The Sanibel Sea School Experience Blog


Learn about Sanibel Island's marine creatures, shells, biology, and more on our blog. To view or search our blog archives, please visit our Explore page. 

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Island Intruders: Invasive Species on Sanibel

An invasive species is a non-native species that could outcompete native creatures for food and other resources. Invasive species can be introduced in a variety of ways - some are exotic pets released into the wild by well-meaning owners, some hitch a ride on ships, trains, and planes coming from distant lands, and some even arrive by mail. Sanibel is a haven for its native wildlife, but our island is certainly not immune to these invaders. Let's talk about a few of them:

Reptile: The Brown Anole

If you have ever been to Sanibel Island, chances are you have come across the brown anole. These lizards were introduced to Florida from Cuba and the Bahamas. The native species of anole, the green anole, has been negatively affected by this alien species to the point that it is now rare to find one of these beautiful green lizards in your yard.

A magnificent green anole, native to Sanibel Island.

A magnificent green anole, native to Sanibel Island.

The brown anole is an invasive competitor to the green anole. 

The brown anole is an invasive competitor to the green anole. 

Amphibian: The Cane Toad

Have you ever been asleep on Sanibel in the early spring, and all of a sudden it sounds like a space ship is landing outside your window? This sound continues throughout the entire night and you wake up the next morning feeling tired and frustrated. The loud sound is coming from a very large toad called the cane toad. This animal was introduced on purpose to rid agricultural operations of pests, but it ended up becoming one itself. The large poison glands located behind its eyes kills many things that ingest the bufo-toxins secreted from them. Both pets and wildlife have been affected by this newly introduced species.

Cane toads are now relatively common on our island.

Cane toads are now relatively common on our island.

Fish: The Lionfish

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and, because of their beauty, are popular in the aquarium trade. These fish are wreaking havoc on our shores. Releasing around 15,000 eggs every four days, they reproduce rapidly and reach maturity at a young age of less than a year. Their abundance is not the only thing that makes this alien species bad for the ecosystem - they are vacuum cleaners of the sea and suck up as many native fish as possible, depleting populations and competing with other predators for valuable prey.

Lionfish native to the Indo-Pacific outcompete local predators for food and prey on small fish species and juvenile fish. 

Lionfish native to the Indo-Pacific outcompete local predators for food and prey on small fish species and juvenile fish. 

Plants: The Australian Pine

The Australian pine was introduced from Australia to Florida in the 1890s. To many locals, the breezy silhouette and shade provided by these trees is a charming part of our island home. Although magnificent, not everything about them is good. These pines will take over coastal areas, displacing native plants that are important to our native ecosystems, which support many endangered and threatened animals. The shallow root system was originally thought to help prevent beach erosion, but it did just the opposite, when other, more effective beach protecting plants started disappearing. Additionally, Australian pine roots make it impossible for turtles and American alligators to build nests in coastal communities.

Although beautiful, the Australian pine poses threats to our local ecosystem. 

Although beautiful, the Australian pine poses threats to our local ecosystem. 

Birds: The House Sparrow and The European Starling

The House Sparrow and The European Starling were introduced around 200 years ago in an interesting manner. Shakespearean troops in the United States wanted to make their plays as authentic as possible, so they would would release these birds during the shows. Although it took some time for them to settle in, these birds started breeding and making homes in urbanized areas. Both species inhabit urban areas, where they compete with native species. Additionally, they will seek out and destroy small urban crop farms and residential potted plants. 

A European Starling. 

A European Starling. 

House Sparrows.

House Sparrows.

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Sanibel Sea School to Launch New Resort Partnership Program

A Sanibel Sea School program participant examines a live horse conch. 

A Sanibel Sea School program participant examines a live horse conch. 

In January 2017, Sanibel Sea School will introduce a new program designed to help area resorts offer outstanding marine-based educational opportunities to their guests. The 501c3 nonprofit’s marine educators will provide the unique ocean outings they are known for at remote locations throughout Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers Beach on a regular schedule, and will work closely with resort management to develop offerings that are right for each location’s clientele. 

“Many people visit this region because they want to experience and learn about our nature,” said Dr. Bruce Neill, Executive Director of Sanibel Sea School, “but it can be challenging for hotels to employ a quality team of teachers to meet this demand. Our educators are experienced, passionate, and knowledgeable, and we can provide the perfect solution to offer their visitors an outstanding ocean learning amenity.”

As part of this transition, Sanibel Sea School will close the satellite campus it has operated for six years at South Seas Island Resort. The nonprofit will continue to offer ocean learning opportunities to South Seas guests as part of their new resort program, but will no longer operate a physical campus on the property.

“Our relationship with South Seas has been very productive, and we look forward to a robust future at the resort, but as we grow, we are continuously seeking better ways to offer quality education to promote marine conservation,” said Neill. “At Sanibel Sea School, we not only evaluate return on investment, we also pay very close attention to what we call return on mission.” Sanibel Sea School has been able to help over 10,000 people more thoroughly understand and appreciate the ocean at South Seas since 2006, and Neill believes there is potential to reach even more visitors after the new resort partnership program is launched.

Sanibel Sea School will continue to operate its satellite campus at the Sundial Resort and Spa as an exclusive resort partnership featuring an on-property classroom, and will continue all of the existing programming currently offered at its flagship campus on the east end of Sanibel Island, including day programs for kids, seasonal adult programs, and summer camps.

“The business of marine conservation is a tricky one, and we must continue to adapt and evolve in order to be a viable nonprofit, capable of delivering excellent educational opportunities that promote marine stewardship and enhance the community,” said Neill. “We are driven to improve what we do, and to try to reach as many people as possible. Right now, we see this as the most promising route forward.”

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 www.sanibelseaschool.org

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Sanibel Sea School and START to Host Sanibel Luminary Event

Many Sanibel residents enjoy the beautiful display of lights during the Sanibel Luminary Festival. 

Many Sanibel residents enjoy the beautiful display of lights during the Sanibel Luminary Festival. 

On Friday December 2nd, Sanibel Sea School and the San-Cap chapter of Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START) will partner to host Sanibel Luminary Festival attendees at the Sea School’s Flagship Campus on the east end of the island. 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 will be converted into a festive patio space, and visitors will enjoy mulled wine and beer, delicious snacks (including Ralph Woodring’s famous grilled mullet), cookie decorating, and music. There will also be family-friendly games and activities, and a raffle with a variety of exciting prizes from both organizations. 

“One of our raffle prizes will be priority camp registration for summer 2017,” said Chrissy Basturk, Sanibel Sea School’s Development Director. “The winning family will be able to sign up for the programs of their choice before registration officially opens. We hope this opportunity will encourage some of our summer camp families to stop by for a visit, so we won’t have to wait a whole year to see them again!”

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. START is a 501c3 nonprofit working to improve the quality of our marine waters through research, public education, and programs that restore marine habitats, preserve marine species, and promote healthy beaches and coastal waterways. For more information, call (239) 472-8585.

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Mystery Fish

Have you ever seen a fish that you had no idea existed?  Many people have been experiencing that on Sanibel and Captiva's beaches lately.  Recently, some interesting fish have washed up on our shores, including peculiar batfish species.

Two batfish found on the beach near Sundial Resort on Sanibel. 

Two batfish found on the beach near Sundial Resort on Sanibel. 

Batfish are subtropical fish that have a wide, relatively flat body covered in little bumps with pectoral fins that look like limbs. Their flattened shape allows them to successfully live a demersal lifestyle; meaning they live close to or on the seafloor. They can often be observed by snorkelers slowly moving around the bottom or flattened down into the sand to hide from predators.

The batfish has a unique way of acquiring its food. It has a modified rostrum, or nose, that is coupled with a spine. This modified structure on its face can be used to detect and lure in slow moving prey on the seafloor. Once the desired food is in range, the batfish swallows it whole in one large gulp. They typically eat crustaceans, shelled mollusks, bristly polychaete worms, and even the occasional fish.  

The head of a large, live polka-dot batfish. Photo source. 

The head of a large, live polka-dot batfish. Photo source

In Southwest Florida, there are a few species of batfish one might see.  Some of the local batfish species include the longnose batfish (Ogcocephalus corniger), the polka-dot batfish (Ogcocephalus cubifrons), and the spotted batfish (Ogcocephalus pantostictus). The longnose batfish has a long protrusion from its rostrum, which differentiates it from other species. The polka-dot and spotted batfish can often look similar, but the differences in body shape and mouth width can help one distinguish between the two species. 

Although these unusual creatures may look threatening, there is nothing to be alarmed about.  They cause no harm to humans and live peacefully on the seafloor. The IUCN Red List has listed many species of batfish as species of least concern, which means they have widespread populations and very few threats. So the next time you see one of these interesting vertebrates, you can tell everyone that batfish are docile creatures that slowly roam the seafloor on their limb-like pectoral fins. 

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Gardens of the Sea

The ocean holds many curious creatures, but not many people stop to consider if flowers exist under the surface of the sea. While it’s easy to lump all sea plants into one category, there is actually a difference between algae and seagrass. Both obtain energy from the sun, but seagrass is a true plant – it anchors itself with roots and reproduces with flowers.

Most true plants prefer to live on land, but seagrass has adapted ways to transform salt water into fresh water in its fibrous tissue. Plants with such salt tolerance are called halophytes. Seagrasses rely on the process of photosynthesis to produce energy, and so they must inhabit relatively shallow waters where plenty of sunlight is available. Additionally, land provides important nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus for the seagrass to use, making estuaries of mud and silt (like the one right here in San Carlos Bay!) an ideal location to put down roots.

The distribution of seagrass in Florida. 

The distribution of seagrass in Florida. 

In Florida, we have 7 species of sea grass – manatee grass, turtle grass, shoal grass, paddle grass, star grass, Johnson’s seagrass, and widgeon grass. Each species is unique, preferring a specific depth and salinity range. Seagrass not only provides oxygen for the ocean, it also traps sediments – creating a cleaner ecosystem for animals to thrive in.

The relative depths at which various species of seagrass like to grow. 

The relative depths at which various species of seagrass like to grow. 

Seagrass is one of the most biologically rich ecosystems and provides a home to so many sea creatures. Every square acre can produce up to ten tons of leaves, and can provide shelter for forty thousand fish and fifty million Invertebrates. This abundance of prey attracts predatory mega fauna like dolphins and sharks. Some animals also obtain nutrition from seagrass. Manatees and some sea turtles like to munch on these fibrous plants to gain nutrients and fresh water. This constant removal of the leaves promotes growth of the meadows.

Campers at Sanibel Sea School created their own seagrass garden in the Richard C. Kennedy Building. 

Campers at Sanibel Sea School created their own seagrass garden in the Richard C. Kennedy Building. 

Seagrasses also provide humans with many services, like clean water and oxygen, but these important ecosystems are in danger around the world. Some of the direct threats to seagrass meadows include dredging, prop scars, and coastal development. According to Dr. William Dennison of the University of Maryland for Environmental Science, “Globally, we lose a seagrass meadow the size of a soccer field every 30 minutes.” Right here on Sanibel, influxes from the Caloosahatchee are indirectly killing sea grass in two ways. Tannins produced by mangroves upriver are washed into the bay, limiting the amount of light that can penetrate to the leaves. This freshwater also reduces the salinity of the water, which these species depend on.  

A Sanibel Sea School camper monitors seagrass health near Andros Island in the Bahamas. 

A Sanibel Sea School camper monitors seagrass health near Andros Island in the Bahamas. 

No matter where you live, it’s important to let your elected officials know that you care about protecting important marine habitats like seagrass, and to support organizations that are working to make this happen. It can be as easy as a letter or a phone call, and a Google search will deliver plenty of ideas for how to get involved. We’d love to hear about your efforts! 

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Coming Soon: Ocean Traditions Camp

Winter Camp 2016 participants prepare to perform their ocean carols along the Sanibel canals. 

Winter Camp 2016 participants prepare to perform their ocean carols along the Sanibel canals. 

Sanibel Sea School will once again offer a series of week-long camps for 6-13 year olds during winter break. The theme this year is Ocean Traditions, and participants will have a chance to learn about and celebrate the many ocean-related rituals that have helped coastal cultures around the world connect with the ocean and with one another for centuries. 

Campers wade on the sandbar at Bunche Beach. 

Campers wade on the sandbar at Bunche Beach. 

Historically, the organization has planned two weeks of winter camp each year, but because of recent changes in the local school calendars, there will now be three to choose from. The first week (December 19-23) will be called Polynesian Ocean Traditions, and will be inspired by the island cultures of the Pacific. The second week, Ocean Tribe Traditions (December 26-30), will revisit beloved Sanibel Sea School traditions, and the third, Japanese Ocean Traditions (January 2-6), will offer a peek into Japan’s rich history of harvesting natural resources from the sea. There will also be an opportunity for a limited number of teenagers (ages 13-18) to participate in Sanibel Sea School’s Counselor-In-Training leadership development program each week. 

Campers walk to the beach during Sanibel Sea School's annual "Give Your Troubles to the Sea" ceremony. 

Campers walk to the beach during Sanibel Sea School's annual "Give Your Troubles to the Sea" ceremony. 

“We’re very excited about this year’s theme,” said Sanibel Sea School’s Director of Education, Nicole Finnicum. “Coastal cultures have some incredible traditions. I can’t wait to teach our campers about the shark callers of Papua New Guinea, Japan’s pearl divers, and some really fantastic forms of art from around the world.” Each week will also include favorite activities like surf paddling, seining, ocean caroling, and the annual “Give Your Troubles to the Sea” ceremony. 

Nicole Finnicum leads an experiment using dry ice. 

Nicole Finnicum leads an experiment using dry ice. 

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. Click here to learn more and register. 

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Ocean-Inspired After School Programs in November and December

A camper practices surfing.

A camper practices surfing.

Sanibel Sea School is set to offer two new after school programs in partnership with The Sanibel School and the Sanibel Recreation Center this year – After School Surfing and Ocean Art. These programs will be open to students in grades 1-5 and are designed to provide an opportunity for participants to experience the ocean in new ways and improve their existing waterman skills.

Every Tuesday in November, instructors from Sanibel Sea School will teach surfing lessons. Kids will learn how to paddle a surfboard, how to “pop up” (move from paddling to standing position), and how to catch a wave. “We will give kids the basic surfing skills they need to be able to go out and practice surfing on their own. It’s something they will potentially be able to enjoy for their entire lives,” said Nicole Finnicum, the organization’s Director of Education.

Mosaics are a favorite art form among Sanibel Sea School participants.

Mosaics are a favorite art form among Sanibel Sea School participants.

In December, students can sign up for Ocean Art. Sanibel Sea School specializes in using natural materials like shells and coconuts to create beautiful art, and will guide participants through an ocean-inspired art project each week. “We purposely scheduled our Ocean Art series right before the holidays, so kids will have the option to give their creations to family and friends as gifts,” said Finnicum.

After school programs run from 3:30 to 5:30 PM. Participants can choose to be picked up from The Sanibel School or the Rec Center after school, or they can meet the group at Sanibel Sea School’s Flagship campus, which will also serve as the pickup location at the end of the day. It is possible to register for individual sessions or to sign up for the entire series each month. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. To learn more and register, visit http://www.sanibelseaschool.org/afterschool.

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LaBelle Students Visit Sanibel Sea School

Students from LaBelle examine a comb jelly on the Causeway Islands.

Students from LaBelle examine a comb jelly on the Causeway Islands.

Sanibel Sea School began a new partnership with Hendry County schools when students from LaBelle, FL visited the Causeway Islands for a morning of seining and learning about seagrass ecosystems.

Nicole Finnicum shows a students how to use a seine net.

Nicole Finnicum shows a students how to use a seine net.

Nanlyn Akin, the Gifted Program Coordinator for the area, contacted Sanibel Sea School earlier this year to discuss the need for better science-related field trip opportunities for students living in the more inland SW Florida counties, including Hendry.

Spencer Richardson explains how a bubbler helps fish survive in a bucket.

Spencer Richardson explains how a bubbler helps fish survive in a bucket.

“It is very difficult for our students to travel to the ocean in an educational setting,” said Akin, “Transportation costs and time out of a normal classroom setting can be obstacles in our school system.” Sanibel Sea School worked with Akin to overcome these obstacles, and thanks to the nonprofit organization’s donor-supported scholarship fund, they were able to bring over 20 students to experience the ocean. 

Nicole Finnicum gives students a lesson on seagrass ecosystems.

Nicole Finnicum gives students a lesson on seagrass ecosystems.

The Sea School’s educators worked closely with Akin to develop a lesson that would enhance classroom learning. “It was such an incredible morning!” said Spencer Richardson, an educator who led the LaBelle students, “The students already knew so much, and they were very eager to use the seine net. I loved hearing their squeals of excitement when they caught fish and comb jellies.”

Both groups plan to continue this partnership on a monthly basis. 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 www.sanibelseaschool.org.

 

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Staff Spotlight: Kristin Hideg

Kristin Hideg recently joined us as Office Coordinator. Learn more about Kristin below, and be sure to say hello to her next time you visit!

Kristen Hideg, Office Coordinator.

Kristen Hideg, Office Coordinator.

Where are you from?

Northeastern Ohio

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

Youngstown State University, where I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering.

What do you like to do during your time off?

I like to craft, explore new places and activities, and read.

Favorite sea creature:

Dolphins

What's the best music for a weekend at the beach?

I like to listen to nature,  the waves, the animals. Music takes away from the tranquility of the beach.

If you could visit any marine ecosystem on the planet, where would you go?

The Great Barrier Reef

Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself?

I'm excited to be working for Sanibel Sea School and am glad to be a part of the vision and mission.

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A Sand Dollar Research Update

Sand dollar tests collected by our research team after a tropical storm. 

Sand dollar tests collected by our research team after a tropical storm. 

September 2016 marks one year of Sanibel Sea School conducting sand dollar research on Sanibel. We've had the opportunity to sample the sand dollar populations at two locations, Sundial Beach Resort and Buttonwood Beach, each month except for June and August. 

Researchers measure adult live sand dollars. 

Researchers measure adult live sand dollars. 

We've been collecting data on juvenile size frequency, adult density, and adult size frequency. Over the past year, we've seen changes in the sand dollar distribution at both of our sampling sites, along with changes in the seafloor topography after the tropical storms we've had in the area. 

We've seen a large decrease in the density of juveniles at both locations - meaning there are less juveniles per square meter. We will continue to monitor the growth of last year's settlement.

Soon, we will begin to collaborate with Canterbury School's staff to help with at least 5 science fair projects for both middle and high school Independent Science Research classes. Students will choose a topic of interest related to sand dollars and we will assist them in developing scientific research methods for their projects. 

Below, we share a visual summary of our results. 

Starting in September 2015, the test diameters of a population of sand dollars (M. tenuis) were measured and recorded once a month. Interestingly, it appears our sand dollars have seasonality in their growth; growing fastest in the summer (May, June, and July) and winter (December, January, and February) months.  We also captured the 2016 spring recruitment in May, which is why some very small sand dollars appear as outliers in the figure above. This means a new generation of juveniles was added to the original population, and corresponds with the timing of last year’s recruitment. This year's recruitment appears to be smaller than last year's.

Starting in September 2015, the test diameters of a population of sand dollars (M. tenuis) were measured and recorded once a month. Interestingly, it appears our sand dollars have seasonality in their growth; growing fastest in the summer (May, June, and July) and winter (December, January, and February) months.  We also captured the 2016 spring recruitment in May, which is why some very small sand dollars appear as outliers in the figure above. This means a new generation of juveniles was added to the original population, and corresponds with the timing of last year’s recruitment. This year's recruitment appears to be smaller than last year's.

Over the course of the year, the average test diameter of our sand dollars increased from 23.9 mm in September 2015 to 48.3 mm in August 2016, slightly more than doubling in size. Also, the range of sizes was greater in August than September, possibly indicating a high degree of variation among individual growth rates - put simply, some sand dollars grow faster than others.   

Over the course of the year, the average test diameter of our sand dollars increased from 23.9 mm in September 2015 to 48.3 mm in August 2016, slightly more than doubling in size. Also, the range of sizes was greater in August than September, possibly indicating a high degree of variation among individual growth rates - put simply, some sand dollars grow faster than others.   

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Sanibel Sea School Activates Solar Panels

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Sanibel Sea School Activates Solar Panels

L to R: Dell Jones and Rudy Wodrich of Solar Utility Partners of Estero, Conrad Wodrich, a long-time Sanibel Sea School student, and Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School's Executive Director, pose for a photo with the solar array control panels on activation day. 

L to R: Dell Jones and Rudy Wodrich of Solar Utility Partners of Estero, Conrad Wodrich, a long-time Sanibel Sea School student, and Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School's Executive Director, pose for a photo with the solar array control panels on activation day. 

Sanibel Sea School, in partnership with Dell Jones and Rudy Wodrich of Solar Utility Partners of Estero, recently completed the installation of a rooftop photovoltaic solar array at their Flagship Campus on Periwinkle Way. It is the first commercial installation of its kind on Sanibel, and is expected to generate over 15,000 kWh per year, with an annual energy value of roughly $1800.

Solar panels are installed on the roof of Sanibel Sea School's Flagship Campus, located at 455 Periwinkle Way. 

Solar panels are installed on the roof of Sanibel Sea School's Flagship Campus, located at 455 Periwinkle Way. 

The solar array was partially funded by the Bill Healy Foundation, and Jones and Wodrich worked tirelessly to secure donated and discounted materials for the project from a variety of vendors, in addition to donating their own time to coordinate and oversee the installation. The project will continue to pay for itself in energy savings over the next few years. “After that, we will be able to invest the additional savings to further our mission and give more people meaningful ocean experiences,” said the organization’s Executive Director, Dr. Bruce Neill.

Doc Bruce activates the solar panels. 

Doc Bruce activates the solar panels. 

The Sea School also has plans to add an educational exhibit to teach visitors about solar power and its potential in Florida. “Climate change and ocean acidification caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions are the largest threats to our seas, so how we choose to generate the electricity we use has a direct impact on ocean health,” said Neill. “It is very important to us as an organization to operate in an ocean-friendly manner, and to inspire other businesses in our community and our state to do the same.” Neill hopes that the solar panels, along with efforts to educate the public about them, will encourage others to consider how they can incorporate solar power into their own lives. 

 

Thank you to those who have supported our solar installation financially and through discounts, in-kind donations, time, ideas, expertise, and more:

The Bill Healy Foundation, Rudy Wodrich, Dell Jones, Solar Utility Partners of Estero, Canadian Solar, Shoals Technology, Fortune Energy, US Solar, Norman J. Scheel, Advance Solar, Sanibel Air and Electric, LCEC, Dan Hahn Custom Builders, Soon Come Landscaping, and the Plank-DiCarlo Family Foundation. 

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Calusa Legends

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Calusa Legends

The history of Southwest Florida is rich with legends and tales about the Calusa way of life. Our Calusa Week campers teamed up with their tribes to write legends of their own, inspired by the brave ocean warriors who once inhabited our islands. Enjoy their storytelling below. 

Calusa Week campers write their own legends. 

Calusa Week campers write their own legends. 

The Legend of Mikawaka

Once upon a time, there was a Calusa village.  There was a chief named Mikawaka. The chief died by a shark bite. In his honor, the village built a huge temple. In the temple they laid gold and junonias around his body.  Sadly, the temple was robbed. The robber was met by the dead chief. The robber’s name was Juan. He was a Spanish conquistador who wanted gold for his armor. The chief came back from the dead because he wanted his gold, and the shark came back with him. The shark and chief were amended as one. The now shark-chief visited Juan’s camp and turned him into a deer. The shark-chief stole his treasure back but little to his knowledge, the deer obtained magical powers. The shark-chief poisoned the deer and Juan finally died. Once dead, and the gold and junonias returned, the villagers ate the deer and the tribe lived in peace with its chief’s temple returned to normal.

The Legend of the Hammerhead Shark

Once upon a time, when the island was young, the Calusa ruled. They traded with other Calusa tribes, and on one of these perilous journeys, suddenly a big storm came. Their canoe was tipped over by a gigantic wave. As the Calusa tried to right their canoe, a giant shark emerged and swallowed two of their own. Before returning to the depths, the beast took one final bite and swam away with the hand of the navigator in its mouth. Since the life of their navigator was essential to their survival, they knew they had to get to shore fast. They prayed to one of their three gods for three tsunami-sized waves and along they came, sweeping the Calusa to shore. Upon the shore, the Calusa encountered another tribe and realized a trade had to be made. They traded fifteen of their biggest lighting whelks for a fishing pole and two horse conchs for some palm fronds to be woven into a bandage for their navigator. As soon as the navigator’s hand stopped bleeding, the Calusa decided it was time to fish for dinner. The first thing they caught was too big for one Calusa to catch on their own, so they all grabbed hold of the fishing pole. Suddenly, they were all pulled into the water and swallowed by a ginormous beluga whale. They were inside the whale for what felt like a year but in reality was only two days. At the end of the second day, the whale began to fill with water and suddenly the Calusa were shot from the blowhole of the beluga whale and on to shore. The Calusa had been returned to their village, but they all wondered how it had happened. Knowing it had probably been the work of the gods, the spiritual leader prayed to the three gods. The Ocean god explained the beluga whale was sent to save them and the gods had punished the shark by smashing its head between two huge rocks. And thus, the hammerhead shark was born and never attacked a Calusa again.

The Legend of Calu

In the beginning, there were the Calusa. The Calusa were a tribe full of warriors. They struggled to stay alive and prosper, until one day, a Calusa warrior named Calu had a great idea.  He looked at many trees, and tried to find the one that would work, but none were big enough. After many years, Calu was about to give up. But suddenly, Calu heard a voice. Three voices in fact. They whispered “Don’t give up”, “You will find the tree”, “Keep searching deep in the woods”. Calu questioned, “Who are you?” and they responded, “We must go, we have no time”, “Goodbye Calu”. As soon as this happened, the wind blew, the ocean crashed, and the sun burned. Calu smashed his hand on the ground in fear. Shaking, Calu decided to set off into the heart of the forest. Walking through the forest alone, Calu heard growls. He could see the members of the enemy tribe, the Wolf Clan. This was the strongest tribe around and Calu was alone. He knew his family was worried about him. Calu had to think quickly. He looked around and all he saw was trees. He did what his tribe is known for and climbed up and up and up until he was on the highest branch. Calu could see everything around him and was amazed to see the tallest tree he had ever seen and the tree promised by the gods. He could hear the wolves beneath him. They were trying to use their sharp claws to climb, and it was working! He was trapped. His only option was to run. He was shivering through a cold sweat. Calu took his first step and found he could run across the trees. The wind whispered, “This is my gift to you”. Calu ran like the wind and made it to the tallest tree. Calu felt the sun get stronger and he felt stronger too. He ripped the tree out and started to run towards his village. Suddenly, he realized that he had reached the ocean and there was nowhere left to run! He heard the wolves behind him and got very scared. But soon, he saw the waves on the ocean calm down and the ocean became still. He tentatively placed the log down on the water and began to paddle the log. He arrived at his home island in no time! He could still hear the wolves howling in the woods. When he stepped onto his island, he heard people shouting his name, and realized that everybody was looking for him. He showed them the huge log and told them about how he paddled it home. Everybody in the village then helped him carve out the log and make a canoe. They didn’t know what to call this new invention but then one person piped up and said, “Let’s call it a canoe because that rhymes with Calu!” Everyone thought that was a great idea. With the help of Calu’s canoe, the Calusa fished, traveled, and made their civilization strong and mighty!

 

 

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Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish

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Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish

Panelists discuss mullet after the film screening. 

Panelists discuss mullet after the film screening. 

On August 25th, Sanibel Sea School hosted a community screening of WGCU Public Media’s Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish, a documentary about the history and future of mullet fisheries in Florida.

Delicious mullet fritters with dill aioli, provided by Sweet Melissa's Cafe. 

Delicious mullet fritters with dill aioli, provided by Sweet Melissa's Cafe. 

Guests enjoyed mullet hors d’oeuvres prepared by Sweet Melissa’s Café, including crackers with mullet dip, cucumber slices topped with goat cheese and smoked mullet, and mullet fritters with a side of dill aioli. Megan Duncan, a marine educator at the Sea School, had never tasted this fish before. “It was really delicious,” she said. “I’m even bringing some leftovers home for my family to try.”

Yali Zawady and John Houston sample the mullet hors d'oeuvres. 

Yali Zawady and John Houston sample the mullet hors d'oeuvres. 

The film screening was followed by a panel discussion, and attendees were invited to ask questions and participate in the conversation. Expert panelists included Dr. Justin Grubich, a fisheries scientist and policy adviser employed by the PEW Charitable Trusts, Oscar Gavin, a longtime Sanibel resident who has caught mullet to feed his family for many decades, Ralph Woodring, a commercial mullet fisherman and lifetime member of the Sanibel community, Jonas Gutierrez, a commercial fisherman who caught the mullet served at the event, and John Talmage, an economist and restaurateur (owner of Sweet Melissa’s and Island Pizza).

Smoked mullet dip served with crackers. 

Smoked mullet dip served with crackers. 

“Our ultimate goal in planning this event was to help the local community understand that Florida’s sustainable seafood fisheries have huge potential for growth,” said Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School’s Executive Director. “Let’s embrace delicious, sustainable species like mullet – caught right here in San Carlos Bay – instead of importing grouper and other popular seafood items from abroad. This supports our local economy and is far better for the planet.”

Angel Seery, a marine educator at Sanibel Sea School, enjoyed the food. 

Angel Seery, a marine educator at Sanibel Sea School, enjoyed the food. 

Participants also engaged in a passionate conversation about our local water quality issues, how they could impact local fisheries, and what we can do as a community to improve the situation.

Lynne and George Campean pose for a photo after the film screening. 

Lynne and George Campean pose for a photo after the film screening. 

A big thank you to all who attended, and to WGCU Public Media, Sweet Melissa’s Café, panel moderator Joy Hazell, and our panelists for making this event possible. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit. For more information, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org. 

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Calusa Week at Sanibel Sea School

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Calusa Week at Sanibel Sea School

Calusa Week campers at Sanibel Sea School celebrated Southwest Florida’s earliest known inhabitants – the proud and fierce Calusa Indians. Participants divided into tribes and spent the week discovering what it must have been like to live among these legendary people.

We traded beads and shells, built tools and shelters from natural materials, and learned how to weave plates using palm fronds. The Calusa were known to be outstanding water-people, so we also practiced catching fish in our seine nets, snorkeled, and built our own canoe.

The week ended with a particularly fierce surf paddling competition, complete with ceremonial face paint and tribal chants. “Calusa Week is always a favorite among campers,” said Camp Coordinator Nicole Finnicum, “and this year was no different!”

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 www.sanibelseaschool.org.

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A Community Film Screening

On August 25th, 2016, Sanibel Sea School will hold a community screening of Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish. The documentary, part of WGCU Public Media’s Sustainable Seafood Series, provides an overview of the historical and economic significance of this fish in Florida, and its potential to become a more popular source of sustainable protein in the future. 

The screening will be followed by a Q & A session with local mullet experts, including scientists, restaurateurs, and fishermen. Attendees will also have the opportunity to sample mullet hors d’oeuvres, which will be provided by Sweet Melissa’s Café. “We hope the event will encourage people to become more open to trying sustainable seafood options that they might consider unusual,” said Dr. Bruce Neill, Sanibel Sea School’s Executive Director. “Mullet has a bad reputation in the restaurant industry, but it is actually delicious and can be prepared in so many ways. It is a much better choice for the planet than larger predatory fish like tuna, salmon, and grouper.” 

The screening will begin at 6 PM at Sanibel Sea School’s Flagship Campus (455 Periwinkle Way). Space is limited, please click here to reserve your seats. 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 www.sanibelseaschool.org.

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Notes from Andros

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Notes from Andros

Our group of coral reef explorers landed on Andros Island, Bahamas on Saturday morning. They have been sending us their stories every evening, which we invite you to read below. We'll continue to update this post throughout the week, so be sure to check back for the latest news!

7/30/16

Good Evening from Andros.

We are all settled in to Forfar Field Station. 

Had a rainy afternoon, fairly uneventful flights over and a great check-out snorkel in the river.

Camp orientation tonight and field trips tomorrow.

We are all safe, sound, and well fed.

All our very best wishes to all of you.

Bruce


7/31/16

Today was our first full day exploring the wonderful reefs that Andros has to offer. We thought the wind was going to be too strong for a boat trip, but this morning it was calm enough for us to go out, thankfully. Our first dive was on a small reef called Dave's Patch Reef. This was used as a scouting dive to be seeing where we will be doing our research and transect studies. We saw lion fish and tons of beautiful corals. After a fun little dive, we came back to Forfar for lunch. After lunch we had some downtime to journal and to go on a beach walk.

Our next outing was to a place called Pigeon Key which is adjacent to Dave's reef. The waves were a bit too rough for us to be able to circum-snorkel the island and explore the caverns like we have done in past years, but we snorkeled around the little cove there and saw many cool things. Goniolithon coral seemed to be the most abundant organism in that area. Helmet shells and Queens Conch's also graced us with their presence. Hopefully the seas will calm down some this week so we can go back- personally it's one of my favorite dive spots. 

Tonight we had a wonderful invertebrate lecture given to us by one of the staff numbers. We learned about the different phylums and the classes of each. This lecture gave us a preview of what we would see this week and what we would be studying/collecting. 

We're looking forward to a fantastic week here in the Bahamas and can't wait to do more exploring!

See you soon,

Emily & the other Bahamian Coral Reefers :)


8/1/16

Our day was filled with many snorkeling adventures. Our first stop was Money Point beach. There were lots of sea urchins that were tucked away in the little crevices of the ocean floor. In the seaweed, we saw sea biscuits, sea stars, and sea eggs. We swam into the shallow water and had to crawl army style through the seaweed. 

Next stop was Morgan's wrecks. Ships were sunk under the water near a cement wall. We practiced free-diving and got to see the inside of the ships through port holes and open doors. Barracuda were floating around the hulls as well as other tiny fish. When we were finished snorkeling around the wrecks, we jumped off the sea walls and played water games.

Uncle Charley's Blue hole was our last water stop. It was a freshwater pool that had sunk down below the surface of the ground. This provided a good place to jump off of and rinse off the seawater. Some of us decided to climb up the rocks instead of using the wooden ladder. A quick stop at a grocery store allowed us to supply our selves with chips and other snacks.

Tonights lecture was about fish and how to properly identify and describe them when we do our surveys. We can't wait to see what tomorrow brings us.

See you at the end of the week.

Brenna and the other Bahamian Campers.


8/2/16

Yesterday was an eventful day full of surprises.  The wind was still blowing strong so we took another day of land-based adventures with new exciting snorkels and beach walks. We all hopped into the vans around 9am and rolled out of ForFar.  Our first location was to a beach called Colors in search of the legendary "One Rock".  While we didn't find the spot we were initially searching for, we strolled over a beautiful sandy flat covered in giant West Indian sea stars and littered with Six-Keyhole sand dollars.  We discovered bunches of creatures living in the grasses and under rocks like long armed brittle stars and a tiny trunk fish that was just bobbling around. 

After our dive, we drove off to a new beach to eat lunch at.  While the lunch location was less than perfect, the shoreline was absolutely beautiful.  After hearing that Dale, a staff member here at ForFar, had supposedly found four Flamingo's Tongue shells in a 50-yard span of beach, a large group of us set of on a beach walk in search of a shell of our own.  Our walk-turned-hike was more than successful, we found lots of Flamingo's Tongues, a few cowries, and some of us were even lucky enough to find Flame Helmets.  However, shells were not the only thing we found on our beach adventure.  ON our walk back we stumbled upon an abandoned cemetery by the water's edge.  

Our next destination was Androsia.  Androsia is a local Batik factory and store.  Unfortunately the factory had already closed for the season but the store was still open for our enjoyment.  When we were all Batik-ed out, the crew decided to try something new and visit Captain Bill's blue hole.  This blue hole was much larger than Uncle Charlie's, the blue hole we explored yesterday, and the jump into its water was much more thrilling.  Holding hands or going solo, we jumped into its waters and played around.  It felt so refreshing to wash off in the fresh water before returning to ForFar. 

When we returned and ate dinner, we were given the opportunity to learn the art of basket weaving from two local women.  We didn't go into it thinking it would be easy, but I think it was much more difficult than many of us were expecting.  I also think some people found there true calling. Basket weaving. 

Overall, yesterday was an adventure filled with exciting discoveries and new sights to see. We're very excited for our up-coming day, we'll see you all at the end of the week!

-Elly and the other Bahamian Campers :)


8/3/16

Today the weather was much calmer today so we spent the day snorkeling from the boat at various different sights. We departed Forfar on the boats at about 9:30 am and arrived at our first stop about half an hour later. The sight was called 'turtle reef' and it offered some fantastic snorkeling on the edge of the barrier reef. The water was slightly deeper here than what we'd been snorkeling in the past couple of days, about 15 ft deep. There was a huge variety of wildlife here, including corals, fish and inverts. Here we saw squid, barracuda and trumpetfish.

After Turtle reef we stopped for lunch at Saddleback Cay right on the beach, the weather was lovely and sunny and the beach offered some shell collecting. We soon went on our way to our next sight called Rat Cay. The water was still quite deep in some areas with a blue hole which featured coral reef formations and some larger fish, there were also some sea grass beds in much shallower water where we found a number of invert species. We also saw stingrays and a Barracuda.

Our final snorkel sight that day was Acropra, here the water was exceptionally clear and looked stunning, you could make out details on the bottom even whilst on the boat. There wasn't much on the sandy bottom near the boat, but the rockier areas nearby offered corals and other invtert species and the clear water made it easier to make things out. We managed to see a nurse shark here, the first shark we've seen this trip. 

On our way back to Forfar we stopped by Dave's patch reef in order to prepare our spot for tomorrow where we'll be carrying out our survey on the species living there. The weather today was certainly in our favour, there wasn't too much wind and the water was reasonably still, which helped visibility. As a result we were able to go to a variety of sights and see a huge amount of biodiversity. Tomorrow we'll be carrying out our research on Dave's patch reef, plenty to look forward to!

-Albert and the other Bahamian Campers


8/4/16

Dear Legal Guardians,

We must inform you we will be returning your children tomorrow evening, I suggest you enjoy your final moments of freedom while they last. As of yesterday these rascals enjoyed a wonderful continental breakfast provided by the local Bahamian staff. After a series of bouts of indigestion I now rely on oatmeal alone to survive. We then proceeded to prepare for a long day of research. After packing our gear we continued to slather each other in sunscreen and prepare for a day of solar radiation. (The previous night we all prepared for this excursion by creating data sheets to record our info on.) The boat ride was short but blissful as the wind provided a small break from the flesh eating bugs swarming every inch of this island. (have lots of after bite lotion ready for us when we return). When we reached Dave's patch reef, the fish team was first to jump in, they were the weakest and used as bait for the sharks. Luckily for them, all survived and they started with their research. Teams would collect data on the reef by following certain transects we had laid out the day before and record it on data sheets we made on water proof pieces of paper. (I didn't know that this existed, but water-proof paper is as mind-blowing as it sounds.) The teams that went in the morning were fish, coral, gorgonians, algae, and sea grass. After research, it was time for the usual delectable lunch and we pulled up the a beach to eat which Elly said looked like a "computer screen saver" because it was so beautiful.  We all passed out into food comas as the excessive amount of imported food sank to the depths of our bowels. After we awakened from our slumber we proceeded to return to the boats and continue with our reef exploration. In the afternoon, both the sponge and invertebrate groups dove into their research (I know, punny). On the boat the remaining campers sprawled out on the bow of the boat in order to cure our vitamin D deficiencies. Our boredom initiated a friendly competition on whether or not you could push your neighbor into the water, turning friends into enemies and enemies into fish bait. On another note, the campers in the water invested themselves in the research and noted every species on the transects in order to gain insight on how marine biologists would survey a reef. After this was finished we headed back to Forfar and worked on our stunning hand-made art projects that any first grader would be proud of. We ate a quick but very caloric dinner of MRE's, which is pretty much a last ditch effort to contradict the impending starvation we have been experiencing. After adding copious amounts of sodium the food was actually quiet tolerable. (but as we found out later, would triple in size in our stomach). With our stomaches stuffed we loaded up our equipment for the night dive. The sky was filled with stars and the new crescent moon shone orange on the horizon of the ocean. However, the real sight was underwater. Barracudas, slipper lobsters, squids, basket stars, and even more creatures occupied the reef and amazed all of us and we looked at them with our flashlights. Even the usually boring sea grass glowed with bioluminescence. It was truly a sight to see. On the way home we nearly caught hypothermia, but the constellations were pretty enough to distract us. Its easy to say we slept well that night. 

The following morning we enjoyed a traditionally southern breakfast of biscuits and gravy and the ever present canned mandarin oranges. As groggy as we were we hopped on the boat and went out to finish our research. Fish and Gorgonians went in for a second source of data and we performed the lion fish sweep. We reenacted scenes from finding dory by performing the seal dive off the from of the boat. Off we went to visit a coral propagation farm, which was pretty cool. A storm was coming through so we headed back to base to have lunch. Before lunch we displayed our art project for the week, mine was an algae colony i knitted using paintbrushes and green twine. (might I mention that this project was knitted 5 minuted before it was supposed to be finished and looked like a giant knotted ball). We all took much needed naps and later went out to a small little ice cream store with a huge variety of 2 flavors. For dinner we had roast, and remarkably, more applesauce. Also we had a good ole campfire, because it wasn't hot enough in the first place. At this fire we were told some very comforting ghost stories that most definitely not keep me up at night. As of now, this story has caught up to the present and we sit here writing this hoping that no ghost is looking over our shoulders disappointed in our run-on sentences. See you soon!!!!

With love, 

Will and Cat

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We Are Ocean Warriors

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We Are Ocean Warriors

Last week, Sanibel Sea School held its first-ever Wahine Toa Stand Up Paddleboarding and Survival Camp for girls. Wahine Toa means “fierce female ocean warrior” in the Hawaiian language, and participants definitely earned that title.

Led by an all-female staff, ten girls ages 13-18 paddled many miles and learned useful survival skills throughout the week. Campers practiced technical paddling skills and water safety, learned to use a compass, and how to create float plans. They also earned CPR and First Aid certification and were taught general automobile maintenance, including how to complete an oil change and fix a flat tire. “We tried to focus on practical skills that will be useful long after the camp week is over,” said Nicole Finnicum, a program leader. “So often we call our dads, brothers, boyfriends, etc. for help in these situations, but these girls will go forward with the confidence that they are fully capable of acting as an emergency first responder or dealing with a car problem on their own.” 

The week culminated in a camp-out on Picnic Island, about two miles from the Sanibel Causeway. Participants paddled out to the island on Thursday afternoon with just a sheet, water, and a military-style Meal Ready-to-Eat. They built a campfire, ate their rations, and slept on top of their paddleboards under the stars. “Someone may or may not have brought the ingredients for s’mores in their backpack,” said camper Addy Rundqwist.

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On the final morning, the group paddled back to the causeway for coffee and donuts before paddling 8 more miles to Doc Ford’s in Fort Myers beach for a celebratory lunch. “Everyone completed the trip,” said Finnicum. “We traveled about 20 miles on our boards during the week, and I was so proud to see the transformation that occurred between Monday and Friday. Most of the girls thought the first short paddle was difficult, but by Friday everyone was so confident and eager to overcome the challenge of one last long paddle. They really pushed themselves and were so supportive of each other.”

Congratulations to everyone who participated!

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Sanibel Sea School is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org. Thank you to Eileen Fisher and Doc Ford’s for their support of Wahine Toa Week.  

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Adventures in the Florida Keys

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Adventures in the Florida Keys

Campers experience the deep blue water 20 miles offshore. 

Campers experience the deep blue water 20 miles offshore. 

By Elly Rundqwist and Leah Biery

Last week, we traveled to Big Pine Key with thirty-six 11-15 year old campers for our annual Coral Reef Week Expedition. “This is a trip many of our campers look forward to for years,” said Camp Coordinator Nicole Finnicum. “After exploring more local marine habitats during our non-residential summer camps, they get to experience a completely different underwater world alongside many of their camp friends.”

A camper practices freediving.

A camper practices freediving.

Campers loaded their gear into a charter bus and headed south for four days of beachfront camping, snorkeling, and science. Each tent group had a chance to snorkel at Looe Key Reef, a National Marine Sanctuary, where some encountered sharks, schools of sergeant majors, and a goliath grouper. “We spend a lot of time teaching campers how to freedive,” said Johnny Rader, a camp counselor. “It gives them the ability to explore parts of the reef that can’t be seen from the surface and helps them become more comfortable in the ocean.”

A boat ride to Looe Key Reef.

A boat ride to Looe Key Reef.

Participants also spotted sea turtles, an octopus, and a juvenile nurse shark while snorkeling in an old rock quarry, jumped off the boat into the deep blue water offshore, and dove for beautiful cowrie shells under the bridge next to their campsite. Each group participated in a sea urchin embryology lab, using a solar-powered microscope to observe cell division, and dissected clumps of goniolithon in search of small invertebrates. 

Bill Roudebush leads a sea urchin embryology lab with his solar-powered microscope. 

Bill Roudebush leads a sea urchin embryology lab with his solar-powered microscope. 

When it wasn’t raining, evenings were spent around the campfire, playing games, roasting s’mores, and staging nature-inspired fashion shows. “It’s hard to say which campers enjoyed more, the ocean adventures or the fun we had at the campsite,” said counselor Elly Rundqwist. “Either way, the week was definitely a great bonding experience!”

The annual nature-inspired fashion show was enjoyed by all. 

The annual nature-inspired fashion show was enjoyed by all. 

Thanks to Bill and Linda Roudebush for their assistance with embryology labs and cooking for our hungry campers! 

We made a stop at The Turtle Hospital on our way to Big Pine Key. 

We made a stop at The Turtle Hospital on our way to Big Pine Key. 

"Who knew rain could provide such a bonding experience?" said counselor Elly Rundqwist. 

"Who knew rain could provide such a bonding experience?" said counselor Elly Rundqwist. 

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Practicing What I Preach

Several weeks ago, I helped a group of young adult campers push themselves beyond their comfort limit by completing a paddle that was a serious test of endurance. My job was to pilot the chase boat, shepherd our paddlers and offer up water and words of encouragement. On this particular paddle, we were fortunate to have calm seas and balmy weather, so my job really didn’t have much stress, nor much discomfort.

From there, I immediately went to an Island Skills Camp Milk-N-Cookies session for a younger group of campers, where I explained to their parents why, in our camps, we take our kids out of their comfort zone, and how we hope that by pushing kids, we were helping them become stronger individuals and have more rich and full memories. Only the whole time I was pushing young people to the outer limits of their abilities, I was pretty well within my own comfort zone.

It occurred to me that to be able to really extoll the value of being pushed out of our limits of comfort and capability, I needed to do it more often myself. Distant memories of doing this is not enough, I need to live what I preach. So, I decided to arise early the following morning and force myself to undertake my own epic paddle – a 10-mile loop around San Carlos Bay. The first three miles were into a strong headwind, the next three miles were against a strong tidal current, and in all honestly, I don’t really remember the conditions of the next four miles too well. I was tired, sore, and dehydrated; I just put my head down and paddled. It wasn’t fun, and certainly not comfortable, but I made it and was not unhappy with my pace.

When it was over, I was glad to be finished, proud to have accomplished it, and felt like I had again earned the right to lead young people into discomfort, to help them find in themselves strengths they didn’t know existed. We should all push ourselves more often.

 

 

 

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What You Should Know About Water Quality

The brown water we are currently experiencing is colored by tannins, compounds that are released by trees along the Caloosahatchee River. Tannins are also responsible for the coloration of coffee and tea. 

The brown water we are currently experiencing is colored by tannins, compounds that are released by trees along the Caloosahatchee River. Tannins are also responsible for the coloration of coffee and tea. 

This summer we are once again faced with heavy rainfalls and the negative impacts that terrestrial runoff imparts on our estuaries and oceans. As of this writing, we are intermittently experiencing heavy runoff from the Caloosahatchee River.

The sources of our freshwater influx are from the Caloosahatchee River. Some of the water coming down the river originates from Lake Okeechobee, and some of the water comes from the watershed between Lake Okeechobee and San Carlos Bay – from Lee and Hendry Counties.

Much of the water is tinted brown; the coloration comes from chemicals that have leeched out of trees along the river – these are tannins and the compounds that impart the coloration to tea and coffee. The brown coloration is not harmful, and a normal part of our mangrove communities. 

The water that comes out of the Caloosahatchee is usually carrying increased levels of nutrients that wash in from agriculture, urban development, and lawns.  These nutrients can, at times, trigger large growths of planktonic marine algae, typically known as plankton blooms. Some of these plankton bloom species can be harmful to animals, and are called Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

Right now, we are not experiencing HABs in our immediate region. We monitor the water quality conditions closely and will be glad to pass along any information we have to you. You can also find updates on beach water quality here

This chronic input of nutrient-laden water has a tremendous impact on our estuaries and adjacent coastal waters, and we need to enact the solutions to stop it. Please insist that all your elected and municipal representatives continue to find solutions to return our waters to sustainable systems. 

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