College sweethearts Rachel Shanker, 29, and Erick Espana, 30, met through a mutual friend while students at Florida Atlantic University. Over time, their friendship blossomed into romance, and they got engaged in June 2021. But two years later, they still hadn’t even set a date. When they heard about Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s contest to win a free sustainable wedding (valued at $45,000), they decided to toss their hats into the ring.
According to Loggerhead event manager Tonya Pellegrini, the couple was one of 145 who sent in a submission. Part of the submission process involved creating a 45-second video expressing why having a sustainable wedding was so important to the couple. Shanker and Espana’s video focused on their shared passion for preserving nature. “We’re both biologists at heart and really love going out on the water and into Florida’s ecosystems and exploring, so our beliefs are really rooted in taking care of the environment,” says Shanker, who is the manager of education and conservation at Manatee Lagoon.
The entries were narrowed down to five finalists by the North County Chamber of Commerce and Discover The Palm Beaches, and Shanker and Espana learned they were among the lucky bunch. In June, they received an invitation to come to Loggerhead for a photo shoot with the other finalists. But it was all a ruse: When they arrived, they were told that they were the contest winners!
“A tray of Champagne appeared, and then a news camera came out,” recalls Shanker, who was in disbelief. “They’d all been hiding, and then we were swarmed by happy people.”
The couple finally had a date—and a venue. The wedding would take place on August 18 in Juno Beach at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Now they had just two months to plan their big day. Luckily, the prize included not only the venue but also the bridal gown, catering, linens, a DJ, flowers, photographer, invitations, a two-night stay at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, and a planner to make things a little easier on them.
“We are so grateful to Loggerhead Marinelife Center and all the vendors that gave their time and services for the giveaway,” says the new bride. “I am still a little bit shell-shocked.”
Loggerhead always has sustainability top of mind when they host events. They decided to run this wedding contest, says Pellegrini, to shine light on how sustainable weddings can help our planet—and how to pull one off.
“Reducing carbon footprint is essential in creating a sustainable wedding,” she says. “Having the ceremony, cocktail hour, and dinner and dancing at one location helps cut down on guest travel, for example. We offer the couple locally sourced and seasonal food options and a plated dinner instead of a buffet to cut down on food waste. We use only natural materials (rather than single-use plastics), recycled paper or digital invitations, and we rent decor, linens, plates, glassware, flatware, and chairs rather than purchasing everything. The florist uses seasonal flowers and foliage, and we highly encourage couples to reduce plastic waste by opting out of offering party favors to guests.”
Proceeds from all weddings hosted at Loggerhead support sea turtle research, rehabilitation, conservation, and education. The 12,000-square-foot certified green building can accommodate up to 300 guests in the Ocean Discovery Wing ballroom or 200 guests atop the Ocean Deck.
“It’s a beautiful venue, so I would definitely encourage anyone to get married there,” Shanker says. “I hope the publicity [of our wedding] brings new people not just to rent the venue space but also just to come and learn about sea turtles and conservation.”
Venue: Loggerhead Marinelife Center, marinelife.org
Bride’s Dress: Bacio Bacio Bridal, baciobacio.com
Flowers: Orange Blossoms Florals, orangeblossomsflorals.com
Photographer: Rosina DiBello Photography, rosinadibello.com
Catering: Sandy James Fine Food & Productions, sandyjames.net
Wedding Planner and Entertainment: Fuller Events Co., fullereventsco.com
Hotel: Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, marriott.com
Linen and Chairs: Atlas Event Rental, atlaseventrental.com
Invitations: Paper Reign Paperie and Boutique, paper-reign.com