By Sean Bowes
Do you know the difference between a toad and frog? Do you know how amphibians and reptiles are different? If you cannot answer either of those questions with absolute certainty, then it doesn’t seem likely that you could list the six most populous frogs in the Wesley Chapel area and be able to identify each of them just by hearing their unique frog calls.
But, Avalon Theisen, a 10-year-old girl who lives in Meadow Pointe, knows all of this, and more. Avalon, who recently won the 2011 Action for Nature International Young Eco-Hero Award, an honor presented annually to young people ages 8-16 for their environmental achievements around the world, is more than just an animal lover. She is more like an eco-prodigy.
Just a decade old, she spends her time traveling to countries in Central America, like Nicaragua, to study indigenous amphibians such as the red-eyed tree frog, and to release reptiles like endangered Nicaraguan iguanas.
“They’re very cute,” says Avalon about the tree frogs. “Predators think they might be poisonous because of their (bright) colors, but really they’re harmless.”
Her mother, Deborah, says that Avalon has always been a nature-lover. When she was outside as a toddler, she would love spending time looking up at the treetops. Avalon used to participate in a lot of beauty pageants, too, she says, but her devotion to animals started to get in the way.
“She would be wearing her dress and tiara, and just be covered in lizards or holding frogs,” says her mom.
Action For Nature, a non-profit organization, gives the Young Eco-Hero Award to students who have made an exceptional achievement to protect the Earth. However, Avalon’s accomplishments cannot be measured with just one specific example. Beryl Kay, president of Action For Nature, says Avalon was rewarded for her tremendous efforts for the protection of the environment throughout her life. Additionally, last year, the home-schooled student designed the logo for a bio-sand water filter company, Friendly Water for the World Inc., which supplies water filters to under-developed countries, like Kenya, to produce clean water from untreated, bacteria-ridden water sources.
Avalon also has previously been granted the Nate the Newt Award for her efforts for SaveTheFrogs.com (she made a presentation on how digital programs could replace frog dissection in high schools), she has won first place in a frog call identification contest, and was featured on CurrClick.com as “Student Of The Week” for her environmental awareness.
“She is a very talented and driven little girl,” says Kay. “What these young people achieve is amazing.”
When Avalon isn’t raising tadpoles in her backyard, kayaking around Florida state parks or making temporary homes for feral toads next to her family’s compost pile, she spends her time studying for her home-school AP Biology class (a course usually reserved for 10th graders), learning Spanish and working for Friendly Water. She says learning Spanish will help her communicate with locals when she travels to Honduras in January, where she will spend several days with herpetologists to study frogs and snakes.
George Heinrich, a biologist and wildlife educator in Pinellas County, meets with Avalon nearly every week to study the animals that live in rivers around the area.
“She is an excellent student,” says Heinrich. “She is just so excited about learning new things. I wish all of my students had that same excitement.”
In addition to all of her environmental activities, Avalon keeps busy by running her own business, which she oversees online and takes abroad to different events. Selling homemade crafts from vendor booths, she sells magnets, necklaces and keychains with her own artwork designs. And, instead of stuffing the cash she collects into her piggybank, she donates it to either the Camp Bayouu Outdoor Learning Center (a Tampa-area preserve) or to SaveTheFrogs.com.
“All I ever want is peace and love, which you cannot buy,” said Avalon when she was awarded her Student of the Week award. “By giving the profits away, I can help many other people.”
To learn more about Avalon Theisen and her achievements, you can visit her website at ConserveItForward.com where you can watch videos and photo galleries of her handling amphibians and reptiles. For more information about Friendly Water for the World or to see Avalon’s logo, visit FriendlyWaterForTheWorld.com.