Seacamp Marine Sciences Summer Camp
The Young Man and the Sea
Imagine teenagers dreaming about snorkeling above a coral reef, swimming in the warm clear waters among parrotfish, sea turtles, yellowtails, angelfish and sergeant majors over dozens of coral species. Imagine their dreams coming to fruition with the opportunity to spend 18 days of summer vacation studying the third largest coral reef in the world… right there! The teens’ experiences solidify their desire to become marine biologists, to find a cure to diseases whose secrets are waiting to be discovered in the sea bed, to create works of art whose motifs include the great world under the ocean’s surface, to become attorneys dedicated to protecting the environment, to be the next Jacques Cousteau, and to teach future generations of marine biologists. Then during the following school year, they convince their parents, science teachers, principals and school superintendents to convert an abstraction to real life by transporting their science classrooms to the same tropical shoreline described in their textbooks, shown on TV’s best nature programs, and posted on YouTube. As the teens get older and start to consider career choices, they decide to study oceanography, which includes an internship with an organization that is nestled in one of the world’s most unique ecosystems. Years later, a job in ecology or research opens up and they start their careers in paradise.
This dream can certainly become reality. The Seacamp Marine Sciences Summer Camp, which is located in the dream-like setting of Big Pine Key’s southern shore 30 miles east of Key West and 110 miles southwest of Miami, founded its camping program on the grounds of a defunct hotel in 1966. According to Judy Gregoire, the director of the school program, over 300,000 campers have spent part of the summer at Seacamp. Youths from ages 12 to 17 can spend an 18-day residential experience in the summer or a five-day camp experience during the school year that includes interactive marine science education courses with snorkeling trips to the local coral reef, hands-on laboratory learning, sailing, SCUBA diving, windsurfing, arts and crafts, kayaking and canoeing. Chuck Brand, who has been with the camp for over 25 years, is proud of Seacamp’s environmental ethic, which is to cultivate a deep appreciation for the fragile natural world, which helps lead students to become good global citizens and makes learning fun and meaningful.
Campers live in a dormitory style setting with a community dining hall. Students participate in serving and cleaning up after each meal and recycle their plastic utensils. Campers learn that water is an expensive finite resource in the Florida Keys, where water must be piped in from the mainland. The camp staff stress the need to conserve because students observe how waste can destroy this very fragile ecosystem. Not only do students reside among the unique wildlife found in the waters and low-lying islands of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, but also in the National Key Deer Refuge. At twilight, key deer, an endangered endemic species about the size of a Great Dane and whose habitat is exclusively on Big Pine Key and No Name Key, frequently graze their way through the property.
A typical day for a camper is to eat a hearty breakfast and then to take part in a class or workshop outdoors or in a laboratory. Campers have an array of activities from which to choose. Students might measure the depths of sea grasses and the soil in which they are found, or wade through the warm water to identify sea life. Or they might learn about sharks in the classroom, with frequent interruptions from excited scientists who have spotted a young nurse shark off shore. After lunch, students might take a flat top boat ride where the white deck serves as a writing board for the instructor, or they can go snorkeling in Looe Key, which is a groove and spur reef, and part of the reef system that parallels the Florida Straits’ side of the Keys. After dinner, campers get together for stargazing or continue to observe wildlife in one of the labs. During the day, there are pockets of free time where students can hone their basketball skills or hang out with their friends.
Kia Peters and Dale DiCiocco, students from the Leamington District Secondary School in Ontario had just completed the five-day program, and said that although their days were structured and busy, there was enough free time to not feel exhausted, which is common when one is on a very busy trip. When asked what was memorable about their experiences, DiCiocco emphasized that he didn’t expect to hold a jellyfish, and he felt a rush of adrenaline when feeding a barracuda and seeing rays. Peters said that although they were at times within a classroom environment, everything was hands-on. Their science teacher, LeeAnne Carchedi, who accompanied the class, wished that she could bring all of her students to Seacamp because the content synergizes with the school curriculum, and the counselors were geniuses when it came time to explain concepts and answer questions.
If Seacamp were a dream, it would be the type from which one would never want to awaken. But because it is real life, it is a place where one would want to stay forever and live the life of dreams. #
Seacamp Marine Sciences Summer Camp; Newfound Harbor Marine Institute
www.seacamp.org www.nhmi.org firstname.lastname@example.org
1300 Big Pine Avenue, Big Pine Key, FL 33043, 1-877-SEACAMP (732-2267)