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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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Summer Camp is off to a Great Start at Sanibel Sea School

Camo Crabo week campers set crab traps in San Carlos Bay. 

Camo Crabo week campers set crab traps in San Carlos Bay. 

Summer break has officially started for Lee County Schools, which means it's time for summer camp at Sanibel Sea School. During the week of May 29th, the 501c3 nonprofit organization offered two non-residential, weekly camp programs – Camo Crabo Week at its Flagship Campus on Sanibel’s East End, and Mangrove Mud Week at Sundial Resort and Spa.

Campers show off their to-scale sand sculpture of a 12-foot Japanese spider crab. 

Campers show off their to-scale sand sculpture of a 12-foot Japanese spider crab. 

Camo Crabo Week participants spent the week learning about slow-moving, algae-wearing spider crabs. They set crab traps to learn how commercial fishermen catch crabs in our area, and had a chance to examine the crabs they caught up close. Campers also snorkeled in San Carlos Bay in search of spider crabs, since they often cling to rocks and other underwater structures, and played games to understand these crabs’ perspectives and feeding habits. Spider crabs have very poor vision and must rely on other senses to find food and navigate their world. A favorite activity was building a to-scale sand sculpture of the largest spider crab, the Japanese spider crab. Its leg span can be up to twelve feet!

Mud walks at Bunche Beach are always a favorite activity among campers. 

Mud walks at Bunche Beach are always a favorite activity among campers. 

During Mangrove Mud Week, campers visited Bunche Beach and Blind Pass to learn how to identify Sanibel’s four species of mangroves, which include black, white and red mangroves, along with the beloved buttonwood. They also snorkeled to better understand mangroves’ role in our barrier island ecosystem, looking for creatures that rely on these unique trees for habitat along the way. An osmosis experiment using potatoes and salt demonstrated how mangroves regulate the amount of salt in their system – an important adaptation in this coastal area. “We also collected mangrove propagules to create our own mangrove aquarium,” said counselor Nicole Funk. “We hope these kids will stop by to see the tank later in the summer, so they can observe how much our mangroves have grown!”

You are sure to see lots of mangrove inhabitants while snorkeling in San Carlos Bay. 

You are sure to see lots of mangrove inhabitants while snorkeling in San Carlos Bay. 

In addition to learning about our marine ecosystem and its creatures, camp participants surfed, created ocean art using natural materials, and made lots of new friends. A great time was had by all, and the summer camp season is off to a fantastic start. Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more and view photos from camp, visit sanibelseaschool.org

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Welcome, 2017 Counselors!

It's that time of year again! Summer camp starts on Monday, which means we have some friendly new faces in the building. Read on to meet our 2017 counselors. 


Kaity Seitz

Where are you from? 
I'm from Canal Winchester, Ohio (near Columbus).

Where do you go to school and what are you studying?
I am going into my sophomore year at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where I am studying environmental and marine science.

Is there a camp activity or week that you're looking most forward to?
I'm super excited for the weeks when the 4-6 year olds come. I love little kids and I can't wait to get them pumped about the ocean!

What do you like to do during your time off? 
I spend most of my free time here kayaking. I have a couple of spots around the island that I can always count on to find some curious dolphins or manatees; it's a great way for me to relax after a long day of work.

Favorite sea creature?
Usually I would say a manatee or a dolphin, but I am reading a book about octopus right now and they are insanely fascinating! 

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach? 
You can't go wrong with a little Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley at the beach. I'm also big into the Hamilton soundtrack right now, so I'd have to throw some of that in there.

If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go? 
I would love to dive at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.


Chris Pasion

Where are you from? 
Lebanon, Ohio

Where do you go to school and what are you studying?
I go to school at the University of Cincinnati where I study Biology and English.

Is there a camp activity or week that you're looking most forward to?
I am most excited for the surf races each Friday.

What do you like to do during your time off? 
I like to play guitar and collect records in my free time. I also love to fish.

Favorite sea creature?
My favorite sea creature is (currently) the whale shark. I also like manta rays and goliath grouper.

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach? 
The best music for the beach is Bob Marley and the Wailers.

If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go? 
I would visit the Great Barrier Reef.


Nicole Funk

Where are you from?
Lexington, Kentucky

Where do you go to school and what are you studying?
I go to the University of Kentucky and just finished a semester of studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. I study Natural Resources & Environmental Science with a minor in Spanish. 

Is there a camp activity or week that you're looking most forward to?
I am most looking forward to the week focused on the Calusa. I am really excited to learn more about the native people who used to live in this area!

What do you like to do during your time off? 
I love to sing, listen to music, go for walks, play guitar, read, cook, and of course, eat!

Favorite sea creature?
puffer fish 

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach?
I love R&B and recently started listening to a lot of reggaeton. I like R&B because it's laid-back and full of emotion, while reggaeton is fun and tropical-sounding. 

If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go? 
I would visit the mangroves of Ecuador. I have only been to the mangroves here in Sanibel, but I would love to see some mangroves in another part of the world. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself?
I was born on Halloween and my best friend's name is Katherine. 


Rachel Tammone

Where are you from?
I am from Newburgh, New York. 

Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I graduated in May 2017 from the University of Miami with a BA in Marine Affairs and a BA in Ecosystem Science and Policy. 

Is there a camp activity or week that you're looking most forward to?
I am looking most forward to The Mighty Calusa week because it reminds me of my elementary school when we had a week dedicated to our local Indian tribe. 

What do you like to do during your time off? 
During my off time I like to read or go paddleboarding. 

Favorite sea creature?
My favorite sea creature is the manta ray. 

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach?
The best music for a weekend at the beach is something with a country vibe, like Zach Brown Band or Jimmy Buffet.  

If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go? 
If I could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet I would like to go to the Arctic and see narwhals. 

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Clear Your Gear Releases New Educational Video

Sanibel Sea School is a founding member of Clear Your Gear, a collaborative effort among several Sanibel-based conservation organizations to reduce wildlife injuries caused by improperly discarded fishing gear. The group has released a new educational video, produced by Mark Meyers of TradeMarky Films, meant to encourage viewers to think about what happens to their fishing gear when they are finished with it. 

“This short, fun video helps people learn and remember what we can all do to preserve the safety and beauty of our waters,” said Dr. Heather Barron, Hospital Director at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) and Clear Your Gear Steering Committee Member. Barron treats numerous wildlife injuries caused by fishing gear, and birds and sea turtles are common victims. Fortunately, there are a few easy steps that individuals can take to help solve this problem.

“We love that so many people enjoy fishing and other water-based activities in Southwest Florida, and we know that the majority of them care deeply about the health of our ecosystems. Clear Your Gear aims to provide friendly reminders and easy tips to help residents and visitors fish responsibly and protect our wildlife. This video is one example of how we are doing that,” she said.

The video is set to a cleverly re-written version of a popular Irish folk song, called Drunken Sailor, and features a variety of local characters and scenery. It is available for viewing on Clear Your Gear's Facebook Page, website, and YouTube page. The group chose a humorous approach to keep things lighthearted, and to ensure that the video would be appropriate for all ages. “We wanted to create something that would illustrate the seriousness of the problem, appeal to a broad audience, and make people laugh. Mark was able to help us make that happen successfully with his ideas and talent,” said Sanibel Sea School’s Leah Biery, who is also a member of the Clear Your Gear Committee.  

Clear Your Gear participating organizations include The City of Sanibel, CROW, The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, The J.N.“Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Monofilament Busters, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, and Sanibel Sea School. The partnership is generously funded by grants from The West Coast Inland Navigation District, San-Cap Solutions to Avoid Red Tide, and The Sanibel-Captiva Fishing Club. Clear Your Gear would also like to thank the many volunteers who support this project for their hard work and dedication. To learn more, visit clearyourgear.org.

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Sanibel Sea School Receives Grant from Charitable Foundation of the Islands

Sanibel Sea School has been selected by the Charitable Foundation of the Islands (CFI) to receive a 2017-2018 Capacity Grant. This grant will make it possible for two of the organization’s management staff members to participate in advanced training opportunities this year, which will in turn increase the nonprofit’s capacity to carry out its programs successfully.

CFI’s mission is to help people in need on Sanibel and Captiva, to promote philanthropy, and to strengthen nonprofit organizations that will build a spirit of community for generations to come. They do this through the distribution of annually raised and permanently endowed funds.

The foundation’s Capacity-Building Initiative aims to help nonprofits accomplish work that requires time, energy, expertise, and innovative thinking beyond everyday operations. “Like many nonprofits, our budget does not include adequate funds to regularly provide our leadership team with development opportunities,” said Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School’s Executive Director. “CFI’s support will help our team move forward in a variety of ways, and is an example of what makes the Sanibel community so special.”

Sanibel Sea School is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. Learn more at www.sanibelseaschool.org.

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Students from Orangewood Elementary Visit Sanibel Sea School

Students from Orangewood Elementary practiced using a seine net at Sanibel Sea School.

Students from Orangewood Elementary practiced using a seine net at Sanibel Sea School.

Groups of second graders from Orangewood Elementary, located in Fort Myers, visited Sanibel Sea School during the first week of May to participate in ocean learning and exploration. Throughout the day, students rotated through a variety of stations, each with its own educational component. This partnership was subsidized by Sanibel Sea School’s donor-supported scholarship fund, to ensure that cost would not prevent any individual from attending.

Surfing always brings a smile to students' faces. 

Surfing always brings a smile to students' faces. 

Stations included seining, where students had a chance to catch and release creatures from the seagrass flats while learning about the seagrass ecosystem, surfing, which was accompanied by a lesson on the physics of waves, and a squid dissection. “I was so impressed by the kids’ excitement and their willingness to participate and learn,” said Johnny Rader, a marine educator at Sanibel Sea School. “One of their teachers told me that many students in her class are immigrants from Haiti, and have literally never been to the beach in Florida. They have been looking forward to this experience for months.” He added that he hoped the experience was as meaningful for his students as sharing the day with them was for him.

Students showed off their squid ink shark tattoos after participating in a squid dissection. 

Students showed off their squid ink shark tattoos after participating in a squid dissection. 

“We are working with more and more Lee County Schools each year,” said Rader, “and we’re realizing how many kids in our area hardly ever get to interact with the sea. Public schools have very little funding for field trips, and I’m so grateful that our donors make it possible for this to happen. It really means the world to these kids.” Sanibel Sea School will also host students from Manatee Elementary, Rayma C. Page Elementary, Allen Park Elementary, Tanglewood Elementary, and Pine Island Elementary this spring.

Students searched for shells and tiny creatures using dip nets during a break. 

Students searched for shells and tiny creatures using dip nets during a break. 

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 to Open Ocean Tribe Outfitters

Sanibel Sea School's Ocean Tribe Outfitters will offer stand up paddleboards, kayaks, and a variety of clothing and accessories for ocean recreation. 

Sanibel Sea School's Ocean Tribe Outfitters will offer stand up paddleboards, kayaks, and a variety of clothing and accessories for ocean recreation. 

Sanibel Sea School, a 501c3 nonprofit organization offering unique, field-based educational experiences, is set to open a new retail space that will support its mission to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. The store will be called the Ocean Tribe Outfitters, and a San-Cap Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting Ceremony will be held to celebrate the opening. 

The Ocean Tribe Outfitters will specialize in paddling gear, including kayaks, stand up paddleboards, and related accessories, as well as equipment and clothing for ocean recreation. The organization's team of marine educators spends thousands of hours in the field each year, and will be available to recommend their favorite products to customers. 

“Paddling, especially paddleboarding, is one of our favorite ways to explore the ocean at Sanibel Sea School, so making the sport more available to others was an easy choice for us,” said Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill. All profits from the store will fund the nonprofit’s programs, including scholarships and ocean outreach programs for students in need. 

Community members and visitors are invited to attend the ribbon cutting event at 5 PM on Wednesday, May 31st at 455 Periwinkle Way. Light refreshments and hors d’oeuvres will be served, and there will be a chance to win a variety of prizes for children and adults. To learn more or RSVP, please visit sanibelseaschool.org or call (239) 472-8585

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What's SUP, Spencer?

Stand Up Paddleboarding is a great way for families with older children to experience Southwest Florida's marine habitats. 

Stand Up Paddleboarding is a great way for families with older children to experience Southwest Florida's marine habitats. 

Sanibel Sea School recently added regularly scheduled Stand Up Paddleboard-based ocean adventures to its list of programs. We're excited to share the news that we now offer Discover Paddling classes and private guided paddling for families and groups on Sanibel. We're also an authorized dealer for BOTE, Body Glove, and Kialoa boards and accessories. 

All of our SUP programs are led by Spencer Richardson, an ACA-certified SUP instructor with a degree in biology and a broad knowledge of our local flora and fauna. We sat down with her to talk about these new opportunities for ocean exploration. 

You paddle almost every day. What makes paddleboarding a great way to explore the ocean, compared to other activities like boating or kayaking?

Stand up paddleboarding is one of my favorite ways to explore the ocean because it allows you a far line of sight and an incredible view of the water below. It's also great exercise, and it's quiet enough that you do not disturb wildlife, which sometimes happens in a boat. 

What is Discover Paddling, exactly? 

Our Discover Paddling class is a great introduction to SUP, and a perfect way for those with paddling experience to discover new areas of Southwest Florida. For this class, we meet at Bunche Beach, which is right over the bridge. We start with a short paddling lesson, covering the basic skills needed for a successful paddle, then we take a trip through some of my favorite marine habitats and talk about what we see from a biological perspective.

This type of outing can also be arranged just for your family or group, and we can tailor the lesson to your interests and abilities. 

Addy Rundqwist paddles on San Carlos Bay. 

Addy Rundqwist paddles on San Carlos Bay. 

Who are these paddling programs designed for? 

All of our guided paddling programs are open to participants 18 and up. Children who are 13 or older may join if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. Paddling is the perfect activity for families with older children. It's a unique, fun way to spend a day on the water.

Is paddling difficult? 

No. Paddling is easy in SW Florida because of our calm waters. It only takes a few minutes to learn, and then we can set out for our adventure. 

If someone has paddled before, will a lesson really help them improve? 

Yes, you can always improve your technique and form, and there are some surprisingly simple ways to make your paddling more efficient. 

Sanibel Sea School sells SUP boards and accessories at its Flagship Campus on Sanibel. 

Sanibel Sea School sells SUP boards and accessories at its Flagship Campus on Sanibel. 

Where do Sanibel Sea School's paddling programs take place, and what kind of habitats can participants expect to see? 

Our paddling classes take place in San Carlos Bay and Rock Creek, which is by Bunche Beach. In my opinion, Bunch Beach is one of the best paddling destinations in Florida. We explore mangrove forests, mud flats, and the sandy waters around sea grass beds. These habitats are teeming with life and are very important to our local ecosystem as a whole. 

What are some of the creatures you see often while out paddling? 

One of the great things about nature is that it's full of surprises, so we never know exactly what to expect. However, we do usually get to see lots of sea and shore birds, mangrove crabs, and some great fish. I've also come across manatees, dolphins, stingrays, and a variety of interesting creatures on the mud flats and sandbars. 

What equipment is necessary enjoy paddleboarding? 

SUP gear is simple. You will need a board, a paddle, a board leash, a personal floatation device (PFD), and a whistle. It is always important to wear some sun protection while you are out paddling, so don't forget your hat, sunglasses and sun screen. 

What are some other places in our area that paddlers can explore by SUP, besides Sanibel?

If I feel like taking a paddling day trip, I go to the Estero River or the Imperial river. They are beautiful winding rivers that give you an idea of how old Florida looked. 

Thank you, Spencer! 

_____

To learn more or schedule your paddling adventure, please visit sanibelseaschool.org or call (239) 472-8585. Spencer is also available to answer questions directly via email at spencer@sanibelseaschool.org.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sanibel Sea School Receives TripAdvisor Award

Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School's Executive Director, and marine educator Spencer Richardson pose for a photo with the nonprofit's TripAdvisor award. 

Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School's Executive Director, and marine educator Spencer Richardson pose for a photo with the nonprofit's TripAdvisor award. 

Sanibel Sea School was recently awarded first place in its TripAdvisor category for Sanibel Island. Listed under Classes and Workshops, the 501c3 nonprofit organization currently has 218 five-star reviews from past clients, and its educational ocean experiences for kids and families are a favorite activity among visitors to our area. TripAdvisor provided Sanibel Sea School with an engraved plaque to commemorate the occasion. 

“The Sanibel Sea School is an awesome place for experiential learning for people of all ages. Our whole family enjoys the shell walks, and our two sons love going to the kids’ classes,” wrote one reviewer. “The instructors have all been super knowledgeable as well as friendly and fun. This school is a special place, and we are so fortunate to have it here on the island. It truly is a world-class place to learn about ecology.” Many TripAdvisor reviewers also commented on summer camps, and wrote about the memorable, field-based experiences their families enjoyed together at Sanibel Sea School. Seining for seahorses, surfing, and the organization’s private land and boat-based programs were mentioned frequently as highlights. 

"We're so grateful for every single review our clients have written for us," said Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill. "I am very proud of our team for going above and beyond to make sure every student has an outstanding, meaningful experience." Sanibel Sea School's mission is to improve the ocean's future, one person at a time. The organization offers a variety of field-based programs for children, families, and adults to choose from throughout the year. Visit sanibelseaschool.org to learn more and view the current schedule. 

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Sanibel Sea School’s Octifest a Fundraising Success

Sanibel Sea School's annual fundraiser, Octifest, is held under a tent on Sanibel's Causeway Island A. 

Sanibel Sea School's annual fundraiser, Octifest, is held under a tent on Sanibel's Causeway Island A. 

Sanibel Sea School’s annual fundraiser, Octifest, was held Saturday, April 8th in a big top tent on Causeway Island A. The event was attended by more than 200 guests, and raised funds that will support ocean outreach programs, provide scholarships to students in need, and help the 501c3 non-profit organization purchase important equipment for its field-based classes and camps.

Funds raised at Octifest make it possible for students from schools like Manatee Elementary to attend Sanibel Sea School's programs.

Funds raised at Octifest make it possible for students from schools like Manatee Elementary to attend Sanibel Sea School's programs.

“We are so thankful to be supported by such a generous community,” said the Sea School’s Development Director, Chrissy Basturk. “It’s wonderful to live in a place where people are passionate about taking care of the ocean and making meaningful learning experiences available to everyone.”  This year’s event raised more than $245,000, a 15% increase over last year, which will make it possible for Sanibel Sea School to grant additional scholarships and provide ocean education to even more kids in 2017. 

Deb Szymanczyk, Kyle and Christine Szymanczyk, Mary Lou Bailey, and Renata and Patrick Bailey support ocean education for all at Octifest 2017. 

Deb Szymanczyk, Kyle and Christine Szymanczyk, Mary Lou Bailey, and Renata and Patrick Bailey support ocean education for all at Octifest 2017. 

“We partner with a number of schools and partner non-profits throughout the year to offer learning opportunities to underprivileged children in our region,” said Basturk.  “We receive so many requests from teachers, parents, and others who want to join forces with us, and we make every effort to say yes. The money raised at Octifest is going to help us share the magic of the sea with lots of children this year.”

Guests at Octifest enjoyed sunset views. 

Guests at Octifest enjoyed sunset views. 

Sanibel Sea School’s educators have already started to deliver the good news to groups and individuals who have requested scholarships to attend the organization’s programs in the coming months. “I called one teacher last week to schedule a field trip for her class before the school year ends, and she couldn’t wait to tell her students,” said Director of Education Nicole Finnicum. “There are so many kids in our area who live close to the sea, but hardly ever get to learn about it in a hands-on way,” she added. Finnicum also said that she is looking forward to replacing broken and worn-out equipment like masks and snorkels, surfboards, and life jackets – all essential items for ocean exploration and enjoyment.

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 and octifest.org

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Octifest on the Beach Supports Ocean Outreach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Ocean Pledge

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

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

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

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

Here are some of their ocean pledges: 

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

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

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

I pledge to not litter in the ocean.  -Walker

I pledge to recycle my plastic water bottles. -McKenzie

I pledge to not litter in the ocean.

I pledge to create biodegradable water bottles.

I pledge not to cause pollution.

I pledge to reduce and reuse before recycling. -Narwhal

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

I pledge to keep educating youth. -Mrs. Akin

I pledge to not throw plastic in the water.

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

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

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

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

I pledge not to drink from plastic water bottles. 

I pledge not to pollute in the ocean. -Greyson

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

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

I will recycle more for the ocean.

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

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Where have all the jellyfish gone?

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

Dear Ocean-Loving Texan,

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

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

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

But, you are noticing jellyfish declines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very best ocean adventures to you.

Doc Bruce

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We're Feeling Crabby!

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

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

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

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

Blue crabs range from Massachusetts to Argentina. 

Blue crabs range from Massachusetts to Argentina. 


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

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

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

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


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

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

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fresh Produce Clothing Store Supports Sanibel Sea School’s Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most participants preferred to go barefoot during the beach cleanup. 

Most participants preferred to go barefoot during the beach cleanup. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Amazing Pygmy Octopus

The Atlantic pygmy octopus (Octopus joubini).

The Atlantic pygmy octopus (Octopus joubini).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Sanibel Sea School Celebrates Ocean Education for Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manatee Elementary students also participated in a squid dissection lab.

Manatee Elementary students also participated in a squid dissection lab.

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

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

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

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

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

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A Gap Year Experience at Sanibel Sea School

Margot Shaya assists with sand dollar research. 

Margot Shaya assists with sand dollar research. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was your favorite experience during your time with us?

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

Did anything surprise you?

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

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

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

What are you planning to do next? 

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

Thank you, Margot!

 

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