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Experiencing paradise for the first time

By Staff | Jul 29, 2015

The Immokalee Foundation visited the Captiva last Friday, as the Captiva Cruise crew boated the youth and counselors out to Cayo Costa for the "No Child Left on Shore" program. Unfortunately there were rain showers, which cut the trip off early, but the experience was still enjoyed by the Immokalee kids. BRIAN WIERIMA

Paradise is something which needs to be shared and that’s exactly what the crew of Captiva Cruises, in conjunction with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, is exactly doing with its “No Child Left on Shore” program.

Despite living within an hour of the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico and the shorelines of Southwest Florida, many youth don’t have the opportunity to experience what Mother Nature wants to share.

But last Friday, over 30 youth from The Immokalee Foundation saw for the first time what paradise is all about through the “No Child Left on Shore” program.

“Even though Immokalee is only 45-50 minutes away, the problem is transportation for these kids,” said The Immokalee Foundation’s Program Services Manager Elda Hernandez. “With (Captiva Cruises), the kids are afforded to come to the beach and go to an island and get to go swimming, fishing and sea shelling. The experience itself is so much fun for them.”

Captiva Cruises and SCCF have partnered on many joint ventures including the Dolphin Wildlife and Adventure Cruise, special expeditions to the historic fish houses of Pine Island Sound, Randell Research Center on Pine Island, the Lessons of Hurricane Charley Cruise and the Resident Environmental Orientation tours.

There were torrential rains during the ride back to Captiva, but the kids from Immokalee didn't let that deter them from having fun. BRIAN WIERIMA

“Unfortunately due to logistical, financial and other constraints, a substantial percentage of the residential youth of Southwest Florida have never experienced the joy and excitement of watching dolphins in their natural habitat, collecting shells from a barrier island beach, putting their hands in the sand and learning about our coastal ecology and the complex food webs of the Caloosahatchee Estuary by exploring the intrinsic beauty of our mangrove islands and waterways,” said Captiva Cruise captain Richard Finkel. “We see a real need to provide the younger generation of Southwest Florida with an opportunity to experience first hand the invaluable resources of the Caloosahatchee watershed and estuarine environment.”

Cuts in public funding for school environmental education field trips have drastically reduced the number of students who can experience for themselves the importance of our coastal resources, Finkel added.

“Many families within Southwest Florida, especially those with language, cultural, physical and economic barriers, do not have the ways or means to get out on the water,” Finkel said. “Too many of our local population who live close to the Charlotte Harbor and Caloosahatchee Estuary systems have never held a live sea star, shrimp or snail. They have never waded in shallow sea grass beds and observed a horseshoe or spider crab, and have never learned by seeing and taking part in hands on outdoor education activities.”

Last Friday, Captiva Cruises, led by Captain Finkel, boated over 30 youth and supervisors from The Immokalee Foundation out to Cayo Costa island, which is 95-percent state park land.

For many of the kids, it was their first boatride, as well as many debuts in seeing dolphins. After reaching Cayo Costa, the group was able to swim in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rain was not a deterrent from the fun Friday. BRIAN WIERIMA

Unfortunately, storms cut the trip short, but not before several dolphins made their appearance by the boat.

“My favorite part of the trip was being able to get wet and seeing the dolphins,” said Leon Jimenez, who was out on the Gulf for the first time.

Jackie Perez, another first-time traveler to the ocean, also enjoyed the time to swim off the coast of Cayo Costa.

“I liked getting in the water with friends, it was fun,” Perez added.

This is the fourth trip for The Immokalee Foundation out to Cayo Costa with Captiva Cruises. The target age are middle schoolers and up to 30-40 make the field trip each time.

One of the highlights of the cruise out to Cayo Costa was the swimming Friday. BRIAN WIERIMA

“I overheard one of the kids on the way here that they’ve never been on a boat,” Hernandez said. “They are going to bring this experience back with them and share it with their families. With this experience, they may also choose to do this as a career, because being a captain of a boat is a full-time job.”

Exposing the youth to the ocean and its wide-range of different biospheres, may also inspire them to choose one of the many different careers involved in conserving the environment, as well.

“Just the chance of being on an island and saying, ‘I’ve been on an island,’ is a great opportunity,” Hernandez said.

The youth and counselors also were able to go shelling and had the opportunity to see a manatee, as well.

“The reaction of the kids has been pretty incredible,” Finkel said. “It’s like comparing me to stepping out on the moon, it’s such a foreign place to them. I had one little boy ask me before when we landed on Cayo Costa if we were still in America.”

Members of The Immokalee Foundation boarded off the Captiva Cruise boat onto the beach of Cayo Costa last Friday. BRIAN WIERIMA

With the SCCF as a main partner, Captiva Cruises and Finkel are always seeking sponsors for the “No Child Left on Shore” program.

“We do get grants and have good sponsors, but we are always looking for more to keep the program going,” Finkel said. “We’ve always had positive feedback and the kids always want to come back and do it again.”

Other groups who have taken advantage of the “No Child Left on Shore” includes the YMCA summer campers from the Dunbar neighborhood of Fort Myers and Lehigh, school age children from the Gladiolus Learning and Development Center and The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida.

“For many of these young people it was there first experience on a boat, not to mention a hands on environmental experiential field trip where they could wade in shallow water and observe some of the fascinating marine life that many of us take for granted,” Finkel said. “The excitement and enthusiasm that these youngsters exhibited during these field trips is simply invaluable. It is this excitement as well as environmental stewardship that we are hoping to foster by providing ‘No Child Left On Shore’ field trips.”

To learn more about the “No Child Left on Shore” program or to help sponsor the program, visit either www.sccf.com or www.captivacruises.com or call Captiva Cruises at 239-472-5300 or SCCF at 239-472-2329.