Posted by: Doc Bruce | July 17, 2007

Science and Fun at Sanibel Skills Camp

Last week, Sanibel Skills camp offered by Sanibel Sea School was true to the mission of Sanibel Sea School; it was a blend of science, learning and old fashion fun.

The theme was tarpon week and we learned a lot about one of our locally prized game-fish, the tarpon – sometimes called the “Silver King”. Among the things we learned is how scientists track the movements of tarpon using high tech transmitters that track the locations of fish using satellite technology. We also learned how scientists can determine the age of fish by analyzing growth rings in their ear bones – a process very similar to the one used to age trees through growth rings.

At the end of the week, many of us blended our new science knowledge and a little artistic ability to make models of tarpon ear bones using Sculpey clay and then made necklaces using the cross-sections as pendants. So if you see local kids running around with colorful pendant necklaces of concentric rings, be sure to ask ‘em how to age a tarpon.

We also honed up on our boat driving skills by piloting small boats with electric motors around the waters adjacent to the Sanibel boat ramp. One brave second-grade camper, Sam Gruss even captained his first boat under the Sanibel causeway! And of course, what good nautical drill would be complete without a soaking cannonball and a long swim back to shore. Another waterman skill we practiced was castnet throwing. And, many a mojara were caught and released unharmed during the fun.

Snorkeling skills were a giant hit. The clear waters allowed us to find many fabulous shells on the sand bar system of the east end of the island, and one group was treated with a rare underwater sighting of a large sea trout in the waters off Bailey Beach. One group even went on an epic, long float snorkel, flowing with the tide around Woodring Point – they were treated by giant Lightning Whelks and even the shell remains of a whopping granddaddy stone crab. This is pretty exciting stuff – to flow with the warm summer tide as a part of the ocean world that surrounds us and just discover.

For Doc Bruce, the highlight was our discovery of juvenile Bonefish (Albula vulpes) on the east end of the island. To his, and several Sea School staffers squealing delight, a group of campers caught bonefish in their seines. Bonefish are among the world’s most highly prized gamefish and are very uncommonly found in SW Florida. Amongst the old timers there are only three known records of bonefish caught in these waters. They do occur in the Florida Keys and along the southeastern coast of the state, but have never been recorded by the scientific community this far north in the Gulf. In fact, very little is known about the reproduction and juvenile stages of this species. We collected several specimens for ongoing studies and will ship them to the Florida Wildlife Research Institute for age and genetic analysis. This research is being conducted there in collaboration with fisheries scientists at Mote Marine Lab.

Someone once said that it takes a village to raise a child. We are grateful to the many folks who help us each week put on Sanibel Skills Camp. The Lighthouse Café continues to quench our thirsts with ice, our Gheenoes were provided by the Gheen Manufacturing Company, The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge loaned us their big seine to sample for more bonefish, and Ralph Woodring allowed our snorkelers access to Tarpon Bay for epic snorkel drifts.

And, by the way, be sure to check out the CBS Early Morning News Show (from New York) between 8:00 and 9:00 am on the 24th of July to see national television news coverage of what our kids are doing down on the east end of the island!

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