You can’t miss the guy.
Bearded, nearly 6 foot 4, with long brown locks tumbling out of a camo cap and a deep, rich laugh, Garrett Stuart dominates every space he occupies. In a kindly way.
He compares his own rumbly singing to Johnny Cash covering Elvis Presley.
His storytelling is legend. Folks everywhere recognize him as “Captain Planet.”
This isn’t the blue-skinned, grassy-haired TBS superhero of the 1990s, summoning his crew of kids to clean up pollution.
Stuart is a gentle Scots-Lakota mountain-man biologist who preaches our connection to the Earth in a disarmingly compelling frontiersman’s drawl.
He popularizes science with stories that a 5-year-old can understand, leads eco tours, teaches a small posse of kids called Eco Avengers how to make fire with their bare hands, energizes park cleanups, and calls manatees “Gilbert” to make us care about them more.
“I’m not trying to teach the 10% of people who love science like me,” he said. “I’m trying to teach the 90% who absolutely hate it.”
And he calls every living thing — you, me, plants, microorganisms, sea creatures — “homie,” because we’re all neighbors in this big hometown called Earth.
QUEST TO SAVE A PLANET
You might say Garrett Stuart’s mission started in second grade in Parsons, Kansas (population 12,000), when his teacher broke the news that Garrett’s favorite animal — the Costa Rican golden toad — was extinct because of global warming.
Never mind that a second grader from the foothills of the Ozarks even knew about the golden toad, or that he didn’t know what “extinct” meant until then.
That devastating truth launched him on a journey to save the planet by becoming a scientist.
He first came to Florida, not to save its troubled waters. He says he came to see a friend in Key West and just stayed.
There, he fell in love with the sea, took “citizen scientists” on reef explorations and began sharing his passion for marine life by teaching Marriott Beachside guests.
TripAdvisor reviewers raved, “It was such an unexpected and cool experience. ... This should be a program at every hotel.”
“The best part of our short stay was the Marine Science Eco Experience which had live creatures and other shells, corals and sponges all from right there in the Keys. Our presenter, Garrett, was knowledgeable and passionate about conservation and ... how critical the biosphere of the Keys is.”
That’s when the Captain Planet moniker stuck.
In 2018, people started tagging him in Lake Okeechobee videos, beaming out the call: “Captain Planet, can you help?”
He moved to the mainland in pursuit of then-exploding blue-green algal blooms. Soon he’d posted an 8-minute video arguing that Florida didn’t have an algae problem; it had a nutrient pollution problem.
“I woke up the next day,” he remembered, “and it had been shared 10,000 times or so.”
Two of the “Captain Planet” creators, Barbara Pyle and Ted Turner, came close to suing him until they saw his videos and concluded that he really was Captain Planet.
Just to be on the safe side, he changed his fledgling nonprofit’s name from The Captain Planet Project to The Eco Preservation Project.
Instead of complaining about algal blooms, red tide, disintegrating reefs, Piney Point and Lake O, he vowed to do something about it all.
“Complain less, do more, and you’ve got less to complain about,” he says.
CLEANING FLORIDA’S WATERS
Today, Stuart is cleaning up Florida’s endangered waters a dock at a time — using his specialty as algae biologist/educator to install artificial mini-reefs along the Florida coastline.
Now numbering about 5,000 worldwide, the boxy structures filter an average 30,000 gallons of water a day and house 300 fish and 200 crabs a year.
Mimicking mangroves, they attract marine life that, Stuart said, “literally eat algae and red tide.”
The first local waterfront restaurant to purchase a mini-reef was Pelican Alley in Nokomis.
“The water quality is very important because people don’t want to come down and have dinner on the water if the water’s disgusting,” co-owner Tommy Adorna said.
Since then, Nokomo’s Sunset Hut in Nokomis, Evie’s at Spanish Point in Osprey, and Englewood’s WannaB Inn have had Stuart place mini-reefs under their docks, too.
When Englewood’s Made in the Shade ice cream learned that Skip Warmack promised to match each mini-reef placed at Skip’s Marina, it launched a fundraiser that’s quickly filling up Skip’s dock space.
“One of the most important things here in Florida is clean water, especially when red tide hits this area as hard as it is right now,” Made in the Shade co-owner Mike Devroy said.
Two of Stuart’s young Eco Avengers skipped birthday gifts to raise money for a reef.
Newlyweds in Chattanooga made mini-reefs the only gifts on their wedding register.
Neck deep in salt water, Stuart has personally installed about 100 mini-reefs, unbothered by wildlife.
“I’ve had dolphins swim up to me and give me little kisses on the shoulder. Baby manatees wrap their fins around my leg to give me a hug. I just let those little homies explore me. They know who I am and they’re saying thank you.”
IT’S ABOUT THE KIDS
Given all he does, much of it for free, how does a planetary superhero stay focused and keep from burning out?
At one point when he felt adrift and nearly took off for the mountains again, he found himself adopted as a nephew by Betty Osceola, Miccosukee airboat captain, Everglades educator, conservationist and clean water advocate.
“That’s a very big deal in Indian culture,” Stuart said. “No matter what, now I have a home in the Everglades, with my auntie.”
He recently helped her lead 50 eco-pilgrims on a two-day, 38-mile Defend the Mother Prayer Walk in opposition to the state’s assumption of dredge-and-fill permits.
“I had a Tennessee family reach out to me, like Make-A-Wish, for their son going through his third bone marrow transplant,” he said, holding back tears. “All he wanted was to meet Captain Planet in real life and make sure all the single-use plastics keeping him alive were OK.”
He said that’s how he stays focused.
“All those kids who are counting on me. It’s not about me, it’s about them.”