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Winter Camp Registration Open at Sanibel Sea School

Winter campers at Sanibel Sea School enjoy days full of fun and learning at the beach. 

Winter campers at Sanibel Sea School enjoy days full of fun and learning at the beach. 

Registration for Sanibel Sea School’s ocean-themed winter camp programs is now open, and campers can sign up via the organization’s website. Two weeks of camp will be offered for children ages 6-13, beginning Tuesday, December 26th and Monday, January 1st. There will also be an opportunity for teenagers to participate as Counselors in Training.

In celebration of winter and colder climates, the first week’s theme will be Penguins, and the second week will be all about Polar Bears. All activities and games will relate to these creatures and their behavior, and will include surfing, seining, snorkeling, relay races, and crafts. “Of course we will also add our annual traditions to the camp schedule,” said Director of Education Nicole Finnicum. “We always write ocean carols and go canal caroling, we drink hot chocolate to warm up after surfing, and we hold our Give Your Worries to the Sea ceremony to begin the new year,” she added.

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean, one person at a time. Scholarships are available upon request. To learn more and register, click here or call (239) 472-8585. 

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Sanibel Sea School to Host Sanibel Luminary Event

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On Friday, December 1st, Sanibel Sea School will host Sanibel Luminary Festival attendees at the Sea School’s Flagship Campus on the east end of the island from 5 to 9 PM. The Sanibel Luminary Festival is a free community event held each year to mark the official start of the holiday season. 

Sanibel Sea School’s parking lot, which is located at 455 Periwinkle Way, will be converted into a festive patio space, and visitors will enjoy mulled wine, craft beer, delicious snacks (some fresh from the grill), and music. There will also be family-friendly games and activities, and a flash sale at the Ocean Tribe Outfitters, Sanibel Sea School’s retail space. All items will be 10% off during the event.  

“Luminary is one of our favorite events of the year, because we get to visit with so many of our friends and neighbors,” said Chrissy Basturk, Sanibel Sea School’s Development Director. “Our goal is to create a fun, festive evening for visitors, and to showcase some of the projects and programs our organization offers to the community.”

Sanibel Sea School is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. For more information, please call (239) 472-8585.

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After School Ocean Art at Sanibel Sea School

Students in last year's Ocean Art class created sand dollar ornaments. 

Students in last year's Ocean Art class created sand dollar ornaments. 

On Thursday afternoons beginning November 30th, Sanibel Sea School will offer after school art classes for students in grades 1-5. Participants will have an opportunity to create beautiful, eco-friendly crafts made from natural materials each week.

“We’ll have a different art project planned for each session, and we will provide all of the supplies,” said Director of Education Nicole Finnicum. “We love to offer After School Art around the holidays, because our creations make great gifts,” she added. Past crafts have included painted driftwood signs, sand dollar ornaments, and picture frames decorated with shells.

Sessions are from 3:30 to 5:30 PM, and parent pick up and drop off will be at Sanibel Sea School’s Flagship Campus (455 Periwinkle Way). Participants can register for individual classes for $20 each, or sign up for the four-week series at a discounted rate of $75. 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, click here

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It's Almost Time for the Annual Thanksgiving Beach Walk at Sanibel Sea School

Emma Neill, Kira Zautcke, and Abby Neill enjoyed the 2016 Thanksgiving Beach Walk.

Emma Neill, Kira Zautcke, and Abby Neill enjoyed the 2016 Thanksgiving Beach Walk.

 

There’s so much to be thankful for when you live near the beach, like manatees, sand dollars, and sandy feet. Join Sanibel Sea School on Thanksgiving morning to enjoy the fresh ocean air and explore what has washed ashore. The nonprofit organization's executive director, marine biologist "Doc Bruce" Neill, will talk a bit about our island ecosystem and any interesting creatures encountered along the way, and will be happy to answer your questions. Meet at Sanibel Sea School (455 Periwinkle Way) at 8:45 AM on Thursday, November 23rd. This event is free and all ages are welcome. There will be coffee and tea available, please bring your own mug. Click here or call (239) 472-8585 for more information. 

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Sanibel Sea School to Host Free Community Camp Days On School Holidays

Local students enjoyed Sanibel Sea School's free Hurricane Camp in September. 

Local students enjoyed Sanibel Sea School's free Hurricane Camp in September. 

Beginning in 2018, Sanibel Sea School will host free Community Camp Days for local students on select school holidays. The first free program will be offered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 15th. Registration details and additional program days will be announced via the organization’s social media accounts and e-mail list approximately one month in advance.

Each Community Camp Day will have a theme, and games and activities will always relate to the topic of the day. The first theme will be dolphins, and activities could include snorkeling, surfing, relay races, and art projects. “We received so much positive feedback from families for offering a post-Irma Hurricane Camp while schools were closed,” said Director of Education Nicole Finnicum. “Parents seemed so grateful to have a safe, affordable place to send their kids while they went back to work.”

She added that many parents asked for the nonprofit to offer similar opportunities in the future, on normal school holidays, which often present childcare challenges. The idea was perfect, because the Sanibel Sea School team is always looking for creative new ways to directly support the community with its donor-supported scholarship fund. “We immediately said yes and started planning,” said Finnicum. “All of us that work here are so grateful to have donors who make projects like this possible.”

Space is limited, and registration will be on a first come, first served basis. To ensure that all interested families have a chance to participate, registration will be limited to two free program days per calendar year, per child. For more information about future Community Camp Days, follow Sanibel Sea School on Facebook and Instagram, and sign up to receive the organization’s emails at sanibelseaschool.org. Alternatively, you may request to be added to the email list by emailing info@sanibelseaschool.org. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. 

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Sanibel Sea School to Offer Caloosahatchee River Trip

A view of downtown Fort Myers from the Caloosahatchee River. 

A view of downtown Fort Myers from the Caloosahatchee River. 

Sanibel Sea School has added a boat trip down the Caloosahatchee River to its 2017 calendar of adult classes. On December 6th, participants will cruise from Alva to Sanibel aboard the organization’s pontoon boat, learning about river ecology along the way.  

“We offered a course about oxbow bends on the river earlier this year, and our students enjoyed it so much that they requested a longer river trip,” said Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill. He added that the scenery, different wildlife species, and an opportunity to pass through the Franklin Lock make this a unique chance to experience Southwest Florida from a new perspective. Past wildlife sightings along the river have included manatees, cownose rays, and Sandhill Cranes. “The Caloosahatchee acts as a bridge between freshwater and marine ecosystems. I am always struck by how closely our inland and barrier island communities are connected,” said Neill.

For this program, students will meet at Sanibel Causeway Island B at 9 AM. They will be transported to Alva by bus, and will return to their vehicles by boat. The trip will last approximately 4 hours, and participants are invited to bring a snack or light lunch to enjoy along the way. The cost is $100 per person. Scholarships are available upon request. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. Please click here to learn more and register. 

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Staff Spotlight: Walter Cheatham and Sam Lucas

We are excited to welcome two team members this week. Walter Cheatham will join us as an Outdoor Education Coordinator, and Sam Lucas is our new Conservation Initiative Coordinator and Marine Science Educator. Meet Walter and Sam below!


Walter Cheatham, Outdoor Education Coordinator

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Where are you from?
South Carolina

Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I attended Auburn University. My degree is in Wildlife Biology.

Is there something about working at Sanibel Sea School that you are looking most forward to? Sanibel Sea School believes in leaving the planet in better shape than it was when you arrived. That overarching theme is what excites me most. 

What do you like to do during your time off?
Paddle, walk, and bike - all with my kids in tow. 

Favorite sea creature:
I think the lightning whelk is the coolest creature ever. 

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach?
Jimmy Buffett playing Greatful Dead songs

If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go?
Honestly, Estero Bay, though I could be convinced to put on a VERY thick wetsuit and paddleboard the waves calving off glaciers on Iceland's coast and call that my favorite.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself?
I talk all the time because I'm excited. I like to share my excitement about what I do with anyone within earshot. 

 


Sam Lucas, Conservation Initiative Coordinator and Marine Science Educator

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. More specifically, in a town named Essex located right outside the city. If you speak to me in person I’ve been told I have a little bit of an accent!

Where did you go to school and what did you study? 
I attended Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and obtained a BS in Biology. It was a big change from Baltimore as the Shore is very rural, but I loved it! 

Is there something about working at Sanibel Sea School that you are looking most forward to? 
I am very excited to get more involved in the field of conservation with this position as it is such an important component of the future of our oceans. I am also looking forward to sharing my passion and enthusiasm for marine science with a new community.

What do you like to do during your time off? 
I love to run! It is one of my favorite ways to relax. I also enjoy hanging out on the beach and going on day trips to new places.

Favorite sea creature: 
The striped burrfish always brings a smile to my face!

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach? 
Honestly, I’m not too picky and I listen to a little bit of everything, so whatever my friends feel like listening to at the time.

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If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go? 
I’ve never been to a coral reef and would love to see one, but kelp forests interest me as well.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself? 
I am really looking forward to learning about the area and exploring Florida. I also can't wait to learn more about the animals and plants that I'll encounter here!

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A Morning on San Carlos Bay

"Doc Bruce" Neill used Google Maps to help students understand the geography of San Carlos Bay. 

"Doc Bruce" Neill used Google Maps to help students understand the geography of San Carlos Bay. 

Participants in Sanibel Sea School’s fall series of boat-based marine science classes for adults spent a morning exploring the northern areas of San Carlos Bay. After climbing aboard the nonprofit organization’s pontoon boat and departing from the Sanibel Causeway, the group cruised to Pine Island and visited the surrounding mangrove islands, learning some history and biology along the way. 

Sanibel Sea School's pontoon boat. 

Sanibel Sea School's pontoon boat. 

Sanibel Sea School’s executive director, marine biologist Dr. Bruce Neill, pointed out St. James City, and discussed its heyday as a fishing village. Once home to a thriving stone crab fishery, the town also manufactured hemp and sisal rope that was used to craft fishing nets. 

Participants observed a flock of American White Pelicans. 

Participants observed a flock of American White Pelicans. 

Neill also talked about the geographical features of San Carlos Bay, and its relationship to nearby bodies of water, including Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, Estero Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. “While all of these places are being affected by the Lake Okeechobee releases, San Carlos Bay’s location at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River makes it particularly susceptible to damage,” Neill said. He added that seagrass beds are being heavily impacted by the high concentration of nutrients in the water. “The nutrients coming out of the river help algae grow on seagrass blades, which blocks light and hinders the plant’s ability to thrive and support the larger ecosystem.” 

The trip ended with striking views of the Sanibel Causeway. 

The trip ended with striking views of the Sanibel Causeway. 

Wildlife sightings during the trip included bottlenose dolphins, a flock of American White Pelicans, a manatee, a Bald Eagle, and an American Oystercatcher. Sanibel Sea School will continue to offer weekly boat-based classes through the first week of December, including a cruise down the Caloosahatchee River from Alva to Sanibel on Wednesday, December 6th. To learn more and register, visit sanibelseaschool.org or call (239) 472-8585

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Heights Foundation Students Visit Sanibel Sea School

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Students from the Heights Foundation’s Heights Center, an organization that supports at-risk children in the Harlem Heights neighborhood through after school programs and camps, visited Sanibel Sea School for an afternoon of ocean discovery at Bunche Beach. The activity of the day was snorkeling, and participants searched for marine creatures including live shells, marine worms, and crabs.

“Bunche Beach, located just across the Sanibel Causeway in Fort Myers, has some incredible mud flats, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds to explore,” said marine educator Johnny Rader, who led the program. “We always find interesting invertebrates that the kids are able to hold and examine,” he added. Over the years, the organization’s educators have learned that hands-on ocean experiences are often the most meaningful and memorable.

Supported by grants and charitable contributions, Sanibel Sea School engages with Heights students twice each month – once in the classroom, and once in the field. “We are so grateful that we’re able to offer these outreach programs to our community,” said Rader. “There are so many kids in our region who live just miles from the ocean, but hardly ever get to visit or learn about it.” Sanibel Sea School also partners with the Gladiolus Center for Learning and Development, The PACE Center for Girls, the Pine Manor Improvement Association, and numerous schools in Lee and Hendry counties to provide educational outreach programs. 

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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Learning From the Best

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The Bait Box owner and Sanibel native Ralph Woodring visited Sanibel Sea School’s After School Cast Netting program to help students improve their cast net throwing skills before the 24th Annual Esperanza Woodring Memorial Cast Net Rodeo on November 4th. 

Accompanied by his assistant, Jack Yeslow, Woodring spoke about his mother Esperanza’s keen ability to throw a net, the importance of having fishing skills during the early days on Sanibel, and how to spot bait fish in the water before casting. "Don't ever let anyone tell you a girl can't throw a cast net. My mom almost always caught more fish than my dad," he said.

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Woodring and Yeslow then observed each participant’s skills and made suggestions, helping students adjust their stance and throwing methods for a more successful cast. “There are so many ways to throw a cast net,” advised Yeslow. “You just have to try a few different things and figure out what works best for you,” he added. By the end of the session, many students had caught one or more fish in their nets. 

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“It’s meaningful to see the kids learning directly from the fishermen,” said Sanibel Sea School educator Johnny Rader. “Ralph Woodring always shares a few stories about growing up on Sanibel when he stops by. The island has definitely changed over the years, so hearing from someone who has been here since the beginning is a pretty special opportunity for the younger generation.” By developing waterman skills like cast netting, kids are able to carry on the legacy of the people who lived here long before us. 

After School Cast Netting is offered by Sanibel Sea School every fall. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit will also offer After School Surfing and Ocean Art this year. To learn more and register, visit sanibelseaschool.org. For more details about the Cast Net Rodeo, visit thebaitbox.com.

Photo by Laura Letteri

Photo by Laura Letteri

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After School Surfing at Sanibel Sea School

Sanibel Sea School will offer after school surfing lessons in November. 

Sanibel Sea School will offer after school surfing lessons in November. 

On Tuesday afternoons in November, Sanibel Sea School will offer surfing lessons for students in grades 1-5. Participants will have an opportunity to learn how to surf for the first time, or to improve their existing skills. 

“In this program, we will teach proper paddling techniques, how to maneuver the surfboard through the water, and how to pop up and catch a wave,” said Director of Education Nicole Finnicum. “Surfing is a great way to connect with the ocean in an active way, and we think every Florida kid should know how to do it,” she added. 

Sanibel Sea School will pick students up from the Sanibel Recreation Center at 3:15 PM, or parents can drop them off at Sanibel Sea School’s Flagship Campus. Pick up is at the Flagship Campus at 5:30 PM. Participants can register for individual classes for $20 each, or sign up for the four-week series at a discounted rate of $75. 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 for after school programs, click here

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Sanibel Sea School Participates in Cultural Exchange with Ohio Students

Sanibel Sea School educators Nicole Finnicum, Johnny Rader, and Shannon Stainken, along with students Ben and Jonah Froelich and Addison Sprecher, prepared to Skype with students in Ohio. 

Sanibel Sea School educators Nicole Finnicum, Johnny Rader, and Shannon Stainken, along with students Ben and Jonah Froelich and Addison Sprecher, prepared to Skype with students in Ohio. 

Thanks to a partnership with the PBS KIDS Ready to Learn program, some of the homeschooled students who visit Sanibel Sea School regularly had a chance to connect with students in the Columbus, Ohio area via Skype. The groups participated in a form of cultural exchange, educating one another about a local environmental science topic of their choice. 

“After the PBS KIDS series Splash and Bubbles filmed at Sanibel Sea School in 2016, we were invited to join the network’s educational outreach efforts,” said Director of Education Nicole Finnicum. “They connected us with elementary school teachers in Ohio, and together we devised a plan to facilitate a series of interstate student interactions,” she added. 

That plan included the exchange of “lessons in a box” before the Skype sessions took place between classrooms. Sanibel Sea School’s students chose to teach their Ohio peers about the lightning whelk life cycle, and sent sand, shells, and egg cases to them through the mail. In return, they received a hands-on lesson about Ohio buckeyes and ladybugs. On the day of the first video phone call, participants took turns opening the boxes and sharing what they knew about their topics.

“It was so much fun to see the Ohio kids’ excitement as they asked us endless questions about shells, and to observe our own students’ curiosity as they examined a box of buckeyes for the first time,” said Finnicum, who grew up in Ohio and loved collecting buckeyes as a child. “It’s really incredible how much you can learn from a thirty-minute conversation with people from a different region of our country.” Two more exchange sessions will take place later this month. 

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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Staff Spotlight: Shannon Stainken

Our newest marine science educator loves to travel and brings experience and knowledge of Florida's oceans from her time spent working at the Miami Seaquarium. Learn more about her below! 

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Where are you from?
This is always a hard question for me to answer. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but have moved almost every two years of my life (sometimes internationally). I usually say Connecticut because thats where I went to high school and would go home to during college breaks. 

Where did you go to school and what did you study? 
I went to undergrad at the University of Miami and got a dual bachelor of science in biology and marine science. I received a Masters of Professional Science from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) in marine conservation. 

Is there something about working at Sanibel Sea School that you are looking most forward to? 
I am very excited about the significant field component of Sanibel Sea School. Experiential learning where students can touch, feel, see, smell, and maybe even taste the environment around them is so important. It’s not only hands on, but also hearts on, and can make a lasting impact on students. 

What do you like to do during your time off? 
I enjoy anything that allows me to be outdoors. I love to scuba dive or just spend the day relaxing on the beach. 

Favorite sea creature:  
Blue-ringed octopus 

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach? 
Jack Johnson is always a good call for a weekend at the beach. 

If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go? 
I would explore the deep sea ecosystems. There is much to discover and some pretty wild creatures down there. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself? 
The travel bug bit me hard. My absolute favorite thing to do is explore somewhere I’ve not yet been. It pushes me out of my comfort zone each and every time, and I love all the valuable lessons traveling has taught me. 

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After School Cast Netting Lessons at Sanibel Sea School

On Tuesday afternoons in October, Sanibel Sea School will offer cast netting lessons for students in grades K-8. The program is designed for children who are interested in fishing to learn how to use cast nets for the first time, or to improve their existing skills.

“We are going to visit a different location each week, and we will focus on sight fishing and other specific techniques,” said Director of Education Nicole Finnicum. “Many people expect throwing a net to be difficult, but with a little bit of practice, people of all ages can learn,” she added. During the final session, special guests from The Bait Box will visit to share their expertise.

Sanibel Sea School will pick students up from the Sanibel Recreation Center at 3:30 PM, or parents can drop them off at Sanibel Sea School’s Flagship Campus. Pick up is at the Flagship Campus at 5:30 PM. Participants can register for individual classes for $20 each, or sign up for the four-week series at a discounted rate of $75. On November 4th, students will have a chance to compete in the Bait Box’s annual Esperanza Woodring Memorial Cast Net Rodeo.

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, click here

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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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