Jeff Corwin has been a fixture on our television screens for decades, traveling the world as a biologist and wildlife conservationist on hit shows like Disney Channel’s Going Wild with Jeff Corwin, Animal Planet’s The Jeff Corwin Experience, ABC’s Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin, and Wildlife Nation with Jeff Corwin, which airs Saturdays on ABC. But although he has been to remote parts of the world in places like Alaska and Cambodia, it is right here in Florida where he says he most loves to explore.
“Florida is replete with incredible habitats found nowhere else on Earth, from coastal mangroves to the Everglades to North America’s only coral reef,” says Corwin, 55. “It is our ultimate natural treasure.”
For the past few years, he has been spending a lot of time in Martin County, and now the TV personality is getting ready to become an even more permanent fixture in Florida. He and his wife, Natasha, are hoping to move here full-time in the not-too-distant future—and, he reveals, he is currently in pre-production on a new television series (tentatively titled Journeys to the Southern Wild) that will focus on the flora and fauna of Florida. “Historically, for a show like mine, Florida is low-hanging fruit,” says Corwin of the series, which he notes will air on a major network.
Corwin grew up in the Boston area, the son of a police officer and a nurse. The family lived in a triple-decker home in a city where there wasn’t much nature to be appreciated. He recalls the local beach was polluted at the time, and the only time he could revel in the outdoors was when he visited his grandparents in the more rural town of Middleborough, Massachusetts, where he would go for long walks in the woods. “I’d see snakes and all these wonderful critters, and that was my gateway to nature,” he says.
The family moved to the suburbs when Corwin was 8, and that’s when he says his passion for exploring the natural world grew stronger. He got involved with his local science center and started working in wildlife rehabilitation when he was in high school. It was then that he decided whatever career path he eventually chose would no doubt involve working with nature and animals. “I wanted to inspire people to have a better connection and experience with nature,” he says.
By the time he earned his master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries conservation from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Corwin was already active in conservation. In 1993, when he was just 23, he addressed the United Nations General Assembly about protecting the rainforests in Central and South America.
“I first went to a tropical rainforest when I was 16 years old,” he recalls. “By the time I was 18, I was going regularly, and by my early twenties, I was working as a guide in Belize. Rainforests are critical to our planet. They are the zenith of life, where you get such a high concentration of organisms in such a small space. Rainforests take up only 5 percent of the planet’s surface but contain 70 percent of all life.”
The following year, he worked on a documentary television series sponsored by National Geographic called The JASON Project with Bob Ballard, the oceanographer who discovered the wreck of the Titanic. And that’s all it took to ignite his future in television. Corwin’s engaging persona and encyclopedic knowledge of and passion for the natural world made him a mainstay on television, hosting a slew of nature shows and giving commentary about natural disasters like tsunamis on cable news.
The very first episode of Corwin’s first lead television series, Going Wild with Jeff Corwin, was filmed just south of Miami at Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, covering its crocodile recovery program in 1997. Since then, he hasn’t stopped coming back to Florida. His various shows have seen him protecting manatees in the waterways of Central Florida, saving sea turtles on South Florida’s beaches, and electrofishing for snook in the Everglades.
When he and his family began visiting a dear friend who moved to Martin County four years ago, they fell in love with the area. “It’s one of the last places in Florida where you can wander off the beaten path and feel like you’re in Old Florida,” says Corwin, adding that he’s an 8-mile-a-day hiker who revels in the “critters” he finds while ambling around places like Stuart’s Seabranch Preserve State Park. “I would love for a sign to be put up in Seabranch that tells cyclists to watch where they’re going because there’s such an amazing inventory of animals you can find there, like glass lizards and anoles.”
And yet, he says, the state’s natural wonders are still threatened by unbridled development. With 1,000 people moving to Florida every day—including Corwin, with his imminent move—he realizes that a time will come when he potentially becomes a part of that problem. If development continues unabated, he speculates that one-third to one-half of wild Florida could eventually be gone. There is, however, an opportunity for redemption among those who are willing to step up and protect what remains. “It’s far more economically achievable to protect what’s there instead of restoring what’s lost,” he says.
The key, he believes, is to get people to appreciate what we have here. “You cannot protect what you do not love, and you will never love it if you don’t get to meet it,” he says. “I want to introduce people to nature so they will fall in love with it. Florida is a poster child for this challenge.”
To that end, Corwin recently spoke with a national group of science and biology teachers who expressed concern about the challenges of exposing students in urban areas to nature. Corwin suggested that family trips to the Sunshine State were an affordable way to accomplish that. “Any part of Florida is accessible when it comes to having access to these monumental and fundamental building blocks in the natural world,” he says. “For a reasonable price, a kid and their family could come here and see all of this and paddle in a kayak surrounded by nature.”
For the time being, Corwin has been working with local groups to tackle heavy obstacles to protect Florida’s natural wonders, such as manatees and mangroves. In April, he joined the board of the Hobe Sound Nature Center at Nathaniel P. Reed National Wildlife Refuge, and he is an avid supporter of the Florida Oceanographic Society surrounding the work they do promoting and preserving this part of the state. He also serves as an advisor to the Loxa-Lucie Headwaters Initiative and Guardians of Martin County, whose mission is to protect a 70,000-acre ecological corridor that connects the sources of the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and forms a preserve for native plants and wildlife.
“Sometimes I think we take Florida for granted and assume it’s always going to be there,” says Corwin. “Despite all the challenges the state faces, it’s home to incredible gems like the manatees and the ospreys.”
Corwin and his wife are planning a move here when the timing is right—specifically, they have their eyes on Hobe Sound, where Corwin appreciates that they can be surrounded by the natural gems that light up his eyes when he talks. Their daughters are growing up—the elder is a sophomore in college, while the younger is high school bound next year—and with Corwin’s new Florida-based nature show in the works, that time might just be very soon.
“We want to figure out how to make Martin County our next chapter,” he says. “Part of that will involve us working with the great ambassadors for the state to do what we can to keep it special.”
Keep up with Corwin’s adventures on Instagram.
A few of Corwin’s favorite local spots and activities
Go for a walk: Seabranch Preserve State Park
Have a picnic: “The beach on the other side of Peck Lake. When you get down there, you have the beach to yourself and there’s a beautiful wall of red mangrove behind you. This is what Florida would have looked like centuries ago.”
Favorite book: Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. “It has powerful lessons about nature, and I read it once or twice a year.”
Native animals he loves most: “This is a hard one, but I’d say the armadillo, the Eastern indigo snake, and the gopher tortoise.”
Conservationists he admires: Rachel Carson and E.O. Wilson