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Sanibel Sea School hosts free day of fun for Memorial Day holiday

June 4, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The Sanibel Sea School hosted another free community camp on Memorial Day, providing a couple dozen youth with the opportunity to learn about sea turtles and have fun on their day off.

The non-profit organization first offered the day camps in the wake of Hurricane Irma as families struggled to find childcare with schools being closed. Receiving overwhelming support and gratitude from parents, it realized there was a need to fill and created the program for select school holidays.

"It's just a way to give back to the community," Sam Lucas, a marine science instructor, said.

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Campers dug their own sea turtle nest on the beach, then filled it in to prepare the beach for real nesting turtles.

Each day camp has a theme, with the schedule of games and activities planned around it.

"It's the beginning of nesting season, so people are excited about it," she said of picking sea turtles as the theme for the Memorial Day camp.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., approximately 45 to 50 children participated in activities like a scavenger hunt with challenges and making sea turtle shells, as well as had the chance to enjoy some time on the beach snorkeling, learning to use seine nets and surfing. The community camps are open to youth ages 6-13.

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In addition, about 10 teens participated as part of the Counselors In Training or CIT program.

"They bridge the gap between the campers and the counselors," Emmett Horvath, another camp counselor and marine science instructor, said.

While the activities aim to be fun, they also carry an educational component.

For example, the campers were taught how to use and read a compass for the scavenger hunt. Lucas explained that sea turtles use magnetic fields to navigate back to the same beach, so the youth did.

"They kind of were sea turtles themselves," she said.

The hunt involved stops along the way, with each one presenting a challenge. For one, the campers learned that leatherbacks can dive to depths of 4,000 feet, so they dunked their head in a bucket of cold water to symbolize the water temperature change. The youth also dug their own sea turtles "nests."

"Each segment would get the campers to another challenge," Horvath said.

Using cardboard and string, they created wearable turtle shells using paint, glue and seashells.

"They made their own sea turtle shells," Lucas said.

The hunt led the campers to the beach, where they could participate in a mix of activities.

"We went seining and snorkeling," she said.

The youth netted pufferfish, pipefish, comb jellies and marine worm egg casings, which were placed briefly in a portable aquarium for the children to learn about before being returned to the ocean.

"It was pretty successful," Lucas said.

For some of the campers, it was their first time taking part in a program offered by the Sanibel Sea School. Others, like 12-year-old Zoe Vadas, are regular participants who love what is offered.

"Zoe's been involved with the Sea School since she was probably 7," her father, Luke Vadas, said. "It started with one week on Sanibel now, I think she's doing six weeks with them this summer."

A former fishing charter captain, he noted that the water is a big part of his family's life.

"She's always been a water girl," Vadas said.

"The advantage, though, of that camp they're whole purpose is not just education, it's fun," he added, explaining that he has yet to see an unhappy camper when it comes to parent pick-up time. "Every single one of them has a smile on their face and that's the most amazing thing to me."

Asked about the recent community camp, Zoe said she definitely had fun.

"My favorite part is when we went to the beach. We did a scavenger hunt on the way there," she said. "Turtles can swim really deep, so we had to dunk our head in cold water. We had to see how deep of a hole we could dig, like their nests."

Zoe noted that she learned a lot about sea turtles from the camp.

"How they dig their holes using their back flippers and that they use their shell for protecting themselves against predators," she said.

Asked about what she wants to be when she grows up, Zoe said a marine biologist.

"Because the ocean really fascinates me and what's in it," she said.

The Sanibel Sea School is planning its next community camp for the fall.

Horvath noted that campers can only sign up for two per year.

"We need to make this available to as many kids as possible," he said.

For more information, visit online or call 239-472-8585.

The Sanibel Sea School is at 455 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.



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