Issue 4, 2008 Articles:

* Barrier Island Center's Eco-Explorer Summer Program

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Barrier Island Center's Eco-Explorer Summer Program

By Leslie Sprague
CCC's Leslie Sprague (at left in hat) leads the Eco-Explorers in identifying sea turtle tracks in front of the Barrier Island Center.

The Barrier Island Sanctuary Management and Education Center (BIC) is an educational center located in the heart of the Archie Carr Refuge in Florida, a major nesting site for sea turtles. Through a partnership with the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Caribbean Conservation Corporation manages and conducts educational programs offered at the BIC.

This summer, the BIC was abuzz with 40 "Eco-Explorers" from Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. Each week during July, 10 Eco-Explorers, ranging from grades 3 to 8, learned all about sea turtles, beach and dune ecosystems, the Indian River Lagoon and the native plants and animals that utilize the barrier island and surrounding waters.

Seeing loggerhead and green turtle tracks in the morning was the highlight of each day. The students would venture onto the observation platform each morning to look for signs that turtles had nested the previous night. When tracks were spotted, the students would walk down to the beach and learn how to identify which species of sea turtle made the track and whether or not the turtle actually nested. By the end of each week, the Eco-Explorers were "expert" turtle trackers and could identify the species and whether or not she had nested.

The Eco-Explorers learned about native and non-native barrier island plants and what they each contributed to the ecosystem. The students also kept a Field Guide throughout the week where they recorded their daily observations along with photos of their journey. The students pulled seine nets through the Indian River Lagoon and found many species of juvenile fish and invertebrates, including hermit crabs, seahorses, puffer fish, pipe fish, pin fish, even a barracuda! On one seine netting trip, students saw a dolphin that was fishing about 20 feet away.

Each day the students collected data on their lunches too what was reusable, recyclable, compostable, and how much trash was produced. This data was compiled and the students' improvement was recorded throughout the week. The kids learned that they can reduce their contribution to the landfill by paying closer attention to what they pack reusable plastic containers instead of disposable zip-top bags is an easy one. If each of these students implements this one change and tells their family and friends to do the same, imagine how many plastic bags we can keep out of the environment!

Eco-Explorer Katie Nicholson loved the program so much she returned the following week to volunteer with the camp. "It was the best educational camp I've been to," said Katie.

Many of the students want to pursue careers in marine biology and it is our hope that this program gave them a sense of the many plants, animals and ecosystems that need their help, as well as the various careers that can encompass these areas. We look forward to holding another Eco-Explorer program next summer!

For more information about the BIC and its programs, visit Barrier Island Center.