Posted by: leahbiery | September 14, 2009

How to Survive on a Small Island

If you were stranded in the wilderness, would you be able to build your own shelter? Could you figure out how to signal for help, or find your way back to civilization using a compass? Sanibel Sea School campers could – at least those who attended Survivor Week, a camp designed especially for eleven to fifteen year olds.

At the beginning of the week, we learned the fine art of lashings, a useful skill to have if you ever need to build a raft. After some practice, teams were given piles of bamboo and asked to do just that. The teams competed to see who could build the fastest and most buoyant raft using only twine, a limited amount of bamboo, and any floating garbage they could find on the beach. The competition brought lots of laughter as we learned firsthand that no matter how sturdy a raft seems on land, it is likely to start falling apart once it comes in contact with the ocean’s powerful waves.

After our raft paddling competition, we braved the mosquitoes at the Bailey Tract to practice our orienteering skills. We used compasses and our own paces to keep track of our movement, then we mapped our routes. Map interpretation and orienteering skills are important when you are lost if you want to reach a more desirable location.

If you are ever unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to be shipwrecked on a deserted island, one of the basic essentials is to find or construct protection from the elements. Survivor teams used materials they found on the beach to build shelters. Structures were judged on sturdiness, size, and how well they provided shade and protection from wind and rain. The winning team added a fully-functioning sundial as a finishing touch. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, playing frisbee, and relaxing in our breezy lean-tos, smiling and waving at envious passers-by.

All this was great, but the pinnacle of Survivor Week was probably the overnight trip to Cayo Costa State Park, where campers impressed SX3 staff with their willingness to help out. In addition to exploring the island, shell collecting, and snorkeling, campers pitched their own tents and helped with dinner and cleanup. We spent the evening performing skits, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, and walking on the beach. Some nightwalkers were lucky enough to find huge lightning whelks and handfuls of perfect arrowhead sand dollars. We ended the trip with a chocolate chip pancake breakfast and a bumpy boat ride back to Sanibel. Camping at Cayo Costa was a fabulous opportunity for campers to practice their newly-acquired survival skills and bond with new friends and counselors.

The success of our camp programs would not be possible without support from the Sanibel community. Both the LAT Foundation and Sanibel-Captiva Kiwanis Club help support our summer program through scholarship support. The McKay family at Sweet Water Boat Rentals on Captiva donated boat rides to and from Cayo Costa. Bailey’s provided enough ice to keep us cool, and the Sanibel Community House hosted our weekly Milk and Cookies Slideshow. We are very thankful for the help we receive from local families and businesses. Visit us online at

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