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Octifest on the Beach Supports Ocean Outreach

Students from the Pine Manor Improvement Association's Teen Program examine a tiny marine worm on a recent outing with Sanibel Sea School. 

Students from the Pine Manor Improvement Association's Teen Program examine a tiny marine worm on a recent outing with Sanibel Sea School. 

On Saturday, April 8th, Sanibel Sea School will once again host its annual fundraiser – Octifest on the Beach. Octifest will be held bayside, under a big-top tent on the Sanibel Causeway. Guests will enjoy a delicious and sustainable dinner, sunset views, stargazing, and a variety of opportunities to support the nonprofit organization’s mission to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. 

Funds raised at Octifest will help Sanibel Sea School purchase the equipment needed for its field-based ocean education programs, and will provide scholarships for thousands of local underprivileged children to explore the ocean each year. “We call our outreach groups our ‘landlocked’ kids,” said Chrissy Basturk, the school’s Development Director. “They live just a few miles from the coast, but many never visit the beach. If they do, there is not usually an opportunity for formal learning and discovery.” 

Sanibel Sea School’s partner groups include the PACE Center for Girls, the Pine Manor Improvement Association, Lee and Hendry County Schools, the Gladiolus Center for Learning and Development, the Heights Foundation, and hundreds of individual families that request financial support to attend camps and day programs each year. “We never turn anyone away because they are unable to pay for tuition,” said Basturk. “We believe that everyone should have equal access to ocean education, and our community is so generous in supporting us to make that happen.”

These kids wouldn’t have the ocean in their lives if it weren’t for our connection with Sanibel Sea School.
— Shari Clark, Resident Coordinator, Pine Manor Improvement Association

Shari Clark, Resident Coordinator for the Pine Manor Improvement Association, partners with Sanibel Sea School to bring participants in her teen program to Sanibel about once a month. “These kids wouldn't have the ocean in their lives if it weren't for our connection with Sanibel Sea School,” she said. “The field trips we take with Doc Bruce and his team of teachers give my group a new perspective on the vast world that exists beyond our neighborhood. It has helped them realize how much is out there to learn about and explore."

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose vision is a world where all people value, understand, and care for the ocean. To learn more and purchase tickets to Octifest, visit octifest.org or call (239) 472-8585

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My Ocean Pledge

Students from Upthegrove Elementary School in Hendry County spent a day at Sanibel Sea School. 

Students from Upthegrove Elementary School in Hendry County spent a day at Sanibel Sea School. 

Sanibel Sea School was introduced to students from Mrs. Akin's class at Upthegrove Elementary last October. For the past 5 months, we've explored the ocean, learned about different marine ecosystems, and played in the waves with them - activities that kids in Hendry County, who live about an hour from the beach, don't get to do very often. Our students have had so much fun, but perhaps more importantly, they now have a greater appreciation for and understanding of the ocean. 

We won't see our Hendry County students over the summer when school is out, so until we meet again, each student has made a pledge to the ocean. We explained how important these responsibilities are and each student took the time to think of one thing that he or she could do over the summer, as an individual, to help our ocean planet. 

Here are some of their ocean pledges: 

I pledge to not use as much water as I used to.

I pledge to pick up trash in the water. -Ben

I pledge to conserve the ocean by not using straws at restaurants and by using reusable shopping bags. -Lia

I pledge to not litter in the ocean.  -Walker

I pledge to recycle my plastic water bottles. -McKenzie

I pledge to not litter in the ocean.

I pledge to create biodegradable water bottles.

I pledge not to cause pollution.

I pledge to reduce and reuse before recycling. -Narwhal

I pledge to talk to the governor about saving oceans and funding.

I pledge to keep educating youth. -Mrs. Akin

I pledge to not throw plastic in the water.

I pledge not to litter in the ocean. -Ryan (Slytherin)

I pledge to never put litter in the ocean. -Nick

I pledge to pick up litter in my neighborhood. -Krissi

I pledge to clean the beaches two times a month. -Ragan

I pledge not to drink from plastic water bottles. 

I pledge not to pollute in the ocean. -Greyson

I pledge not to leave Coke bottles in dumb places. -Jack

I pledge to recycle paper, plastic, cardboard, and glass. 

I will recycle more for the ocean.

We can't wait to see you again next year, Mrs. Akin's class! 

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Where have all the jellyfish gone?

I live here on South Padre Island in Texas. I have been fishing these waters for over 30 years. I have seen a dramatic decline in jellyfish. What would be, could be, or is the cause of this?
— Patrick Murphy, Blog Commenter

Dear Ocean-Loving Texan,

First of all, congratulations on your long association with the ocean, and thanks for reaching out to us to learn more. We are honored.

This is an interesting observation. We typically hear and think about recent increases, not decreases, in jellyfish populations.

In many places, jellyfish populations are increasing. Commonly, the reasons for this are thought to relate to overfishing and changes to the ocean environment that favor jellyfish. Many of our highly fished commercial species eat jellyfish. When there are less predators around, there are more jellyfish. Also, when we put more nutrients into the oceans, we promote plankton growth, which is the food base for jellyfish. More food also equals more jellyfish.

But, you are noticing jellyfish declines.

The best place to start is with the admission that I don’t know why you are observing this, but I will speculate. In keeping with that admission, it is better if we know more about your observation. For example, is it a single species or several species you are noticing in decline, is it seasonal or year-round, and is this occurring in a specific location or a broad area?

But, from a population biology level, here are a few ideas:

A decreased food base for jellyfish – there is less of the plankton they rely on available. This seems unlikely as we continue to, on a large scale, add more nutrients to the ocean.

Increases in ocean temperature, which are very real, favor different creatures in different areas. Your jellyfish may have moved to cooler areas because your water is now too warm for them. This can apply to fish as well, and is a challenge for some commercial fisheries people along the eastern Altantic states

The prevailing currents may have changed, but this is usually not the case for most areas.

There are more jellyfish predators in your area. It is hard to imagine that there are more non-human jellyfish predators in your area, but the great thing about the ocean is that we really know very little about it - there is always more research to be done and more to discover. The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know.

It could be that increased fishing, especially shrimping, is catching more jellyfish, and removing them from your waters.

If your observation is being mostly driven by one species of jellyfish, it could be that the individual species is experiencing massive death rates. A species of sea urchin in the Caribbean did exactly that in the late 1990s and nearly disappeared from the entire Caribbean – it was likely a result of a sea urchin disease – kind of like the Bubonic Plague was to humans; they are now making a comeback

It could also be that your memory is playing tricks on you. Please don’t be insulted, but we (all humans) don’t have great quantitative memories for long periods of time. To really compare numbers and trends, we need to write down numbers year after year so that we can avoid this little artifact of human memory.

So, this is a long-winded “I don’t know the answer” that hopefully has helped you think about different possibilities that may be behind your ocean observations. Please keep us informed about your ocean knowledge. Thank you for sharing your curiosity with us.

Very best ocean adventures to you.

Doc Bruce

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We're Feeling Crabby!

After high winds over the weekend, Monday morning’s beach was littered with shells, algae, and… crab traps. Sea school campers joined the myriad of people releasing the crabs from the wire traps that had washed onto shore, first shaking the crabs out of the trap, then holding them behind the claws to release them into the waves.

Crab traps are common in our local waters, and sometimes wash up on the beach after a storm. Each trap is labeled with a fisherman's identification information. Image: Chesapeake Quarterly

Crab traps are common in our local waters, and sometimes wash up on the beach after a storm. Each trap is labeled with a fisherman's identification information. Image: Chesapeake Quarterly

These traps primarily held blue crabs, a species that is endemic to the region, ranging from Massachusetts to Argentina. Introduced via ballast water, blue crabs are invasive in the Baltic, North, Mediterranean, and Black Seas. After hatching, blue crabs undergo seven planktonic, larval stages, during which they float, feeding on microorganisms. Once they reach brackish water (fresh water mixed with ocean water), the crabs become adults. For further growth, they molt, shedding their hard exoskeleton and rebuilding a larger one each time. Females mate only once in their life, during their final molt, although they can spawn several times. After spawning, they retain the fertilized eggs in an egg mass, until releasing the larva in the mouth of a river.

Blue crabs range from Massachusetts to Argentina. 

Blue crabs range from Massachusetts to Argentina. 


Blue crabs are an important commercial species. In Florida, ten gallons of blue crabs can be harvested per person per day, although egg bearing females cannot be harvested. There are many traps set off of Sanibel’s beaches. Pig knuckles, used for bait, often wash onto the shore from these traps. Each trap is labeled with a fisherman's identification information, so if it washes ashore during a big storm, it can be re-claimed. 

Another crab caught in the traps we found was the Florida stone crab. Ranging from Connecticut to Belize, this species lives in shallow water habitat where individuals dig holes up to three feet deep. Stone crabs lose their limbs easily, and can regrow them.

A stone crab can re-grow its claw after it is harvested by a fisherman (or lost while digging). Image: Florida Sportsman

A stone crab can re-grow its claw after it is harvested by a fisherman (or lost while digging). Image: Florida Sportsman


Unlike the harvesting of blue crabs, only stone crab claws that are over 2 ¾ inches are taken. Their bodies are small and not highly prized, while the large strong claws are considered a delicacy. Only one gallon of claws per person or two per boat can be harvested per day. Stone crabs can regrow the lost claws, although experiments indicate that mortality rates are high.

Crabs support an important industry in Florida, but they are also fascinating animals. Freeing the crabs was a fun opportunity to help marine life and to see these interesting creatures up close.

Further Reading:

http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/stone-crabs/

http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/blue-crab/

http://www.santivachronicle.com/Content/Default/Outdoor/Article/LIVING-SANIBEL-Charles-Sobczak-Blue-and-Stone-Crabs/-3/35/4413

http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/FI/44/44/00/02/00001/FI44440002.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callinectes_sapidus#Commercial_importance

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_stone_crab

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Fresh Produce Clothing Store Supports Sanibel Sea School’s Mission

Event participants posed for a photo after cleaning up Colony Beach. 

Event participants posed for a photo after cleaning up Colony Beach. 

On Thursday, February 16th, Sanibel Sea School and the Sanibel Fresh Produce Clothing Store partnered for a beach cleanup at Colony Beach on Sanibel’s east end. Participants were also invited to “give their worries to the sea” during a traditional Sanibel Sea School ceremony, and to enjoy lunch while listening to a talk from Fresh Produce Founder Mary Ellen Vernon titled “Cliff Notes for Life While Building a Business.” 

"Give Your Worries to the Sea" is an annual Sanibel Sea School tradition.

"Give Your Worries to the Sea" is an annual Sanibel Sea School tradition.

After burning slips of paper with worries written on them in a bonfire, the ashes are carried to the beach and sprinkled in the waves. 

After burning slips of paper with worries written on them in a bonfire, the ashes are carried to the beach and sprinkled in the waves. 

After writing down their worries, burning them in a bonfire, and sprinkling the ashes into the sea, guests were given pink gloves and burlap “Love” bags, and spent thirty minutes picking up trash from the beach. The most common items collected were plastic bottle caps, plastic bags, rope and fishing line, and food wrappers. “We love what Sanibel Sea School is doing for the ocean and for the kids,” said Vernon. “It feels good to be a part of something meaningful, by supporting Sanibel Sea School’s mission and taking care of the beach.” 

Most participants preferred to go barefoot during the beach cleanup. 

Most participants preferred to go barefoot during the beach cleanup. 

Doc Bruce gave an impromptu talk about lightning whelk egg cases. 

Doc Bruce gave an impromptu talk about lightning whelk egg cases. 

This event was part of Fresh Produce’s SWELL Initiative, which aims to support communities where the company’s stores are located. A one-time donation was made to Sanibel Sea School, and Fresh Produce designed a special edition “For the Love of the Ocean” sea turtle t-shirt that will also support the non-profit organization’s work. Five dollars from every t-shirt sold will help Sanibel Sea School provide scholarships for more children to experience and learn about the ocean. The t-shirts are now available at the Sanibel Fresh Produce store in Periwinkle Place. 

Fresh Produce Founder Mary Ellen Vernon gave guests tips for "Life While Building a Business."

Fresh Produce Founder Mary Ellen Vernon gave guests tips for "Life While Building a Business."

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean's future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org. To learn more about Fresh Produce and the SWELL Initiative, visit freshproduceclothes.com.

Sales of this special edition Fresh Produce t-shirt, available at the company's Sanibel store, will support Sanibel Sea School's scholarship programs. 

Sales of this special edition Fresh Produce t-shirt, available at the company's Sanibel store, will support Sanibel Sea School's scholarship programs. 

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The Amazing Pygmy Octopus

The Atlantic pygmy octopus (Octopus joubini).

The Atlantic pygmy octopus (Octopus joubini).

If you spot a pen shell or giant cockle shell in the shallows, open it! Why? If you’re lucky, you might find a crab or an octopus inside. We most commonly find the Atlantic pygmy octopus on our beaches, and they love to hide inside shells and rocks. 

Pygmy octopus habitat extends throughout the waters surrounding Florida, across the Gulf of Mexico, and to parts of the Caribbean, where they live in empty shells, crevices, or holes in reefs. They are solitary creatures, although they do form intraspecies social hierarchies based on their size — the larger individuals have access to better food (mostly crabs and snails) and habitat. Like most octopus species, they are adept at camouflage, blending in with the surrounding rocks by changing their color. Once threatened, their primary form of self defense involves distracting and blinding their predators with ink.

The Atlantic pygmy octopus can change its body color to blend in with its surroundings. 

The Atlantic pygmy octopus can change its body color to blend in with its surroundings. 

As indicated by the word pygmy, these octopi are quite small. Their body only reaches a maximum length of about 15 cm. They have eight arms, a mantle (body), and no bones or hard parts except for a hard beak made of chitin. Without any rigid internal structure, octopuses can squeeze through small holes and contort themselves to fit in any space. And their less visible anatomical structures can seem equally alien to us humans. For example: control of their nervous system is not located solely in the head. Instead, the arms possess a degree of autonomy for coordination of movement! And in place of one multi-chambered heart, two branchial hearts pump blood across the gills, while a third heart distributes blood through the rest of the body!

Octopuses are a fascinating group of organisms. They are intelligent, psychologically and physiologically unique, and far from being fully understood. And fortunately for us, some of them live right near Sanibel. Best of luck searching for a pygmy octopus - we hope you will share a photo with us if you find one!
 

References/ More Information:
http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Octopus_joubini/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopus#Biology

 

 

 

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Sanibel Sea School Celebrates Ocean Education for Everyone

Students from the Gladiolus Center for Learning and Development visited Sanibel Sea School for an afternoon of ocean exploration. 

Students from the Gladiolus Center for Learning and Development visited Sanibel Sea School for an afternoon of ocean exploration. 

Octifest on the Beach, Sanibel Sea School’s annual ocean celebration and fundraiser, will once again be held bayside on Causeway Island A. The event will take place on Saturday, April 8th, and will support the many community outreach programs offered by the nonprofit organization, including scholarships for local children to attend ocean summer camps and day programs.  

Manatee Elementary students received a scholarship to visit Sanibel Sea School, where they surfed to learn about the physics of waves. 

Manatee Elementary students received a scholarship to visit Sanibel Sea School, where they surfed to learn about the physics of waves. 

“There is a huge need for meaningful, field-based ocean education in Southwest Florida,” says Dr. Bruce Neill, who opened Sanibel Sea School in 2006 with his wife, Evelyn Monroe Neill. “Each year, we receive more and more requests for scholarships from teachers and individuals who want their children to experience scientific discovery and the wonders of the sea through our programs. We hold Octifest to ensure that we can always say yes.” So far, Sanibel Sea School has never allowed financial circumstances to prevent a school group or family from participating. 

Manatee Elementary students also participated in a squid dissection lab.

Manatee Elementary students also participated in a squid dissection lab.

Over the past decade, Sanibel Sea School has forged strong partnerships with local organizations including the Heights Foundation, Pine Manor Improvement Association, Gladiolus Center for Learning and Development, and PACE Center for Girls, bringing hundreds of at-risk kids to experience Sanibel’s waters each year. They also work with numerous inland schools in Lee and Hendry Counties. “We call these our landlocked kids,” says Neill, “they live just a few miles from the coast, but some have never set foot on the beach. Showing these kids a sea urchin or a dolphin for the first time is pure magic – it opens their minds to a whole new world.”

Henry County students from Mrs. Akin's class examine a jellyfish during a field trip to the Causeways Islands. 

Henry County students from Mrs. Akin's class examine a jellyfish during a field trip to the Causeways Islands. 

It is thanks to support from the local community that Sanibel Sea School is able to provide these outreach programs, which are fully funded by donors. Octifest is the largest source of funds for the organization each year. “We hope you will come out to enjoy the sunset, eat a delicious meal, and help us continue to do great things for our oceans and our kids,” Neill says. 

Sanibel Sea School is a marine conservation nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more about Octifest or to purchase tickets, visit octifest.org or call 239-472-8585.

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A Gap Year Experience at Sanibel Sea School

Margot Shaya assists with sand dollar research. 

Margot Shaya assists with sand dollar research. 

Margot Shaya is a recent high school graduate who is taking a gap year to travel and gain some real-world experience before heading to college in the fall. She just spent a few weeks volunteering at Sanibel Sea School, and here she shares a little bit about herself and her impressions of working with kids in the ocean. Margot has also written a series of educational blogs, which we will be sharing over the next week or two - so stay tuned! 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you are spending your gap year? 

I am a 19-year-old flute player, vegetarian, unicyclist, and book-lover from Wooster, Ohio. My parents are both professors, so every four years or so, when they had a sabbatical, the family moved. I lived in Palo Alto, California; Paris, France; and Madrid, Spain. I have always loved both the outdoors and science. When I was 16 I completed a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) hiking class in the Absaroka mountains, and I’ve wanted nothing more than to live in the wild again since. I spent the previous two summers interning at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), researching tomato floral meristem microtubules and natural mosquito insecticides. I graduated from Wooster High School and the International Baccalaureate Program in the spring of 2016. Last fall I interned at Prince William Forest Park in Virginia. After I finish volunteering at Sanibel Sea School, I will embark on an adventure living and working in France, and I will then attend school at Carleton college.

What brought you to Sanibel Island and Sanibel Sea School during your gap year? 

I came to Sanibel Island to stay with my grandparents for a couple of months, after finishing a Student Conservation Association internship in a national park in Virginia. Finding the Sea School was mostly luck. I wanted to gain experience in a new field, and I wanted to spend most of my time outside. So I wrote to several nonprofit organizations on the island, and the Sea School wrote back. 

Describe a typical day in the life of a volunteer at Sanibel Sea School. 

There is no typical day volunteering. The first week, I spent each day helping with winter camp: entertaining the kids and herding them from one activity to another. I helped supervise, but mostly I tried to encourage the kids in activities and to help them have fun—to coerce them into cold water with jokes and riddles or to show them how fun picking up trash could be. After winter camp, my days became more variable. I often helped with a day class: I learned lots about fiddler crabs, and wrack lines, and sharks. I also helped with the sand dollar research: sampling the distribution of sand dollars, measuring their length, and conducting the spawning experiment. And I helped with several after school programs, both on Sanibel and in Fort Myers, where we and the kids went fishing, exploring at Bunche Beach, or seining and surfing.

What was your favorite experience during your time with us?

I don’t think I can pinpoint a favorite experience. Maybe surfing with the winter camp kids, or when we smashed a watermelon (it's a long story). Maybe seeing a manatee for the first time. But there were too many great, memorable experiences to choose just one!

Did anything surprise you?

I was surprised both by how much I enjoyed working with kids and how exhausting it was. They have such interesting personalities and such boundless energy! I was also surprised by all I learned about the ocean. I had never seen a live sand dollar, much less force one to release its gametes! I had never been to Bunche Beach, much less lick salt from the back of a black mangrove leaf. And I had never seen an alligator in the wild, much less test the salinity of ponds to see if they would be a suitable alligator habitat. I was amazed by the diverse habitats and organisms of the ocean that I knew nothing about.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about taking a gap year? 

I think that every college-bound student should seriously consider taking a gap year. I have never met anyone who regretted doing so. It’s a fantastic opportunity to travel, to explore nonacademic interests, to meet new people, to practice living away from home, etc. Because of my year I already have much more work experience and a better understanding of what different environmental careers might be like; I am no longer burned out from high school and I even look forward to studying again in college; I learned lots about nature; and I learned how to live on my own (including how to shop for groceries, cook, clean, do all my own laundry, etc.). So far, taking this year has been one of the best decisions of my life.

What are you planning to do next? 

On Thursday I fly to France. I will be staying with a family in Mende, a small town in the south. I will attend some science classes at the local high school and assist in the english classes. Then in April I will travel to Brittany, in the west, and work on several organic farms. I return home in July, and I start school at Carleton college in September.

Thank you, Margot!

 

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Seagrass Class for Adults at Sanibel Sea School

Seahorses are common inhabitants of Sanibel's seagrass beds. 

Seahorses are common inhabitants of Sanibel's seagrass beds. 

On March 1st from 9 AM – 12 PM, Sanibel Sea School will host a course about our local seagrass ecosystems for adult students, focusing specifically on the seagrass beds located under the Sanibel Causeway bridges.

“Often we don’t think about what’s under the bridge when we drive over it,” said Nicole Finnicum, the Sea School’s Director of Education, “but there are rich seagrass beds teeming with life right there, and they play an important role in Sanibel’s larger ecosystem. This class will offer a whole new perspective on our causeway islands.”

During the class, Sanibel Sea School’s marine educators will use a seine net to give students an opportunity to take a closer look at some of the creatures that call seagrass home. “We might catch crabs, fish, live shells, and possibly even a seahorse or two,” said Finnicum. She added that students are welcome to wade out to the seagrass beds or stay on shore.

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more and register, visit sanibelseaschool.org/Sanibel-adult-classes or call (239) 472-8585. 

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Sanibel Sea School to Offer Fishing Course for Adults

Students in Sanibel Sea School's Fishing Fridays course will learn practical fishing skills. 

Students in Sanibel Sea School's Fishing Fridays course will learn practical fishing skills. 

Sanibel Sea School will offer a new learning opportunity for adults this spring called Fishing Fridays. The four-week course, led by lifelong fisherman and marine biologist Dr. Bruce Neill, is a chance to gain practical, hands-on fishing experience. Each week, students will visit a different location and focus on different target species. It is up to participants to decide whether to fish with a spinning or fly rod. 

“This course is designed as a place to share ideas and knowledge, and to look at how we can become better fishermen and women from both a practical and scientific perspective,” said Dr. Neill. “Things like weather, fish migration patterns, and water temperature and quality can all affect fishing success. We’ll go over these topics and also have a great time learning from one another in a more casual way.” Fishing Fridays will be held on four consecutive Fridays beginning March 3rd, from 1-4 PM, and is open to students of any level. Participants must bring their own gear. Weather permitting, the final session will be spent on a boat.   

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more and register, visit sanibelseaschool.org/sanibel-adult-programs or call (239) 472-8585.

 

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Sanibel School Students Participate in Sand Dollar Research

Kenny Kouril holds one of the sand dollars Sanibel School students measured during their research day at Sanibel Sea School. 

Kenny Kouril holds one of the sand dollars Sanibel School students measured during their research day at Sanibel Sea School. 

Students from the Sanibel School visited Sanibel Sea School to participate in the nonprofit organization’s long-term study of our island’s sand dollar population. Dr. Terrie Kielborn and 24 of her students in grades 6-8 joined the Sea School’s marine educators to collect and measure sand dollars near the Colony Beach Access on Sanibel’s east end.

Aiden Bolado observes sand dollars in a bucket before releasing them into the Gulf. 

Aiden Bolado observes sand dollars in a bucket before releasing them into the Gulf. 

After a brief introduction to basic research techniques, participants conducted quadrat samples, which can help scientists determine the size and abundance of sand dollars in a population. After they completed the field-based portion of the research, they also practiced computer data entry and were introduced to some of the tools used to analyze the frequency and monthly growth of the sand dollars in the study. “I have dreamed of two things,” said Dr. Kielborn, “First, to have class at the beach, and second, for my students to have the opportunity to conduct real scientific research using scientific tools. This was clearly my best day ever as a teacher of 39 years!”

Students measured sand dollars during their research day. 

Students measured sand dollars during their research day. 

“Our sand dollar study is an ongoing project, and we designed it to provide plenty of opportunities for community participation,” said Carley Todd, an educator at Sanibel Sea School. “We have adult volunteers, local and visiting students, and a number of school groups that assist with this research regularly. There are even a few high school students carrying out their own mini-studies for next year’s science fair.” She also expressed her enthusiasm for this new partnership with the Sanibel School.

Camryn Peach and Preston Hall participated in sand dollar research. 

Camryn Peach and Preston Hall participated in sand dollar research. 

“It’s an incredible opportunity to work with kids who live and learn on our island. It was really cool to see their excitement grow after every sand dollar they found, and to expose them to the wonders that can be found right in their backyard. I’m looking forward to our next outing with this group,” she said. Todd hopes that this early exposure to real research will inspire some of the Sanibel School students she works with to develop a life-long love for marine science.

Carley Todd gives Sanibel School students an introduction to sand dollar research. 

Carley Todd gives Sanibel School students an introduction to sand dollar research. 

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org. 

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Make Ocean-Inspired Glass Art

Ocean-inspired glass art. 

Ocean-inspired glass art. 

On February 8th, Sanibel Sea School will host a glass art workshop with Guest Artist Sandra Gross. During this session, participants will visit the beach to gather inspiration, then head back to the classroom to make some sketches using cut paper before using various types of glass to create an abstract Sanibel scene. Both beginners and experienced artists are welcome. 

Sandra Gross is a glass artist from Cincinnati, Ohio, who regularly spends time on Sanibel Island. Based on her graduate work in Sculpture at Miami University, she was awarded one of the International Sculpture Society's Outstanding Student Achievement Awards. She has also been in the Bullseye Emerge Show and was a Niche Award Finalist and Winner in both Sculptural and Functional Glass. 

This program will be held February 8th, 2017 from 9 AM to 12 PM at Sanibel Sea School (455 Periwinkle Way). The cost to participate in this workshop is $75/ student, and all materials are included. To learn more and register, visit http://www.sanibelseaschool.org/sanibel-adult-programs. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean's future, one person at a time. 

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Sanibel Sea School to Host Free Guided Beach Walks

Doc Bruce talks about the lightning whelk's life cycle during Sanibel Sea School's November Beach Walk. 

Doc Bruce talks about the lightning whelk's life cycle during Sanibel Sea School's November Beach Walk. 

Sanibel Sea School will host free guided beach walks on February 11th and March 11th, 2017. The February walk will be called "Plants in the Sand - Beach Botany", and an educator will discuss the plants that grow on Sanibel's beaches and why they are important to our local creatures and ecosystems. The theme for the March walk will be "Beach Mysteries", during which participants will be invited to collect strange objects from the beach for Sanibel Sea School's educators to identify. 

"Our free beach walks are our way of saying thank you to our community," said Johnny Rader, a Marine Science Educator at Sanibel Sea School. "It's always an excellent opportunity to meet some of our neighbors, and to talk about the interesting and exciting wildlife we've observed on the island lately. If you're available, we hope you will join us!"

Beach Walks meet at Sanibel Sea School (455 Periwinkle Way) at 9 AM, and last approximately 2 hours. No registration is required, and walk-ins are welcome. Coffee, tea, and water will be offered before departing for the beach. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean's future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org

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Sanibel Sea School Receives Grant to Bring Hendry County Students to Experience the Ocean

Hendry County students from Ms. Akin's class visit the Sanibel Causeway to learn about seagrass ecosystems. 

Hendry County students from Ms. Akin's class visit the Sanibel Causeway to learn about seagrass ecosystems. 

Sanibel Sea School received a Community Impact Grant from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation that will make it possible for more Hendry County students to experience the ocean in 2017. Participants will visit Sanibel each month to take part in field-based marine science lessons, which will be developed in close partnership with teachers to support their classroom curriculum.

“It is easy to take our proximity to the ocean for granted in Southwest Florida,” said Sanibel Sea School’s Director of Education, Nicole Finnicum, “but there are plenty of families that, for mostly economic reasons, are unable to visit the coast on a regular basis. Many of the students we work with from Hendry County have only been to the beach once or twice, and most have never had a formal ocean learning experience.” Both Finnicum and Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill expressed gratitude for the Community Foundation’s support. “This grant makes it possible for us to spend less time fundraising and more time in the water with kids, focusing on our mission,” said Neill.

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. The organization offers field-based educational experiences including day programs, camps, and expeditions for children and adults, and has a robust scholarship program to ensure that financial circumstances never prohibit an individual from attending. In 2016, Sanibel Sea School provided more than 1,100 scholarship days to students in need. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the foundation has invested $5 million this year in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.

 

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Sanibel Sea School to Partner with Fresh Produce for Beach Cleanup Event

Campers give their worries to the sea during an annual Sanibel Sea School tradition. 

Campers give their worries to the sea during an annual Sanibel Sea School tradition. 

On February 16th, Sanibel Sea School and clothing store Fresh Produce will team up to host an ocean ceremony and beach cleanup for the Sanibel community.  The morning will begin at 10 AM with Sanibel Sea School’s traditional “Give Your Worries to the Sea” ritual, which will be followed by a short beach cleanup and a reception. Fresh Produce Founder Mary Ellen Vernon will also give a short talk titled “Cliff Notes on Life While Building a Business.”

“Every year, participants in our Winter Camp sessions write their worries from the past year on slips of paper,” said Chrissy Basturk, Sanibel Sea School’s Development Coordinator, “then we burn them in a bonfire and sprinkle the ashes into the sea.” The tradition is cherished by campers as a way to start the new year with a clean slate, and those planning the event believe it is something adults will enjoy as well.

Basturk, who worked as a manager for Fresh Produce for 18 years before joining Sanibel Sea School, thinks this is an excellent way to bring a local business and a nonprofit organization together to do good for the community. “In addition to cleaning up the beach, Fresh Produce is designing a special edition t-shirt for us,” said Basturk. “Proceeds from the shirt will support scholarships for kids in need to attend our programs throughout the year. We are very excited about this new partnership.”

For event details or to RSVP, please call the Sanibel Fresh Produce store at (239) 395-1839 or email fpcommunity@fpcolor.com. To learn more about Sanibel Sea School, visit sanibelseaschool.org

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Ocean Quotes to Brighten Your Day

There's nothing like a good inspirational ocean quote to put a smile on our faces. Here are a few our staff members have selected to share with you during this first week of 2017! 

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
— Jacques Cousteau
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.
— Dave Barry
The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination, and brings eternal joy to the soul.”
— Wyland
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With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea.
— Sylvia Earle
We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back to whence we came.
— John F. Kennedy
At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun.
— Unknown
How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.
— Arthur C. Clarke
I felt the full breadth and depth of the ocean around the sphere of the Earth, back billions of years to the beginning of life, across all the passing lives and deaths, the endless waves of swimming joy and quiet losses of exquisite creatures with fins and fronds, tentacles and wings, colourful and transparent, tiny and huge, coming and going. There is nothing the ocean has not seen.
— Sally Andrew

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Dealing with Marine Debris

Plastic marine debris is commonly found among the shells on our beaches, but there is plenty we can do as citizens to reduce this problem. 

Plastic marine debris is commonly found among the shells on our beaches, but there is plenty we can do as citizens to reduce this problem. 

Marine debris and plastic pollution are challenging problems facing our ocean ecosystems and the planet as a whole. Marine debris is the unwanted and lost material produced by humans that ends up in our waterways and oceans. It can include anything from a straw to derelict fishing nets to an abandoned boat.

Items collected during a beach cleanup on Captiva. 

Items collected during a beach cleanup on Captiva. 

Plastic waste makes up a huge proportion of marine debris. Plastic is everywhere, and it's easy to use it and dispose of it without thinking. However, we should all consider where it goes when we're done with it, and we can all take steps to minimize its impacts on our health and the planet. 

When plastic is left in our environment, it doesn’t go away. It is actually made to last long periods of time, so it doesn’t biodegrade for many thousands of years. Because of its chemical structure, plastic just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, called nurdles, but never goes away. 

Seabirds often mistake small pieces of plastic for food, which takes a toll on the health of individuals and entire populations. 

Seabirds often mistake small pieces of plastic for food, which takes a toll on the health of individuals and entire populations. 

This is a problem because plastics can harm the environment and humans in many ways. Plastic is ingested by, entangles, and disrupts the habitats of local wildlife, taking a toll on animal populations. This is particularly common in seabirds, because small pieces of plastic closely resemble the food that they eat, but plastic affects many other animals in our ecosystems as well.  

Plastic also takes its toll on humans. Since it releases harmful chemicals, it can affect our groundwater, find its way into our bodies, and affect our internal processes. The chemicals that find their way in to our bodies have been linked to devastating health conditions. The financial costs of cleanup and medical treatment related to plastic pollution also impact our economy.

Plastic pollution can be found virtually everywhere. Whether it is left on the beach, lost out of a vehicle, or put into a large landfill, some plastic will always make its way to the ocean. 

Alaina Steinmetz organized a cleanup in her Wisconsin community. No matter where you live, you can help care for the ocean by cleaning up trash. 

Alaina Steinmetz organized a cleanup in her Wisconsin community. No matter where you live, you can help care for the ocean by cleaning up trash. 

There are so many ways that this issue can be avoided. One of the first steps you can take is to minimize the amount of plastic you use. This can include buying fresh vegetables without wrappers, switching to glass or stainless steel containers and drinkware, or can be as simple as saying “no straw please.”

Another way to help abate plastic pollution is to pick up litter when you see it - individually or with a group of friends, and even if you don't live near the beach. Anyone can make a difference, as Alaina Steinmetz, an Ocean Tribe member from Wisconsin, demonstrates. She has taken it upon herself to raise awareness about debris problems in her area. With organized clean ups under her belt, she is well on her way to becoming a great steward for our environment and an inspiration for anyone looking to make a difference.  

Additional items collected during Alaina's cleanup of a Wisconsin river (which, of course, leads to the sea). 

Additional items collected during Alaina's cleanup of a Wisconsin river (which, of course, leads to the sea). 

One other way to help is to learn and share your knowledge. Learning what you can about a problem will help you and others become more informed about how to make a difference. Once you know what to do, all you have to do is act on it.  The planet we live on and its inhabitants will thank you. 

For further information you can check out the Plastic Pollution CoalitionNOAA's Marine Debris Program, and many other organizations that focus on the plastic pollution problem. 

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Polynesian Ocean Traditions Week

Campers paddled out to perform chants and songs for Sanibel's sharks. 

Campers paddled out to perform chants and songs for Sanibel's sharks. 

Our first week of Winter Camp 2016 was a celebration of Polynesian Ocean Traditions. Surrounded by vast seas, cultures living in Polynesia must sustain their lives using the ocean as their primary resource. As a result, they have become intimately connected with the sea, and understand its creatures, cycles, and power perhaps better than anyone else in the world.

Camp groups performed their hula dances for shoppers at Bailey's General Store. 

Camp groups performed their hula dances for shoppers at Bailey's General Store. 

Polynesian Ocean Traditions campers learned about these strong, wise water people and participated in activities to honor and learn about them. We wrote songs and chants like the Shark Callers of New Guinea, and paddled out in our canoes to perform them for our local cartilaginous predators. We went seining for fish to better understand what life would be like if we had to catch our own dinner, then we let the sun and stars guide us through a navigational scavenger hunt, since Polynesians are skilled sailors and navigators.

A Counselor-In-Training helps a camper create a handmade flower necklace, called a lei, to wear during her hula performance. 

A Counselor-In-Training helps a camper create a handmade flower necklace, called a lei, to wear during her hula performance. 

We also crafted our own leis and grass skirts, gave each other henna tattoos of traditional Polynesian symbols to represent our personal strengths and individuality, and wrote and performed hula dances during a holiday “flash mob” at Bailey’s General store.

Campers practiced their surfing skills during Polynesian Ocean Traditions Week. 

Campers practiced their surfing skills during Polynesian Ocean Traditions Week. 

Because this is Sanibel Sea School, of course we surfed, tied macramé, and enjoyed a (luau-themed) cookout and Milk and Cookies Slideshow at the end of the week. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org

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5 Ecosystems You Should Visit on Sanibel Island

One of the most unique things about Sanibel is that you can experience a variety of ecosystems in a very small area, each with its own plants and animals. Next time you're on Sanibel, try to visit all of the ecosystems on this list.

Cownose rays photographed on Sanibel Island.

Cownose rays photographed on Sanibel Island.

Ocean

Some dive head-first into the waves, while others look out at the horizon in hopes of spotting a pod of playful dolphins. Either way, the ocean is easy to fall in love with. It is full of beautiful, diverse creatures and offers plenty of opportunities for recreation. 

Look For: dolphins, sharks, manatees, fish, schools of migrating cownose rays, live shells, sand dollars 

A Snowy Plover nesting site on Sanibel's East End. 

A Snowy Plover nesting site on Sanibel's East End. 

Beach

Anyone who has visited Sanibel's beaches will agree that they are unique. The number of shells that wash up here make our island one of the best places in the world to find beach treasures. This happens because Sanibel is oriented from east to west, creating a "net" to catch what the waves wash ashore. In addition to many fabulous shells, our local shorebirds are worth watching. The willets and sanderlings will keep you entertained for hours, while swift snowy egrets pluck fish from the shallow waters. 

Look For: seashells, Snowy Plovers, Osprey, sea oats, ghost crabs, sand fleas

An American alligator mother with her hatchlings. 

An American alligator mother with her hatchlings. 

Wetlands

Some areas of Sanibel retain fresh water year-round, and are home to a very specific set of residents. The Sanibel River is the fresh water source in the interior of our islands, and these beautiful wetlands provide habitat for birds, freshwater turtles, and American alligators. 

Look For: American alligators, wading birds, freshwater turtles, snakes, river otters 

A Roseate Spoonbill photographed at Sanibel's J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. 

A Roseate Spoonbill photographed at Sanibel's J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. 

Mangroves

Mangrove forests, called mangals, are one of the most important ecosystems in warm subtropical and tropical areas. Mangroves are salt-tolerant plants called halophytes, which take root in the waters around Sanibel. The red mangrove tends to grow farthest away from shore, and black and white mangroves are found closer to shore. These trees provide habitat for roughly 90% of all juvenile commercially fished species in our area, and prevent the erosion of our estuaries and barrier islands.

Look For: Roseate Spoonbills, juvenile fish, oysters, mangrove crabs, sea stars

A rat snake hides among the seagrape leaves. 

A rat snake hides among the seagrape leaves. 

Hammock

This ecosystem has the tallest tree canopy and is mostly found in the interior of the island. Hammock habitat offers some of the highest elevation between our wetlands, so the Calusa Indians likely built their settlements there to minimize the risk of flooding. To add even more elevation, they created shell mounds, called middens, which were piles of shells, bones, and other discarded objects. Today, animals take refuge in the hammock for the same reasons.

Look For: woodland songbirds, rat snakes, bobcats, gopher tortoises, armadillos, palmetto palms, gumbo limbo trees

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The Christmas Bird Count

Sanibel Sea School team members counted birds throughout the Sanibel Canals during the 2015 Christmas Bird Count. 

Sanibel Sea School team members counted birds throughout the Sanibel Canals during the 2015 Christmas Bird Count. 

Sanibel Sea School will participate in Sanibel’s Christmas Bird Count again this year and we couldn’t be more excited! An early winter bird census conducted by volunteers and administered by the National Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is the longest running citizen science project. This year marks its 117th anniversary, and our team will be heading out on Saturday, December 17th on foot, by boat, and by car to see how many species and individuals we can observe, recording data along the way. 

The CBC was started on Christmas Day 1900 by Dr. Frank Chapman. He came up with the idea as a spinoff from the traditional Christmas hunt, during which people would go out to see how many animals they could kill and bring home. Dr. Chapman, being the pioneer conservationist that he was, thought that the tradition could be changed to help wildlife instead of harming it. The first CBC consisted of 27 birders in 25 areas across North America, and participants were able to observe 90 different species of birds. The CBC has grown over the years, with 2015’s CBC covering 2,505 circles, each of which are 15 miles in diameter. Last year's Count had 76,669 observers in the field across North America, Latin America, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands and tallied 58,878,071 birds, which were made up of 2,607 different species. 

All of the data from the Christmas Bird Count can give researchers and wildlife agencies a long-term look at distribution patterns and population trends. Birds are often looked at as bio-indicator species that can represent the vitality of a habitat. If there is a change in the bird population, we are able to respond and restore their habitat before the there is a significant loss of diversity. The CBC’s long-term perspective helps conservationists monitor and protect the birds and their habitats effectively.

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