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. 

Comment

Ocean Quotes to Brighten Your Day

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

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
— Jacques Cousteau
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.
— Dave Barry
The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination, and brings eternal joy to the soul.”
— Wyland
DSC_0137-X3.jpg
With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea.
— Sylvia Earle
We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back to whence we came.
— John F. Kennedy
At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun.
— Unknown
How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.
— Arthur C. Clarke
I felt the full breadth and depth of the ocean around the sphere of the Earth, back billions of years to the beginning of life, across all the passing lives and deaths, the endless waves of swimming joy and quiet losses of exquisite creatures with fins and fronds, tentacles and wings, colourful and transparent, tiny and huge, coming and going. There is nothing the ocean has not seen.
— Sally Andrew

Comment

Comment

Dealing with Marine Debris

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

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

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

Items collected during a beach cleanup on Captiva. 

Items collected during a beach cleanup on Captiva. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

Comment

Polynesian Ocean Traditions Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campers practiced their surfing skills during Polynesian Ocean Traditions Week. 

Campers practiced their surfing skills during Polynesian Ocean Traditions Week. 

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

Comment

Comment

5 Ecosystems You Should Visit on Sanibel Island

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

Cownose rays photographed on Sanibel Island.

Cownose rays photographed on Sanibel Island.

Ocean

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

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

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

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

Beach

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

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

An American alligator mother with her hatchlings. 

An American alligator mother with her hatchlings. 

Wetlands

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

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

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

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

Mangroves

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

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

A rat snake hides among the seagrape leaves. 

A rat snake hides among the seagrape leaves. 

Hammock

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

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

Comment

Comment

The Christmas Bird Count

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

Comment

Sanibel Sea School and Canterbury School Partner to Offer New Summer Programs

A student practices throwing a cast net during a fishing lesson at Sanibel Sea School.

A student practices throwing a cast net during a fishing lesson at Sanibel Sea School.

Sanibel Sea School and Canterbury School are teaming up to provide exciting new ocean learning experiences for children in the summer of 2017. Through this partnership, participants will be able to utilize the excellent resources of both organizations.  

Opportunities will include Island Skills at Canterbury, an ocean-themed, field-based summer program for children in rising grades Pre-K4 through eighth. From snorkeling through the seagrass to hands-on experiences with marine creatures in Canterbury’s marine lab, this program will be an incredible adventure for any ocean-loving child.

For children who love to fish, Canterbury is teaming up with Sanibel Sea School’s marine science educators to provide a week-long program where children will learn to fish four different ways. Fishing will be available to children in rising grades five through nine.

Children can also explore marine habitats while learning the basics of paddleboarding with our Stand-up Paddleboarding program for rising grades seven through 12. Students interested in marine biology can take advantage of our two-week summer session of Independent Science Research, which will allow students in rising grades six through 12 to get a head start on their science fair projects before the school year. Finally, the Counselor-In-Training (CIT) program is designed to teach children 13 and older the skills of leadership for their future success.

Canterbury School (8141 College Parkway, Fort Myers) will be the home base for these new programs. Transportation will be provided by Canterbury to the various locations each day. All summer programs provided through this partnership and by each organization individually are open to the public.

Registration for these programs will open on Saturday, February 4, 2017, through Canterbury School’s website: www.canterburyfortmyers.org/summerprograms. More information about other summer programs available from Sanibel Sea School can be found at www.sanibelseaschool.org. Canterbury School will also be hosting a Summer Programs Open House on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, from 3:00 to 6:30 p.m. in our Hanno Dining Hall.

For additional information, please contact Katie Tanner at ktanner@canterburyfortmyers.org or Leah Biery at leah@sanibelseaschool.org.

 

About Canterbury School

Canterbury School is a Pre-K3-12 college preparatory school in Fort Myers, FL. Canterbury provides a rigorous college preparatory curriculum dedicated to academic excellence within an atmosphere emphasizing character, leadership, and service. We strive to prepare students for success in the most demanding postsecondary institutions and professions. To learn more, visit www.canterburyfortmyers.org.

About Sanibel Sea School

Sanibel Sea School, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located on Sanibel Island, FL whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org

Comment

Comment

Sanibel Sea School Dedicates Flagship Building in Memory of Richard C. Kennedy

Richard C. "Dick" Kennedy

Richard C. "Dick" Kennedy

The Kennedy family poses for a photo with Sanibel Sea School's co-founders. From left: Dr. Bruce Neill, Blair Kennedy, Henry Kennedy, Nancy Kennedy, Sam Kennedy, BJ Kennedy, and Evelyn Neill. 

The Kennedy family poses for a photo with Sanibel Sea School's co-founders. From left: Dr. Bruce Neill, Blair Kennedy, Henry Kennedy, Nancy Kennedy, Sam Kennedy, BJ Kennedy, and Evelyn Neill. 

Sanibel Sea School marked the dedication of its original Flagship Campus building in memory of Richard C. “Dick” Kennedy with a celebration of his life on Saturday, December 10th, 2016. Friends and family gathered around the building, located at 414 Lagoon Drive on Sanibel, to share memories of Kennedy and pay tribute to him for his many contributions to our island community. 

Guests at the dedication event listen as Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church shares memories of Dick Kennedy. 

Guests at the dedication event listen as Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church shares memories of Dick Kennedy. 

Kennedy, a winter resident of Sanibel whose family founded the Kieve-Wavus Camp and Leadership School in Maine, had a passion for helping children develop the confidence necessary to succeed. “Dick came to us soon after Sanibel Sea School was founded and offered to help,” said Dr. Bruce Neill, Executive Director and co-founder of the organization. “He offered support and advice, and adamantly insisted that we succeed. We would not be where we are today if he had not shared his wisdom and experience with us.” Kennedy and his wife, Nancy, also lovingly provided housing, home-cooked meals, and emotional support to many young Sanibel Sea School staff members as they experienced living and working on their own for the first time.

Sanibel Sea School Trustee Chip Roach reads a limerick he composed in honor of Kennedy. 

Sanibel Sea School Trustee Chip Roach reads a limerick he composed in honor of Kennedy. 

Shortly before his death in June of 2016, the trustees of Sanibel Sea School voted unanimously to honor him with the naming of the nonprofit’s original building, where its educational programs and summer camps are held. It will be called The Richard C. Kennedy Building – The Heart of Sanibel Sea School. Two hand-painted signs were installed over the main entrances and an additional outdoor sign will be installed in the coming weeks.  

Attendees enjoy coffee and pastries in the Richard C. Kennedy Building. 

Attendees enjoy coffee and pastries in the Richard C. Kennedy Building. 

At the dedication, a number of close friends and family members spoke in his honor, including Neill, his wife and Sanibel Sea School co-founder, Evelyn, Dick’s son, Henry Kennedy, and Dick’s wife, Nancy Kennedy. They were joined by Chip Roach, a Sanibel Sea School Board member and close friend of Kennedy, and Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan, the rector at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, where Dick and Nancy have attended services for many years. “This building, with its creaky floors and sandy buckets, perfectly captures Dick’s spirit and his desire to help kids discover their potential,” said Neill. 

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.

 

Comment

Comment

The Great Migration

White Pelicans, winter residents of Sanibel Island, exhibit different behaviors and habits than Brown Pelicans.

White Pelicans, winter residents of Sanibel Island, exhibit different behaviors and habits than Brown Pelicans.

Although it might not feel like it, the American White Pelican’s (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) arrival on Sanibel marks the changing of seasons. Unlike the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), a year-round resident of Sanibel, White Pelicans migrate in the fall, usually arriving on Sanibel in October and returning north in the spring. These birds spend the winter months in southern Mexico, southern California, and the Gulf Coast States (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida). During the summer, adults breed in colonies on lakes in western Canada and northwestern U.S.

The white pelican is one of the largest birds in North America. It has a 9-foot wingspan, significantly larger than its cousin, the brown pelican, which has an average wingspan of 7 feet.  The white pelicans are all white with black flight feathers only visible when flying. They are found near lakes, marshes and salt bays. During breeding season, they can be found mostly inland, nesting on isolated islands.  

White pelicans are very social birds. Pods, or groups of white pelicans, can be seen flying in a V formation. Pods also cooperatively hunt, forcing their prey into shallow waters where they dip their bills into the water and scoop up the fish. They are very buoyant compared to the brown pelicans, which dive for their food. Similar to the brown pelicans, they can hold three gallons of water in their bill but only one gallon in their stomachs, so they have to drain their bills before swallowing the fish. 

The population has made a strong comeback since the 1970s due to the EPA banning DDT, a common pesticide used for insect control. It did not cause any physical side effects to the white pelicans, but it caused their eggs to thin. Pelicans stand on their eggs to keep them warm, so when the adult pelicans would stand on the eggs, they would crack and the developing pelican could not survive. This caused a sharp decline in the population until scientists realized the effects DDT was having on the marine food web. Population size has since rebounded for both the brown and white pelican. 

Our pelican fact cheat sheet. Click here to download a printable PDF. 

Our pelican fact cheat sheet. Click here to download a printable PDF. 

Comment

Comment

Sanibel Sea School Educators Judge Canterbury School Science Fair

Carley Todd takes a break to make notes on her score sheet. 

Carley Todd takes a break to make notes on her score sheet. 

Marine Science Educators employed by Sanibel Sea School volunteered their time to serve on the judging panel for The Canterbury School’s annual science fair. The event, held on December 1st, showcased scientific experiments and research carried out by middle and high school students on science topics ranging from physics to biology, and everything in between. 

Nicole Finnicum Interviews a student about his science fair research. 

Nicole Finnicum Interviews a student about his science fair research. 

All of Sanibel Sea School’s teaching staff members have earned science degrees, and they enjoyed the chance to interact and encourage young people who might also like to pursue future careers in science. “I was so impressed by how many of the projects could someday have real world applications,” said Nicole Finnicum, Sanibel Sea School’s Education Director. “The students were thinking about very relevant topics like ocean acidification, ways to improve the treatment of Alzheimer’s, and tools that could help supply developing countries with clean water. I have no doubt that these kids are going to achieve great things.” 

Sanibel Sea School's Executive Director, Doc Bruce, poses for a photo with Cara Summit, a teacher at The Canterbury School. 

Sanibel Sea School's Executive Director, Doc Bruce, poses for a photo with Cara Summit, a teacher at The Canterbury School. 

In summer 2017, Sanibel Sea School will offer its first-ever Science Fair Research Camp, also in partnership with The Canterbury School. The school year can be a busy time for students, and this program will allow them to finish a significant part of their science fair planning and research prior to the fall semester. Registration will be open to the public, and the camp will be held at The Canterbury School’s campus in Fort Myers, which features the Torpey Tank outdoor marine biology lab. 

Johnny Rader judges a science fair project. 

Johnny Rader judges a science fair project. 

During the program, science educators will be available to help participants develop and carry out marine biology-based studies. “Participating in the science fair as a kid helped me develop an appreciation for the scientific process, and definitely contributed to my desire to study science in college,” said educator Johnny Rader, who also served as a judge. “I can’t wait to share that with our campers next year.” 

Registration for Science Fair Research Camp will open in February 2017. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org.

Comment

Comment

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.

Comment

Comment

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

Comment

Comment

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.

Comment

Comment

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. 

Comment

Comment

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! 

Comment

Comment

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. 

Comment

Comment

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.

Comment

Comment

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.

 

Comment

Comment

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.

Comment

Comment

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.   

Comment

Sanibel Sea School Activates Solar Panels

2 Comments

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. 

2 Comments