Posted by: Doc Bruce | June 13, 2007

Summer Starts With a Blast – Gopher Week

Sanibel Sea School launched Sanibel Skills summer camp last week, the first of eleven weeks for the 2007 season. It was Gopher Tortoise Week and campers were treated to all sorts of reptile experiences. Elke Podlasek of the Island Cow brought in some of her daughter Amanda’s private reptile collection. Campers got to see and hold a range of tortoises and bearded dragon lizards. They also got to see the iguanas that normally reside at the Island Cow. Among the beautiful tortoises of all shapes and sizes, campers got a rare opportunity to see a young Galapagos tortoise that the Podlaseks are fortunate to have a permit to raise.

Campers also got to visit our own Sanibel Island Gopher Tortoise burrows with Dee Serage-Century of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Under Dee’s guidance they planted some native plants for foraging tortoises. Campers were then invited to see the reptile drift fences in the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge where biologist Cheryl Parrott told the students about an ongoing reptile study. She showed campers how snakes are measured, how their gender is established before releasing them to the wild. And then campers built Sanibel Sea School’s own little drift fence.

Sanibel Sea School’s snake Pepper grew a bit over the five days and all the kids got to watch him eat up close. But it wasn’t a reptile that stole the show this week. A pregnant male seahorse decided it was time to have babies Friday morning at about 9:30 a.m. and much to the amazement of staff and campers, the male began to give birth to tiny seahorses. Everyone got to see this wonderful event before dad and babies were released to the wild. If this writer were truly reporting from a Sanibel Sea School summer camper’s perspective though, she must confess that surfing and surfboard paddling were the best part of Sanibel Skills camp. When all is said and done, kids want to come out of the water and dry off so they can see and learn amazing things and then as quickly as possible go in the water again! Thank goodness for islands, these wonderful ecosystems surrounded by ocean with so many amazing things to see and learn about.

Thank you to everyone who made Gopher Tortoise week a success: Marcel Ventura who gave us a paddle board, Francis Bailey who donated backyard picnic tables, Billy Kirkland and Richard Johnson who hauled the tables back to the island, Pat MacIntosh and Costco who also gave us a backyard dining table, the Plank-DiCarlo family for the large screen monitor that allowed us to see Pepper eating so well, Ann Moran for the digital ocular camera that captured Pepper’s image, Cheryl Parrott of Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge for letting us take a look at the drift fences and snakes, the Podlasek family for an experience with the most beautiful tortoises and lizards any of the staff had ever seen and some delicious muffins, Ralph Woodring for the opportunity for Dr. Bruce Neill to round up the seahorses on a late night expedition, Dee Serage-Century and SCCF for a look at gopher tortoise habitat, Roy Massey of Ace Performers who donated old sails for the backyard sunshade canopy and used windsurfing boards to paddle, Dick Meunch for a donation of hotdogs and lastly, the intrepid gopher tortoise who decided a month ago to build a burrow in the Sanibel Sea School backyard just in time for summer. She or he is happily unmolested and still a backyard friend.

To all Sanibel Sea School campers from last week, guess what was finally caught in our drift fence this weekend after you left? A black racer snake! Yarrrgh! Nature just won’t be rushed, will she? Next we’re going to be talking about fishing and snook! For more information on Sanibel Skills Summer Camp call 472-8585.

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