Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Aiding Environmental EducationAiding Environmental Education

The presence of Ocean Habitats Mini Reefs in Marco’s canals is also serving as a hands-on learning tool for youths from the island and beyond.

During the school year, students from Marco Island Academy (MIA), Florida SouthWestern State College’s Collier County campus and Seacrest Country Day School took part in such things as building and installing the devices, and monitoring water quality near the installed artificial reefs and the aquatic creatures that they attract.

“The Ocean Habitats program has given a great number of students in the past couple years the opportunity to participate in a hands-on project that takes aim at a problem within their own community,” said Jerry Murphy, MIA’s environmental science teacher. “Students gain a first-hand look at problem solving, engineering, building, data collection and ecology, all wrapped up in one project, which is pretty much environmental science in a nutshell.”

Study of the man-made habitats, the fish and crustaceans they support and attract, and the aquatic environment are also incorporated into MIA’s Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society Ambassadors of the Environment summer program.

The program is led by Richard Murphy, Ph.D., Ocean Futures Society’s director of science and education, who also wrote and designed a portion of MIA’s marine biology curriculum. He was assisted this year by Miller and Jim Timmerman, an Ocean Habitats co-founder and director, and a former member of Marco’s Waterways Advisory Committee. MIA students Cameron Zuck and Olivia Watt served as camp counselors and Tish Champagne was the camp photographer.

Ocean Habitats’ relationship with MIA and the AOTE summer program began in 2016, not long after the first Mini Reefs were being installed for a City of Marco Island pilot program that placed 25 of the artificial habitats in the island’s canals.

“Besides the work being done in the water, being able to help kids who might have an interest in a career in marine science and to help them be able to learn at the high school and college levels and get some hands-on experience is great,” said the company’s founder, president and executive director, David Wolff.

Ambassadors of the Environment summer program participants examine some of Ocean Habitat’s submerged Mini Reefs | Submitted Photos

The summer camps teach students about living more sustainably and stress four principles:

  1. Everything is connected.
  2. There is no waste in nature.
  3. Biodiversity is good.
  4. Everything runs on energy.

The two-day long Junior Camp for children ages 11-through-13 ended June 8th, while the second camp, for youths 14-through-18, was June 11 through June 13.

On Day One of the junior camp, the youths:

  •   Learned about how Ocean Habitats’ Mini Reefs filter water in canals and waterways.
  •   Visited the city’s water treatment plant and learned how wastewater is treated and drinking water filtered.
  •   Collected small aquatic creatures from the side of a dock before returning to the school’s laboratory to examine the invertebrates and arthropods under a videoscope.

Day Two consisted of:

  • Taking to local waters to learn about dolphins.
  • Hitting the beach to play “Stump the Scientist,” where students searched for unusual shells or other beach creatures for Murphy to identify it.
  • Returning to MIA to research three facts about a favorite marine animal, before acting out, drawing and using clues to help fellow campers guess their animal.
  • The second camp consisted of such activities as kayaking through mangroves; learning about Ocean Habitats; examining invertebrates and arthropods under a videoscope; an overnight gathering that included taking in a beach sunset; and visiting Shark Valley in the Everglades to explore the ecosystem’s animal life.

Both camps included audio-visual presentations on global environmental issues and the beauty of the oceans.

“Infused into all of these activities is the message of how nature works, how humans depend on and impact nature, and lessons from nature that can help us live more sustainably,” said Murphy.

He credited Ocean Habitats with being a “great example of how we can use nature to do work for us in a very environmentally responsible way.

“Specifically the habitats provide a surface where filter feeding organisms can thrive and, through their feeding activities, clean the water of abundant phytoplankton,” he added. “Among the reported side effects are increased biodiversity around the docks and with cleaner water we see an increase in other organisms that people like, such as sport fish. So these habitats allow local, natural organisms to do work that improves environmental conditions for a wider variety of organisms.”

Timmerman couldn’t be more pleased with how Ocean Habitats and the Mini Reef’s ecosystem benefits have been embraced.

“The habitats are busy filtering millions of gallons of water per day and providing sanctuary to thousands of fishes, shrimp, lobsters and crabs, to name a few. One of my goals for the Ocean Habitat program was to foster community involvement, specifically children. The student involvement from Seacrest Country Day School, Marco Island Academy and Florida SouthWestern State College far exceeds my hopes. I am ultimately proud of what we, as a community, have accomplished.”

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