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Sanibel Sea School Announces Winter Camp Programs

Sanibel Sea School will offer two weeks of camp for 6-13 year olds over winter break. Flip Out for Penguins Week will be held December 26-29, 2017, and Going Polar for Polar Bears Week will be held January 1-5, 2017. Each week will include field-based games and activities centered on a common theme – the biology and behavior of penguins and polar bears.  A Counselor In Training (CIT) program will also be offered for 13-18 year olds who would like to develop their leadership skills.

Winter camp participants will have a chance to surf, snorkel, make ocean art from natural materials, and drink plenty of hot chocolate. Polar Bear Week campers will take part in Sanibel Sea School’s annual Give Your Worries to the Sea ceremony. “On New Year’s Day, we write our troubles on scraps of paper and burn them in a bonfire,” said camp coordinator Nicole Finnicum. “After that, we toss the ashes into the ocean and play in the water, symbolically letting go of our worries. It’s the perfect way to begin a new year, and always a favorite activity among the kids.”

More details about these camp programs and how to register is available at sanibelseaschool.org. Winter Camp registration will open at 10 AM on Saturday, October 21st, 2017. If you would like to receive camp updates and reminders via email, please send a request to info@sanibelseaschool.org. 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 Offers Free Hurricane Camp for Local Students

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Sanibel Sea School organized a free Hurricane Camp for Lee County students who could not return to school after Hurricane Irma. The program, held the week of September 18th, was designed to provide a fun, safe, educational childcare opportunity so that parents could return to work while schools remained closed.

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“After the hurricane, we heard from so many friends and neighbors who were struggling to arrange activities for their children this week,” said Dr. Bruce Neill, the organization’s executive director. Sanibel Sea School’s staff members planned the camp and coordinated registration in just one day, and the program filled up in less than 24 hours. Planned camp activities include marine science-themed games and art projects, snorkeling, surfing, and journaling. Extended drop-off and pick-up times will be available to better accommodate working parents.

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“We are so happy to be able to offer this service to our community during a time of need,” said Neill. “Natural disasters are stressful in so many ways, and local families are feeling financially strained. We’re grateful to our donors for supporting our scholarship fund, which makes it possible for us to do this for free.”

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Sanibel Sea School is a 50c3 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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The Mystery of the Great White Blob

The Great White Sanibel Blob of 2017. 

The Great White Sanibel Blob of 2017. 

Aerial photographs were recently taken just offshore from Sanibel that were uncommon. The news reported it as a ‘white blob’ in the Gulf of Mexico. Although uncommon, it is a natural, innocuous, interesting event, that we really know very little about.

Aquatic biologists call these events a whiting event. They occur in both fresh water lakes and in ocean environments – most commonly in middle or late summer. The white, sandy-looking water is created by calcium carbonate precipitating out of water – when minute molecules of calcium carbonate that were dissolved in sea water change phase to become solids, suspended in the water.

These tiny suspended calcium carbonate particles give the water a very sandy, milky appearance. The conditions that create whiting events are not well understood, but most seem to be facilitated by high densities of phytoplankton populations. The photosynthesis of the phytoplankton, coupled with warm water temperatures, makes the chemical conditions ideal for the precipitation of the dissolved calcium carbonate.

For me, this whiting event is a reminder of several things. One, we really know very little about the biological system that we are dependent upon for our survival, and spatially is very close to high density human populations. Secondly, the ocean is really a collection of independent smaller bodies of water adjoining one another like a great, three-dimensional quilt. Our whiting event has moved with the currents to other geographic areas, and eventually the conditions that promote this event will cease to exist.

And perhaps most importantly, whiting events serve to remind us that, in this information-rich age, the ocean is a fascinating, complex environment, full of discoveries yet to be observed and understood – right in our backyard.

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Sanibel Sea School to Offer Boat-Based Classes for Adults

Sanibel Sea School will offer an opportunity to explore by boat this fall. 

Sanibel Sea School will offer an opportunity to explore by boat this fall. 

Beginning in October, Sanibel Sea School will once again offer a series of boat-based classes for adults. Led by marine biologist Dr. Bruce Neill and his team of marine science educators, each three hour experience will focus on a different ocean related topic, and will take place from the comfort of a large pontoon boat. 

Planned topics include animal migrations, birds, and the ecology of San Carlos Bay and the Caloosahatchee River. “This year, we have taken student feedback into consideration, and we're looking forward to covering some of the most requested subjects,” said Neill. “Thanks to calm waters and cooler days, fall in Florida is a great time to explore our area by boat.”

Boat-based classes are open to adults ages 18 and older, and prices vary. A complete schedule will be available soon at sanibelseaschool.org. To receive updates via email, please send a request to info@sanibelseaschool.org. Sanibel Sea School is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time.  

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Belize Reflections from Doc Bruce

Snorkeling on the Belize Barrier Reef. 

Snorkeling on the Belize Barrier Reef. 

Several weeks ago, we took 18 students to a small island perched atop the Belize Barrier Reef, 14 miles offshore from the mainland of Belize. Our group consisted of kids from Sanibel, all over the US, England, and two Sanibel Sea School faculty. The Belize Barrier Reef is a section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef system in the world. The small island we occupied is in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve – a marine sanctuary set aside to help conserve this biologically rich area.

A queen conch. 

A queen conch. 

Spending time at a biological field station is a powerful experience for young people. We are steps from the ocean and spend nearly all waking hours focused on the coral reefs that surround us.

On the bus ride from Belize City to Dangriga.

On the bus ride from Belize City to Dangriga.

In the airport, we collected all cellular devices from our participants. The first step to a week of being unplugged, and focusing on the adventure at hand. On our flight over the Gulf of Mexico, each of us had a writing exercise – to record our anticipations and expectations. After landing in Belize City, we had a three-hour bus ride in an open window (no air conditioning) bus through the varied highlands of Belize; this offered us spectacular views of many forest and plant communities found in Belize. We had our first Belizean meal while rolling down the curvy roads along the way.

The IZE Field Station on South Water Caye. 

The IZE Field Station on South Water Caye. 

After a 45-minute boat ride, we finally arrived at the International Zoological Expedition’s field station on South Water Caye. Within an hour, we were settled in, and in the water for our first snorkel on a patch reef adjacent to the island. This is a spectacular reef, with many healthy corals, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, and many coral reef inhabitants – some of which were new to us, but many were species we had seen before. There is a certain joy on returning to a coral reef – you see so many ‘old friends’, those creatures you have seen before, but have not for a long period of time.

Evening views from the field station. 

Evening views from the field station. 

The food was fantastic – locally sourced and freshly prepared by local cooks. And food is important when trying to keep up with the energetic demands of teenagers actively engaged in physical activities all day long.

An exciting game of Monopoly after dinner. 

An exciting game of Monopoly after dinner. 

We had boat trips each morning to different parts of the barrier reef and different marine habitats. Afternoons were spent on independent snorkels, conducting research, working on mandatory art projects, writing and forming lasting friendships in this new environment that did not include technology. We played cards and Monopoly and Clue in the evenings; it is a treat to watch a large group of teenagers engage with one-another without the intervention of online services.

Heading out to the reef for a snorkel. 

Heading out to the reef for a snorkel. 

Our crew had significant exposure to cutting-edge coral reef research. We toured the adjacent island, Carrie Bow Caye, which is the home to the Smithsonian Institute’s Coral Reef Research Station. There we saw research being conducted by visiting research scientists and learned about their efforts to document the effects of climate change on select species of coral. We shared our field station on South Water Caye with a research team from Boston University, who were studying the mating and larval behavior of Neon Gobys, small fish that live in sponges on the reef. One evening, they gave us a presentation on that research one evening.  

A Brown Booby flies over our group of snorkelers. 

A Brown Booby flies over our group of snorkelers. 

Each day, we all chose one marine species, researched it, and at our family style dinners – one large table with 20 people, we all shared the information we had learned about our species of the day. 

A remora attached itself to one of our snorkelers. 

A remora attached itself to one of our snorkelers. 

Sanibel Sea School is dedicated to improving the ocean’s future – one person at a time. Offering international trips like these is an important opportunity for young people to experience new countries, better become acquainted with coral reefs, and find time to become better acquainted with themselves.

Click here to view the full album of photos from our trip. 

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Coconuts Get Their Own Week at Sanibel Sea School

Campers practiced weaving plates from palm fronds. 

Campers practiced weaving plates from palm fronds. 

Sanibel Sea School ended its 2017 summer camp season with Going Coconuts Week, a week of learning about these rather large fruits and celebrating the island lifestyle they represent. Campers enjoyed activities like cracking coconuts, planting coconuts, and floating like coconuts, and discovered a few coco-nutty facts along the way.

Coconuts travel along ocean currents, sometimes moving all the way from one continent to another before growing into a coconut palm tree. Campers released coconuts and followed them in canoes. 

Coconuts travel along ocean currents, sometimes moving all the way from one continent to another before growing into a coconut palm tree. Campers released coconuts and followed them in canoes. 

Coconuts are dispersed by water, so when they fall from their tree, they float in the ocean until favorable germination conditions are met. Sometimes they float all the way to a different continent, which is why coconut palms are found along tropical coastlines all over the world. Going Coconuts Week participants dropped their own coconuts in San Carlos Bay and followed along behind them in canoes. They didn’t cross any international borders, but they were surprised by how far a coconut can travel in just a few minutes.

A coconut ready for its journey. 

A coconut ready for its journey. 

Campers figured out how to crack open coconuts, then sampled the refreshing milk and tasty meat inside. They practiced weaving plates and building shelters from palm fronds, painted coconuts to look like their favorite creatures, and even mailed coconuts to friends and family. They also gathered around a coconut-fueled campfire one evening to make delicious s’mores.

Doc Bruce demonstrated how to crack a coconut open. 

Doc Bruce demonstrated how to crack a coconut open. 

As usual, there was plenty of time for snorkeling, seining, surfing, and spending time with friends. 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. 

Participants released coconuts into San Carlos Bay. 

Participants released coconuts into San Carlos Bay. 

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Sanibel Sea School Hosts Road Scholar Travelers

Road Scholar travelers studied seagrass ecosystems at Sanibel Sea School. 

Road Scholar travelers studied seagrass ecosystems at Sanibel Sea School. 

In July and August, Sanibel Sea School hosted two groups of Road Scholar travelers for week-long, immersive intergenerational ocean experiences. Road Scholar, a respected educational travel company specializing in transformative learning adventures, brought grandparents and their grandchildren to Sanibel to learn about our island’s unique marine ecosystems and the creatures that live here.

Group members traveled from locations around the United States, including New York, Washington, Kansas, and Oregon, and stayed at the Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, where Sanibel Sea School operates a satellite campus. Activities included seining for seahorses and pipefish in the seagrass, a mud walk and mangrove snorkel at Bunche Beach, and a lesson on subtidal communities. The group also learned about manatees and participated in a squid dissection.

“I thoroughly enjoyed teaching this group,” said marine educator Johnny Rader. “The grandparents and grandchildren alike were so enthusiastic about learning, and couldn’t wait to get in the water each day. It was also fun to watch two generations experience the ocean together, but from their sometimes very different perspectives.”

Sanibel Sea School, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time, will partner with Road Scholar again in Winter 2017 to offer a retreat for active adults. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org and roadscholar.org.

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Campers Go Wild for Sea Turtles at Sanibel Sea School

Campers crawled through an obstacle course like sea turtle hatchlings on their way to the sea.

Campers crawled through an obstacle course like sea turtle hatchlings on their way to the sea.

Loggerhead Week at Sanibel Sea School’s Sundial Beach Resort & Spa Campus was all about one of Sanibel’s most beloved and endangered creatures - the loggerhead sea turtle. Campers learned about the life cycle, behavior, and feeding habits of these and other sea turtle species, and how humans can help protect them.

Our counselors in training demonstrated that it was a windy week on the beach. 

Our counselors in training demonstrated that it was a windy week on the beach. 

Loggerheads have some of the strongest crushing jaws in the animal kingdom, so participants played “Crush that object!” to understand how much force is required to crush loggerhead food items like bivalves, conchs, and barnacles. Campers also ran through a sea turtle hatchling obstacle course, overcoming challenges designed to represent predators, swimming long distances, and finding food and shelter. Because sea turtles (especially the leatherback species) often confuse plastic bags with their favorite food, jellyfish, we also decorated and handed out turtle-friendly reusable canvas bags to resort guests.

SCCF's Sea Turtle Program volunteers shared their sea turtle expertise. 

SCCF's Sea Turtle Program volunteers shared their sea turtle expertise. 

The Loggerhead Week group was lucky to encounter Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation volunteers conducting a sea turtle nest inventory on the beach one morning. The volunteers explained that they count the hatched and unhatched eggs to determine the nest’s success rate, and release any live hatchlings that remain in the nest. This was a highlight of the week for campers, and they were excited to have their questions answered by our local sea turtle experts.

As usual, participants also surfed, snorkeled, and made ocean-inspired art from natural materials. 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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Sanibel Sea School in Belize

Follow along with our campers as they explore the Belize Barrier Reef from their home base on beautiful South Water Caye. We'll update this page daily with the latest news from their expedition.

Follow @sanibelseaschool on Instagram to see more photos! 


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Thursday, August 3rd, 2017
11:28 PM

Day 6 was eventful, but it is sadly at an end.

We started the day off exploring a patch reef not too far off the coast of South Water Caye. This spot is called Aquarium, because of the vast number of species which can be seen there. There we saw several large Spotted Eagle Rays, a Moray Eel, and many other beautiful creatures. As usual, the water was lovely and clear. We then ventured to Whale Shoal. Sadly, there are no whales there; the 'whale' refers to a Sperm Whale which got caught in the shallows there. Here we saw many beautiful Queen Angelfish and Fan Corals adorned with Flamingo Tongues. 

In the afternoon, we went our separate ways to enjoy the exquisite scenery and bask in the sunlight. Around dinner, we presented our art projects, which ranged from drawings to interpretive dance to a rockin' rendition of Under the Sea by the Hot Crustacean Band. It was great to see the creativity of the group as a whole. After a delicious dinner, we gathered together to watch the sunset, then headed back to the ocean for a wonderful night snorkel. Decorated with glow-sticks and flashlights, we dove into the dark water. There we saw a huge Barracuda, three Octopi, and a large Nurse Shark. It was really amazing to see how the ocean is transformed at night.

We ended the night roasting marshmallows in the bonfire and playing games.

Though we are sad that the week is almost ended, we can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

From Yours Truly,

The HOT Crustacean Band ;) (aka Hannah, Rachel, and Zada!)


Thursday, August 3rd, 2017
6:28 PM
(a summary of Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017)

I apologize that we didn’t update you on our adventures yesterday, we’ve been quite busy in the evenings working on our independent art and science projects. The campers are putting the final touches on these projects and are preparing for presentations tonight and tomorrow. Also, we the WiFi has been down all day (Thursday) - the joys of field station life!

While the campers were fast asleep this morning, I wrote a quick update on our day yesterday. 

After a wonderful Belizean breakfast of fry jacks and eggs (smothered in Marie Sharp’s hot sauce of course), we set off for our journey to Tobacco Caye Range at 9:00 AM sharp. Our first stop was Bird Island – a small mangrove island that serves as a rookery for Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds. As we approached the island, we could see the frigates soaring overhead and we could begin to smell the fishy guano. Loud clacks and chatters filled the air while the birds dove all around our boat and watched us from their perches. We got an up-close look at the fuzzy white nestlings with big doe-like eyes and the striking coloration of the Brown Boobies (a new species for me, the bird nerd in me was so excited!). 

Next up was a mangrove snorkel to explore the ecosystem that is so important in the life history of many coral reef fish. We did this dive sans-fins to not stir up the mucky sediment, and floated on our bellies into the roots of the mangroves. The water was surprisingly clear, as most of us are familiar with the tannic mangrove waters around Sanibel. Under the roots we saw many Cassiopeia, or upside-down jellies, that welcomed us with their itchy stinging cells. We also saw juvenile barracuda, mangrove snappers, pork fish, and even a lionfish all tucked deep inside the roots. It was amazing to see that the mangrove roots were a host to thousands of different organisms – each rootlet was carpeted with sponges, tunicates, and calcareous algae. You could really get a sense for how important this ecosystem is for our ocean. 

Our final stop of the morning was another snorkel along the reef crest on the Belize Barrie Reef System – it still amazes us how close and accessible the barrier reef system is to our field station. We rolled off the boat in full snorkel gear, and made our way to the edge of the reef. Almost immediately off of the boat, we were graced with the presence of about 4 tarpon, where we free-dove down to try to catch a closer look at these large fish.  We made our way to the coral heads where we were greeted by small colonies of Acropora corals and our favorite dazzling reef fish. Mid-snorkel, I heard Metin call out my name, so I swam over to see what’s up. To all of our excitement, Metin had caught a sharksucker fish that had imprinted on him and thought he was a big predatory fish! Sharksuckers and remoras are small, elongated fish that are known to latch on or hover close to larger predatory fish to gain protection and food. As Metin swam and twirled around in the water, the sharksucker stayed close to his body and did not seem to want to leave! After awhile, he shared it with Emma, who was overjoyed to share the experience.  Other notable species on this dive were spotted eagle rays, yellow-tailed damselfish, a batwing crab, and of course, tons of parrotfish that were audibly munching on the corals. 

After our action packed morning of diving, the campers enjoyed some swimming at the dock, naps in hammocks, and journaling about their days. The evening hours brought us a delicious fried chicken dinner where we shared our “Creature of the Day” assignments, followed by art projects and soldier hermit crab projects after the sun went down.

It’s hard to believe that it is already Thursday but we are ready to soak up every moment in the water for the next two days. 

Nicole and the crew


Tuesday, August 1st, 2017
9:21 PM

Our third day was outstanding! We started our day by snorkeling at a sink hole. When we were there, we saw many species including a nurse shark and a stingray. The nurse shark had a now healed bite out of its dorsal fin, which was most likely received by a larger shark. It was amazing to see the land sheerly drop to 30 feet where you could no longer see the bottom. 

The next thing on our adventure was exploring a patch reef on the south side of Carrie Bow Caye. The water was crystal clear which allowed us to see many different species. Some of the species we saw were a Scorpionfish, Tarpon, Rainbow Parrot Fish, and a Spotted Eagle Ray. 

Later in the day, a part of the group went kayaking while the rest relaxed in the shade. Before dinner, we all met in the dining hall to play board games. We're all excited for another day of snorkeling, relaxing, and playing games together. 

Brody and friends :)

P.S. the food is great! 


Monday, July 31st, 2017
9:55 PM

Our second day on South Water Caye was really amazing!
We started out with a trip to the Smithsonian field station on Carrie
Bow Cay, where we learned all about coral reef ecology and the
research projects that the scientists there are currently conducting.
Notably, we got a chance to look at the samples of rose coral that
researchers are testing for micro-organisms. It was incredibly cool to
see science at work here!
Our next adventure was a mid-morning snorkel in crystal clear and
refreshingly cool water. Some of our finds were a barracuda, a massive
school of blue tangs, a donkey dung sea cucumber, and a nurse shark.
Equally exciting to see were a myriad of species of fish darting in
and out of the abundant corals. The water was really beautiful, but we
were all saddened to see a lot of of plastic residue drifting around.
It reminded us all how important it is to attempt to limit the use of
plastic in our lives so we can keep our oceans blue!
When we got back, Doc Bruce taught us about DNA and RNA. The rest of
the afternoon was filled with swimming, throwing coconuts for
Reef-boy, the friendly island dog, hanging out in hammocks, and
journaling about marine creatures we decided to research for the day.
We're all having an awesome time here, and we're super excited for
tomorrow and the rest of the week!

Zada + the Squad


Sunday, July 30th, 2017
9:26 PM

We have finished our first full day here on South Water Caye and have nothing but good things to share!
After a wake up call and breakfast we set out on the boat to the Forereef Slope off the shore of the island. Masks and fins were strapped on and soon 20 eager marine explorers were in the water. The cool water welcomed us as we approached the spur-and-groove reef. We spent our time diving under the surface and exploring the mounds of coral that offered its beauty. We discovered little creatures under the coral overhangs and inside tiny caves just big enough to hold a hidden creature. The best things to see are the ones who have to be found. The reef was alive with corals ranging from Elk Horn and Stag Horn to Lettuce Leaf. We saw a Spotted Eagle Ray, Caribbean Reef Squid, a Nurse Shark and many many types of colorful reef fish. It is truly incredible to dive down 30 feet and hold onto the rock of the reef at the same level as the sea creatures. There is so much more to be seen from that point of view than from the surface. It almost feels as if you are a fish, that is until human reality calls and it's time to return to the surface for air. The beautiful reef was an amazing first dive.
We came back for lunch and then had free time which consisted of identifying fish we saw this morning, relaxing in hammocks, backflipping off the dock into the water, cracking open coconuts and hanging out in the seagrass beds. We have been journaling and have been researching different species to write about daily. Today was a very successful day and we are so excited to see what the rest of the week has in store for us!
Be on the look out for tomorrow night's email, we can't wait to share our adventures with you all!

Emily and the Belize Crew :)


Saturday, July 29th, 2017
7:55 PM

We have arrived safely at the IZE field station on South Water Caye. We had a long but fantastic travel day through the Belize countryside and finished off the day with a snorkel. We've already seen a sea turtle, spotted eagle ray, and so many wonderful corals. Tonight we are getting settled in to our cabins and are about to eat dinner.

We will touch in more later but we wanted to let you know that we are safe and sound.

Nicole and the Belize crew

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Sanibel Sea School Campers Paddle the Caloosahatchee River

Paddlers pitched their tent on an uninhabited island and enjoyed sunset views. 

Paddlers pitched their tent on an uninhabited island and enjoyed sunset views. 

During the last week of July, Sanibel Sea School offered campers a unique opportunity to canoe the Caloosahatchee River for the first time ever. Six participants between the ages of 13 and 18 joined the nonprofit organization’s executive director, Dr. Bruce Neill, and marine educator Spencer Richardson for an adventurous 40 mile paddle from Alva, FL to Sanibel Island.

Taking a break during a long day of paddling on the Caloosahatchee River. 

Taking a break during a long day of paddling on the Caloosahatchee River. 

The group launched their canoes from a boat ramp in Alva on Tuesday morning, carrying their camping gear and plenty of food for their expedition. On the first day, they were able to complete 16 miles, passing through the Franklin Lock and ending their day on a small, uninhabited island. “We enjoyed the sunset together, cooked dinner, and played cards until we fell asleep,” said Richardson. Participants also discussed the close connection between inland and coastal communities in our region, reflecting on shared waters and environmental issues that affect all of us. 

The next morning, they observed the transition from a freshwater to saltwater environment, and began to see dolphins, manatees, and eagle rays in the river. Storms rolled in during the afternoon, so after 15 miles of paddling, they set up camp under a shelter at Cape Coral Park until the thunder and lightning had passed.

Campers found and explored an abandoned sailboat. 

Campers found and explored an abandoned sailboat. 

On Thursday, the paddlers set out to complete the final 9 miles of their journey, which ended at Bailey Beach on Sanibel. “We were all so exhausted on the last day,” said Richardson, “but once we could see San Carlos Bay, it felt like the home stretch. I think we all felt energized by that, and we easily finished the trip across the estuary.”

“These young adults did a great job on their first long-distance river paddle,” said Neill. “Following the Caloosahatchee was a very special experience, and one that not many people in Southwest Florida are able to have.” Richardson added that it really felt like the adventure of a lifetime. “There were hard moments, fun moments, and moments of realization, and we all improved our paddling skills. In the end, we were all so excited to have accomplished this together.”

The group posed for a photo at Bailey Beach after their long journey. 

The group posed for a photo at Bailey Beach after their long journey. 

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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Campers Have a Slurping Good Time at Sanibel Sea School’s Pipefish Week

Pipefish Week campers examined plankton (a favorite food of the pipefish) under a microscope. 

Pipefish Week campers examined plankton (a favorite food of the pipefish) under a microscope. 

Close relatives of the seahorse, pipefish are good at things like blending in among the seagrass blades, slurping up food with their long, fused jaws, and adapting to salty surroundings. Campers enrolled in Suck It Up, Pipefish Week at Sanibel Sea School spent the week studying these somewhat strange, definitely fascinating creatures.

Seining for pipefish in the seagrass bed was a favorite activity among participants. 

Seining for pipefish in the seagrass bed was a favorite activity among participants. 

Like seahorses, pipefish have narrow, toothless mouths, so participants practiced slurping up food through straws during a Jello-slurping relay race. Campers also seined for pipefish in their natural habitiat, the seagrass bed, and played camouflage games to understand just how talented pipefish are when it comes to hiding from their predators.

Campers showed their team spirit with face paint in their surfboard paddling team colors. 

Campers showed their team spirit with face paint in their surfboard paddling team colors. 

Other activites included making seagrass art, a pipefish scavenger hunt, and an exciting courtship dance battle, since pipefish perform elaborate courtship rituals. As usual, there was also plenty of time for knot-tying, surfboard paddling, and making new friends.

Nine-armed sea stars made a guest appearance during Pipefish Week. 

Nine-armed sea stars made a guest appearance during Pipefish Week. 

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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Sanibel Sea School’s Coral Reef Week Campers Explore the Florida Keys

Campers departed the campground for a snorkeling trip to Looe Key Reef. 

Campers departed the campground for a snorkeling trip to Looe Key Reef. 

Twenty-five campers ages 11-12 recently spent a week exploring coral reefs on Big Pine Key. Led by Sanibel Sea School’s team of marine educators, they snorkeled in a variety of underwater habitats, practiced skills like cast netting and knot tying, and slept in tents underneath the stars.

Coralline algae provides habitat for thousands of invertebrates. During a lab, campers tried to identify as many species as possible. 

Coralline algae provides habitat for thousands of invertebrates. During a lab, campers tried to identify as many species as possible. 

After setting up camp at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and Campground, the group made daily boat trips to Looe Key Reef to observe life on a coral reef. It was a first for many, and participants were able to see nurse sharks, blacktip reef sharks, goliath groupers, brightly colored reef fish, live shells, and more. Other snorkeling destinations included the Big Pine Key Bridge, which is home to large tarpon, The Blue Hole, where Cassiopeia are abundant, Bahia Honda State Park, and the “Deep Blue”, where campers had a chance to float in 450 feet of water.

Snorkeling in the "Deep Blue", where the ocean is 450 feet deep, was a favorite activity among participants. 

Snorkeling in the "Deep Blue", where the ocean is 450 feet deep, was a favorite activity among participants. 

Each day, counselors led a scientific lab to more deeply explore different aspects of coral reef biology. Topics included sea urchin embryology, goniolithon (coralline algae), and sponge anatomy. “Our goniolithon lab is always a favorite among campers,” said group leader Johnny Rader. “They are able to break apart pieces of coralline algae to see what is living inside, and often find bristle worms, brittle stars, crabs, and flatworms. It is amazing how much life can exist on one small piece of algae.”

Taking a break. 

Taking a break. 

Other trip highlights included a visit to the Turtle Hospital to learn about sea turtle rehabilitation, eating delicious camp food, and evening activities like night snorkeling and dance contests. Participants returned to Sanibel happy, tired, and with many new stories to share with family and friends.

Camping with a view. 

Camping with a view. 

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. 

Click here to view additional Coral Reef Week photos.

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Sanibel Sea School to Partner with Road Scholar

Participants in an intergenerational travel program will learn about Sanibel's fascinating creatures and ecosystems. 

Participants in an intergenerational travel program will learn about Sanibel's fascinating creatures and ecosystems. 

During July and August, Sanibel Sea School will partner with Road Scholar, an educational travel company, to host grandparents and their grandchildren for six days of intergenerational exploration and learning. 

Participants will stay at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, where Sanibel Sea School operates a satellite campus, and will visit Sanibel’s unique beaches, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds led by the nonprofit’s team of knowledgeable marine educators. Activities will include snorkeling, seining, a squid dissection, and more.  

“We are honored to work with such a well-respected organization,” said Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School’s Executive Director. “Road Scholar is dedicated to inspiring and providing lifelong learning opportunities, which is perfectly aligned with our own approach to ocean education. It is a beautiful thing when two generations can experience the ocean’s magic together.” 

Sanibel Sea School, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time, also has plans to offer a retreat for active adults with Road Scholar in Fall 2017. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org and roadscholar.org.

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Mighty Calusa Week Campers Treated to a Night Snorkel

Doc Bruce watched over night snorkelers from his stand up paddleboard. 

Doc Bruce watched over night snorkelers from his stand up paddleboard. 

Sanibel Sea School’s Mighty Calusa Week campers celebrated the history and culture of Southwest Florida’s Calusa Indians. In addition to canoeing, fishing, and building tools like the Calusa might have, participants showed their Sanibel spirit in the Fourth of July parade and were invited to attend a night snorkel.

Snorkelers found shrimp, juvenile crabs, and more. 

Snorkelers found shrimp, juvenile crabs, and more. 

The ocean becomes a different place at night, and it’s amazing what you can find with an underwater flashlight and a snorkel mask after dark. Campers met on the Sanibel Causeway at sunset and ventured into the seagrass beds with their counselors in search of nocturnal sea creatures.

Mighty Calusa Week Campers seined for fish like the Calusa Indians.

Mighty Calusa Week Campers seined for fish like the Calusa Indians.

“Campers are usually a little bit nervous at first, but they quickly realize how much there is to see and forget about their fears,” said Nicole Finnicum, the organization’s Director of Education. “This week, night snorkelers found shrimp, hermit crabs, juvenile blue crabs, pin fish, and mojarra.” Some of the snorkelers were also able to observe bioluminescence, which is the production of light by living organisms.

We ended the week with an exciting surf paddling race.

We ended the week with an exciting surf paddling race.

As usual, participants also surfed, created ocean art using natural materials, and made plenty of new friends. 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.

Night snorkel attendees also enjoyed the sunset views from the Sanibel Causeway islands. 

Night snorkel attendees also enjoyed the sunset views from the Sanibel Causeway islands. 

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Sanibel Sea School Campers Dive in to the World of Sharks

Nurse Shark in the Dark Week campers looked for sharks while canoeing in San Carlos Bay. 

Nurse Shark in the Dark Week campers looked for sharks while canoeing in San Carlos Bay. 

Sharks were in the spotlight at Sanibel Sea School during the last week of June. The nonprofit organization hosted Shark of a Whale Week at its flagship campus on Periwinkle Way, and Nurse Shark in the Dark Week at Canterbury School in Fort Myers.

Campers dissected a shark during Shark of a Whale Week.

Campers dissected a shark during Shark of a Whale Week.

Shark of a Whale Week campers learned about the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark, a gentle, filter-feeding behemoth that knows a thing or two about camouflage. Participants conducted a plankton tow to take a closer look at the whale shark’s favorite food, built a whale shark sand sculpture to put the creature’s massive size in perspective, and played a game of blob tag to understand the challenges of being so large. They also dissected a small shark to study shark anatomy, and tried to camouflage themselves while snorkeling in the bay.

A whale shark sand sculpture showed participants just how large these fish can be. 

A whale shark sand sculpture showed participants just how large these fish can be. 

Nurse Shark in the Dark Week was all about these bottom-dwelling sharks that like to hide out under ledges and are able to locate prey in dark, mucky waters. Campers canoed in search of sharks on the sea floor, attempted to locate objects underwater using senses other than sight, and slurped up various foods to learn what eating must be like for a small-jawed nurse shark. Participants were also treated to a night snorkel near the Sanibel Causeway, and had a great time swimming in the dark.  

As usual, there was also time each week for surfing, art projects, and making new friends. 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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Young Women Achieve Ocean Warrior Status at Sanibel Sea School

Wahine Toa campers went for a paddle in the Sanibel canals. 

Wahine Toa campers went for a paddle in the Sanibel canals. 

Eleven young women between the ages of 13 and 15 recently joined Sanibel Sea School for Wahine Toa Week, an all-female stand up paddleboarding and survival camp. In the Hawaiian language, Wahine Toa means “fierce female ocean warrior”, and participants proved that they were more than worthy of the title by completing challenging paddling courses, practicing urban and wilderness survival skills, and camping overnight on an uninhabited island.

Beru Pierce practiced changing a tire.

Beru Pierce practiced changing a tire.

Female counselors taught practical skills like first aid, how to change a tire, and how to jumpstart a vehicle. Campers also learned how to build sturdy shelters, start a fire, tie useful knots, and how to rescue a fellow paddler in need of assistance. “When we were first planning our paddling and survival camps, some of our female staff members expressed frustration over the need to call their dads, brothers, or boyfriends for pretty basic help,” said program leader Spencer Richardson. “We are all very capable, but nobody had ever taught us simple skills like how to take care of a vehicle, or how to tie up a boat properly. We thought it would be great to offer an opportunity for girls to learn these things from older women who had already figured them out. That’s really how the idea for Wahine Toa was born.”

Campers posed for a photo while taking a break from learning the basics of vehicle maintenance. 

Campers posed for a photo while taking a break from learning the basics of vehicle maintenance. 

After plenty of paddling practice on San Carlos Bay and in the Sanibel canals, the group set out for Picnic Island on Thursday afternoon to test their new skills during a primitive campout. With only one sheet and a military-style meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) per person, they slept on top of their paddleboards under the stars. There was plenty of time to reflect on the week, enjoy the sounds of nature, and bond with fellow campers. Participants returned to the Sanibel Causeway the next morning for coffee and snacks before beginning one final, epic paddle to Fort Myers Beach. Upon arrival at Doc Fords, they were treated to lunch and a celebration of their new status as Wahine Toa.

San Carlos Bay provided calm waters and beautiful views. 

San Carlos Bay provided calm waters and beautiful views. 

Congratulations to Addy Rundqwist, Amy Walker, Beru Pierce, Elizabeth McCaffrey, Ella Stroud, Hannah Saunders, Isabelle Gosselin, Katherine McCaffrey, Kira Zautcke, Madelyn Mauro, and Samantha Sette. 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 about Wahine Toa and other programs, visit sanibelseaschool.org. 

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Sanibel Sea School Alumna Update: Catching up with Shaniqua Gladney

Shaniqua Gladney teaching a class about dolphins at South Seas Island Resort in July 2011. 

Shaniqua Gladney teaching a class about dolphins at South Seas Island Resort in July 2011. 

At Sanibel Sea School, we strive to help students grow into capable, successful, innovative citizens who care deeply about the ocean. We start with our four year olds, when we teach them about kindness and self sufficiency at Cuddlefish Camp (think putting on your own water shoes, then helping a friend!). But the goal applies to students of all ages, including the college aged ones who often join us as camp counselors and marine educators during the summer months. We're proud to be building and encouraging a tribe of smart, driven Ocean Ambassadors like Shaniqua Gladney, who worked with us in 2011 and 2013 as a Baltimore Aquarium Henry Hall Intern. Shaniqua is now pursuing a Ph.D. in biological oceanography at the University of South Florida, and has a long-term vision to make marine research more accessible to high school students. We sat down with her to talk about the ocean, Sanibel Sea School memories, and what she hopes to accomplish in the future. 

You grew up in Baltimore. How did you become interested in the ocean and marine biology? 
I participated in the Henry Hall Program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore from sixth grade until I graduated from high school. It's a summer program that gives public school students an opportunity to explore different marine environments, visit research stations, and participate in ocean conservation projects, and it's what made me realize that marine science would be a part of my life forever.

What led you to Sanibel Sea School? 
As an undergraduate, an adviser told me that internships were important. I didn’t know exactly how to find one, but I knew I could reach out to the Baltimore Aquarium and they would point me in the right direction. As it turned out, they were in their second year of partnering with Sanibel Sea School for the Henry Hall Internship Program. I applied and ended up working for the Sea School for two summers - in 2011 and 2013. I was a marine science instructor intern, splitting my time between Sanibel and Captiva.  

Do any memories from Sanibel Sea School stand out as meaningful to you? 
I spent one of my Saturdays with a group of minority students, who were in an alternative school program for at-risk girls. They lived so close to the beach but hardly ever got to see it, and they were so excited to explore an unfamiliar environment. From that day on, I knew that one day I wanted to start a research organization to allow students from all backgrounds to experience marine science research well before college.

Now you are a Ph.D. student. Tell us about that. 
I'm a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida, studying biological oceanography. Right now, it is important for me to focus on my core courses, but the plan for this summer is to start narrowing down a specific research topic. My hope is to become a part of the red tide study group and develop some research questions around the toxicity of Karenia brevis. I might decide to include an education and outreach component in my dissertation as well. 

What are your eventual career goals? 
My big, long-term goal is to start a research organization for students to receive research experience in the marine science field prior to pursuing higher education. Shorter term, I’m hoping to either land a research job in a government agency, such as NOAA or FWS, or to stay in academia. 

What do you think is the most amazing thing about the ocean? 
That it connects all of the Earth sciences and allows us to study Earth’s history and climate through many of the proxies from biological, chemical, physical, and geological processes. 

What do you think is the most important ocean conservation issue for people to know about in 2017? 
Climate change. Although we are still trying to figure out some of the details of climate change, we know that Earth’s climate is warming. The carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are higher than ever, and are continuing to rise. Due the vast majority of the global population being coastal, we should be worried about sea level rise as the ice caps melt. Ocean acidification will also cause problems for the ocean and its creatures as a result of climate change. We should all learn how to make changes in our everyday lives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

What do you think is the most effective way to inspire people to become ocean advocates? 
Through effective communication. As scientists, we sometimes get so wrapped up in the details of our research that we forget about the other people who can get involved in creating healthier oceans. When we can communicate our science clearly, people will become more trusting, and will gain a better understanding of what we do and why we do it. 

What advice would you give young Sanibel Sea School students who want to study marine science someday? 
Follow your dreams. There is so little that we know about the ocean and the more students that study marine science, the more we will learn. 

Thank you, Shaniqua! 

 

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Paddle the Canals with Sanibel Sea School’s Ocean Tribe Paddling Club

Sanibel Sea School's Ocean Tribe Paddling Club will host a Sanibel Canal Paddle in July.

Sanibel Sea School's Ocean Tribe Paddling Club will host a Sanibel Canal Paddle in July.

Sanibel Sea School’s new Ocean Tribe Paddling Club organizes a meet-up each month for paddling enthusiasts to enjoy a relaxed paddle, share tips and ideas, and meet new friends to paddle with.

The July meet-up will be held on Tuesday, July 11th at 5:30 PM, and participants will paddle the Sanibel canals. “The canals are almost always calm, and we will probably spot some wildlife like manatees, dolphins, and birds along the way,” said marine educator and ACA-certified paddling instructor Spencer Richardson, who plans and leads the monthly events.

Those interested in joining the paddle should bring their own paddling equipment (kayaks, canoes, stand up paddleboards and other paddle-powered vessels are all welcome). The group will leave from the Sanibel Boat Ramp, where parking is available for $4/ hour. 

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. The organization also offers weekly guided paddling excursions for families and groups. To learn more, visitsanibelseaschool.org or call (239) 472-8585

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Sanibel Sea School Campers Explore Barnacles and Cuttlefish 

Sanibel Sea School campers sunk bottles to attract their own barnacle settlements during Stuck On You, Barnacle Week. 

Sanibel Sea School campers sunk bottles to attract their own barnacle settlements during Stuck On You, Barnacle Week. 

Campers in Sanibel Sea School’s Stuck On You, Barnacle Week and Un-Cuddly Cuttlefish Week spent last week learning about some of the ocean’s most unusual creatures. 

We discovered that the glue produced by barnacles is much stronger than man-made glue. 

We discovered that the glue produced by barnacles is much stronger than man-made glue. 

Barnacle Week was all about the curious crustaceans we find glued to our docks, boats, and sometimes even other creatures. Participants snorkeled to find out where barnacles settle and grow, and sunk bottles to attract their own barnacle colonies. They compared the strength of the glue produced by barnacles to the strength of various man-made glues, and learned that barnacle glue is pretty amazing stuff – scientists are even studying it to figure out how humans can use it as an adhesive in the future. The week also included relay races, obstacle courses, and a game of barnacle musical chairs. 

Cuttlefish Week campers played a game of charades on the beach. 

Cuttlefish Week campers played a game of charades on the beach. 

The Un-Cuddly Cuttlefish Week was especially for 4 to 6 year olds, and provided plenty of opportunities for tiny ocean explorers to get comfortable in the water. Campers played beach games to learn about camouflage and mimicry, and were amazed by how smart these large-brained animals are. They can even communicate through visual messages! Participants also explored the shallows along Sanibel’s causeway islands, tie-dyed t-shirts, and made their own handprint cuttlefish. 

Sometimes our tiniest campers prefer to surf in pairs. 

Sometimes our tiniest campers prefer to surf in pairs. 

As usual, there was plenty of time each day for surfing, bracelet making, and new friends. 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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Campers Enjoy a Rainy Week at Sanibel Sea School

Campers used dip nets to search for swimming crabs at Bunche Beach. 

Campers used dip nets to search for swimming crabs at Bunche Beach. 

Rainy weather didn’t stop Sanibel Sea School campers from enjoying the ocean last week. The organization hosted Massive Manatee Week at its flagship campus on Sanibel’s east end, and Watch Me Swim, Crab Week at its Sundial Resort and Spa campus. 

Stormy weather provided some great surfing opportunities. 

Stormy weather provided some great surfing opportunities. 

Manatee Week participants braved the rain to learn all about these charming marine mammals. They painted their own “No Wake” signs to remind boaters to watch out for the slow-moving creatures, paddled canoes through manatee habitat, and played a game about buoyancy. Campers also made environmentally friendly soap to help reduce the amount of pollutants in our local waterways. 

Manatee Week participants canoed in search of the slow-moving marine mammals. 

Manatee Week participants canoed in search of the slow-moving marine mammals. 

At Sundial, swimming crabs were the topic of the week, and campers visited prime crab habitat to search for blue crabs, pass crabs, lady crabs, and speckled crabs. At Bunche Beach, they caught swimming crabs in their dip nets, and watched them use their swimmerets to move through the water. Back at Sundial, participants tried to swim like crabs and practiced molting during two very funny relay races. On a particularly stormy afternoon, they stayed inside to craft their own crabs using Plaster of Paris. 

Snorkeling is a favorite activity at Sanibel Sea School. 

Snorkeling is a favorite activity at Sanibel Sea School. 

As usual, campers also surfed, tied macramé bracelets, and made lots of new friends. 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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