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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