8 Surprising Things About Living in Florida

From wildlife to road trips to rodeos, take it from a local: Florida is full of surprises.

As someone who was born in Florida but didn’t return to the Sunshine State until college, I’m an odd hybrid of a Florida native and transplant. Since I returned 14 years ago, I’ve traveled all over the state — from Key West to TampaJacksonvilleOrlando and more — and gotten acquainted with all the unique aspects of this incredibly diverse state.

Most people think of Florida as all white sand beaches and retirement homes. Trust me: this state is so much more than that. Here are some surprising things about Florida that most people don’t know:

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FRANKIE RUIZ GETS READY TO RUN IN THE MIAMI MARATHON, THEN TO THE ALTAR

Frankie Ruiz has been a runner since he was 10 year old. Now, as co-founder of the Miami Marathon, he’s prepping for the big race in January — and his wedding in March. Here are nine things in the 305 that are helping Ruiz get ready for both:

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Miami Art Week events and installations that will be all over your Instagram feed

Tania El Khoury’s “Fingertips”

Art Basel is here, which means your Instagram game needs to be on point.

Whether you’re swimming in a pool of sprinkles at the brand-new Museum of Ice Cream, wandering the Upside Down at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, or traveling through Kanye’s brain at Basel House, there’s no end to the exhibits for you to immerse yourself in.

We’ve gathered the most selfie-friendly spots, so get your smart phones ready, pick a favorite filter, and get ready to hashtag.

Read the rest at Miami.com.

TAKE A CHEF’S TOUR THROUGH SUNNY ISLES BEACH

This year, the city of Sunny Isles Beach celebrated its 20th anniversary since incorporating. This beach boomtown is a 2-mile stretch of luxe condos, diverse retail and high-end hotels that draw visitors from around the world. Sandwiched between Aventura and Bal Harbour, Sunny Isles put itself on the luxury map with the 2003 opening of Trump International Beach Resort. That drew other upscale hotels and residences, like Acqualina and Porsche Design Tower. More than just pretty buildings, Sunny Isles also boasts picturesque parks, beautiful beaches and globally inspired restaurants.

Meet our guide

Chef Kurtis Jantz might have the best view in the working world, overseeing Neomi’s Grill, Gili’s Pool Bar and Gili’s Beach Club at the seaside Trump International Beach Resort. “Sunny Isles has such a diverse culture for a small community, and we have the most beautiful, clean beaches,” he said. Born in Japan and with an affinity for modern Florida cuisine, Jantz has been the resort’s executive chef since 2003, picking up scores of accolades along the way.

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For Ben Brafman, Becoming A Leader In Mental Health And Addiction Meant Overcoming His Own Obstacles

It was supposed to be a normal day for one of Ben Brafman’s clients. But a simple trip to a meeting ended with the client in jail. The client, who was battling a mental illness, began acting out, which prompted a bystander to call the police. Brafman assured the officers that he just needed a few minutes to calm his client down and they would be on their way.

“They ended up arresting him for being loud and boisterous,” Brafman remembers. “As soon as they tried to handcuff him, he got aggressive, agitated.”

Brafman, 47, founder and CEO of Guardian Behavioral Health Foundation, says this incident and others aren’t uncommon in the arena of mental illness and addiction.

“We have a tendency to minimize things in society and not really put a lot of stock in it. We’re asking for trouble,” the Parkland resident says. “We need to crack some stereotypes and stigmas.”

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This ‘gas highway’ across the Southeast is angering everyone in its path

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Photo courtesy of Jim Tatum

When Jeb and Bob Bell’s mother was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1985, she purchased 100 acres of land in Mitchell County, Georgia, to grow timber on. She wanted her sons taken care of if she didn’t make it, and for them to have something they could pass on to their own children.

She survived the cancer, but a new threat to the land has emerged. Today, private companies want to build a natural gas pipeline through the Bell’s land to run south into neighboring Florida.

“In 2014 we received a letter saying they were interested in coming down through here and putting in the pipeline,” said Jeb Bell, a resource manager at Georgia State Parks. “I sent them a letter telling them to stay off my land. I did not want them on my land. Who in their right mind would want a 36-inch pipeline three feet under the ground in proximity of their house?”

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How to fix Florida’s unbearable, sewage-driven algae blooms before they get worse

MIAMI—When Nadia Smart and her husband moved from Okeechobee to Stuart, FL, last fall, they were looking forward to spending the summer kayaking and swimming.

A year later, they haven’t been able to do any of that.

“We bought our house here because we like the beaches, we like the waterways, and we can’t use them,” she said. “It’s just been a dead summer, it’s sad.”

For the Smarts and other residents on Florida’s Treasure Coast a few hours north of Miami, the summer has been marred by an infestation of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.

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This is where orphaned baby elephants go after their parents are killed by poachers

Photo by Christiana Lilly

Photo by Christiana Lilly

NAIROBI, Kenya—It was October, 2014 on the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya when a tourist saw a horrific sight on the plain.

A herd of elephants surrounded a downed female with a poisoned spear wound in her cheek, her face cut open, and her two tusks missing. The elephants mourned their family member—especially a tiny, 10-month old calf crying over her mother and resting her trunk on her belly.

When the team at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which abuts Nairobi National Park, found out about the newly orphaned baby, they knew they had to rescue the calf, as she would die of starvation without her mother’s milk. They went into action, flying into the park, separating the calf from the herd, and taking her back to their center.

There, she was welcomed by more than two dozen other orphaned baby elephants and the staff named her “Roi.”

“They could have seen their mother killed before their eyes,” Rob Brandford, executive director of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, said of the orphans. “They’re completely lost. They don’t know what’s happened, they don’t know where they are.”

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LGBT community grieves, pulls together in wake of Orlando slaughter

(Facebook)

(Facebook)

They called him Top Hat Eddie.

Eddie Sotomayor was witty, sarcastic, loyal to a fault, and he loved his top hat. On Saturday night, he posted a video to Facebook of a friend who had stolen his signature accessory while partying at the nightclub, Pulse.

“He said, ‘He’s trying to steal my top hat!’ And I just lay in bed and I laughed because he was so happy and he was so funny,” said Ryan Macauley, 27, who was scrolling through his Facebook feed before turning in for the night.

The next morning, Macauley’s phone woke him up when breaking news alerts went off — a mass shooting at Pulse. He jumped with shock and fell out of bed. He called Sotomayor a dozen times, but each call went to voicemail. No one else knew what had happened to him.

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World’s largest ivory burn creates stunning image of harm caused by poaching

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105 tons of elephant tusks and 1.35 tons of rhino horn were burned in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK, Kenya—Before a crowd of hundreds, white smoke and a crackling fire billowed from 12 funeral pyres, rising into the sky and blanketing Nairobi National Park.

On April 30, Kenya hosted the world’s largest ivory burning, sending a message to poachers, sellers, and consumers that it will not stand for the illegal practice.

“This trade means death of our elephants and the death of our national heritage,” said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in a speech before the burn. “Ivory belongs to our elephants.”

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