Thanks to his Florida roots, which run 31-years deep, Justin Riney feels a deep affinity with the waters that surround and run through his home state.

Riney turned his back on his degree in finance and last year followed his heart and founded his own non-profit organization: Mother Ocean.

Riney explains that Mother Ocean celebrates the unique resources of Florida's waterways, and promotes awareness and conservation.

"It's a group of like-minded individuals working together toward common interests and projects that promote awareness and conservation," he explained.

Some of the ways Riney promotes awareness include going into schools and speaking about the importance of conserving water, and once a week is Ocean Hour when he and others do their part to help clean up the ocean or other waterways.

"I am a Floridian and grew up on the water. It has given me so much and has set my career path," he said.

Riney needed a project to kick off his newly-founded organization and bring attention to it and when he read that 500 years had passed since Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, he decided that was a cause for celebration.

On Jan. 1 he began a 365-day journey around Florida on a stand-up paddle board from Pensacola. He plans to spend six months paddling the peninsula, ending In Jacksonville on July 4. Then, he will spend six months on the inner waterways, ending Dec. 31 in Tallahassee. He has named this adventure Expedition Florida 500.

"It's a year-long project in celebration of Florida's waterways and communities, and the unique history and resources here," he said.

Along his journey Riney spends the night with friends, when he can, camps in state parks, speaks at schools if invited, attends events, blogs about his adventure, and paddles six out of seven days a week.

He spent about four days in South Walton last week and attended two events; one at The Red Bar and one at Camp Helen State Park.

While here, Riney learned about our area's history, our unique Coastal Dune Lakes, explored our state parks, and spent some time with members of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance. The things he learned he shared on his daily blog, which will be seen by people throughout Florida.

"It will help bring awareness about this area," he said.

Riney's next stop is Port St. Joe, where he has an event scheduled highlighting Florida's oceans and waterways, then on to St. George Island.

"Mother Ocean is my personal project, but it is also a collaborative effort and has a growing network of ocean advocates. It's a labor of love," said Riney.

At present, Riney is living on his personal savings and receives some help from family and friends. He depends on donations and grants to fund this labor of love. Donations can be made through Facebook or at