity that you don’t have at a lot of schools.”
The Palm Hammock is a wild and undeveloped part of campus, and even when Thomas is not using the area as an outdoor laboratory, she wanders around the forest to take pictures or birdwatch. She adds that students should go and see the tree couch that resides in the forest.
“You’ve got to go see that if you haven’t,” Thomas said.
There are many environmental benefits to having a palm hammock on campus. It acts as a buffer for the campus during inclement weather, filling with water and helping drain the campus. The mangroves protect the campus from wind coming up the Gulf, decreasing damage during storms.
In recent years, more students have used the area recreationally. Unfortunately this interaction has not been passive, and students are bringing things into the forest like refrigerators and paint, polluting the area.
“We preserved that area specifically to be an outdoor laboratory for students to use, that’s why it’s not developed,” Forys said. “I think it works to have some recreation in it, but right now it’s being used so heavily that it is becoming really polluted and getting hard to do research out there. I think we’ve reached a point where faculty are a little concerned about it.”
According to Forys, Having this natural area on campus is important for the college, and it’s even more important that it is taken care of.
“Try to leave it as natural as possible,” Forys said. “If you see litter, try to pick it up.”