Campers departed the campground for a snorkeling trip to Looe Key Reef. 

Campers departed the campground for a snorkeling trip to Looe Key Reef. 

Twenty-five campers ages 11-12 recently spent a week exploring coral reefs on Big Pine Key. Led by Sanibel Sea School’s team of marine educators, they snorkeled in a variety of underwater habitats, practiced skills like cast netting and knot tying, and slept in tents underneath the stars.

Coralline algae provides habitat for thousands of invertebrates. During a lab, campers tried to identify as many species as possible. 

Coralline algae provides habitat for thousands of invertebrates. During a lab, campers tried to identify as many species as possible. 

After setting up camp at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and Campground, the group made daily boat trips to Looe Key Reef to observe life on a coral reef. It was a first for many, and participants were able to see nurse sharks, blacktip reef sharks, goliath groupers, brightly colored reef fish, live shells, and more. Other snorkeling destinations included the Big Pine Key Bridge, which is home to large tarpon, The Blue Hole, where Cassiopeia are abundant, Bahia Honda State Park, and the “Deep Blue”, where campers had a chance to float in 450 feet of water.

Snorkeling in the "Deep Blue", where the ocean is 450 feet deep, was a favorite activity among participants. 

Snorkeling in the "Deep Blue", where the ocean is 450 feet deep, was a favorite activity among participants. 

Each day, counselors led a scientific lab to more deeply explore different aspects of coral reef biology. Topics included sea urchin embryology, goniolithon (coralline algae), and sponge anatomy. “Our goniolithon lab is always a favorite among campers,” said group leader Johnny Rader. “They are able to break apart pieces of coralline algae to see what is living inside, and often find bristle worms, brittle stars, crabs, and flatworms. It is amazing how much life can exist on one small piece of algae.”

Taking a break. 

Taking a break. 

Other trip highlights included a visit to the Turtle Hospital to learn about sea turtle rehabilitation, eating delicious camp food, and evening activities like night snorkeling and dance contests. Participants returned to Sanibel happy, tired, and with many new stories to share with family and friends.

Camping with a view. 

Camping with a view. 

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org. 

Click here to view additional Coral Reef Week photos.

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