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Youth learn about hurricanes at Sanibel Sea School

By Staff | Sep 27, 2017

Sanibel Sea School Lead Marine Science Educator Johnny Rader spoke with the campers about the importance of giving back to the ocean by conducting a beach cleanup. The youth spent time scanning the beach near Buttonwood Lane for trash Monday morning. MEGHAN MCCOY

Youth gathered Monday morning at the Sanibel Sea School for Hurricane Camp, a week of activities offered due to the Lee County School District canceling school due to damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

When the staff of the Sanibel Sea School found out that school was cancelled for another week beginning Sept. 18, they quickly put a themed camp together to help parents find a place for their kids to go when they had to return to work.

“Hurricane Camp 2017” quickly evolved, with lessons sprinkled in about hurricanes, Hurricane Irma in particular.

When parents flooded their email registering their kids and asking for scholarship money to offset the cost of camp, the Sanibel Sea School took it a step further and decided to offer Hurricane Camp for free for 50 children, 6 to 13 years old. To help the three Sanibel Sea School educators leading the camp, 10 Counselors in Training, aged 13 to 18, stepped up and filled the positions.

After all the campers came together at the flagship campus, they were split into smaller groups before heading to the beach Monday morning. With buckets in hand, they headed to Buttonwood Lane to access the beach to conduct a beach cleanup.

Hurricane Camp came to fruition after the Sanibel Sea School staff learned that the Lee County School District called for another week of school closures. MEGHAN MCCOY

Sanibel Sea School Lead Marine Science Educator Johnny Rader gathered his group under a tree to talk about the importance of beach cleanup. He said since the ocean always “gives us cool, amazing things,” cleaning up the beach is a way for them to give back to the ocean. The youth quickly took to the idea and started finding trash at the foot of the boardwalk leading to the beach.

The trash they picked up on the beach, Rader said would be used to make a hurricane symbol for one of their afternoon art projects, which would be hung at the Sanibel Sea School.

The campers spent time walking the beach in search of trash that washed on shore, as well as finding treasures – such as shells and ocean creatures. The campers found such creatures as starfish, crabs and empty sea turtle eggs.

Once they finished strolling a good portion of the beach, they spent time playing in the ocean igniting continuous laughter. A little while later they sat in a circle at the waters edge to talk about some of the leading trash items found on the beach.

Rader said that plastic takes a thousand years to completely go away. He looked at the campers and said every single piece of plastic they used can still be found today.

The campers were strongly encouraged to completely eliminate plastic from their lives by using reusable bottles, reusable shopping bags and asking for drinks without straws at a restaurant.

“If I forget a bag, I’m going to punish myself,” Rader said when shopping.

That punishment is loading up all of his groceries into the shopping cart, then to his car and then to his home one by one, without using a bag. Rader told the kids he does not forget a reusable bag after that.

Following that conversation, the campers, one-by-one shared their name, their favorite sea creature and how Hurricane Irma affected them.

Fort Myers resident Ava Szlabowicz, 10, said she went to Orlando and stayed in a hotel with her family prior to the hurricane. She said there were 12 people – relatives and friends – three dogs and a cat in the hotel room.

“It was less hectic than you think,” she said smiling.

Szlabowicz said she was “scared a little bit” during the hurricane because she saw branches falling from the wind.

Although her home was found safe and sound when they returned Monday morning, one of her relative’s cars suffered damage from a fallen tree.

Carter Koehler, 10, also evacuated, but further north to Tennessee with his Nana and sister. He said the experience was scary because his parents had to stay behind in Fort Myers because of work.

“We Facetime a lot,” Koehler said. “I was always watching the news reports.”

In the end everything worked out.

The morning activities for the week included marine debris cleanup, swash zone, seagrasses from Causeway Island A, meteorological aspects of hurricanes and wading birds. The weekly afternoon activities included conversations about the wrack line, waves, beach dunes and strand habitats, Hurricane Irma and Capture the Fish.

The daily art included marine debris sculpture, wind chimes, sea grape leaf art, plywood hurricane symbols and sign art with individual writing and names using Modge Podge.

Szlabowicz, who has participated in various camps of the Sanibel Sea School over the years, said she thought the Hurricane Camp idea was amazing.

“My mom doesn’t want me to be bored,” she said. “Both of my parents are working.”

For Koehler, Hurricane Camp was a surprise from his parents, who both had to go back to work. This was the third camp he has participated in with the Sanibel Sea School.

He was excited to learn more about hurricanes because he was curious of how they form.

Rader said he was glad they were able to offer Hurricane Camp, so the kids could have the opportunity to dive into some fun and worry less about the previous week’s stress of Hurricane Irma.