Sanibel Sea School welcomes two new employees
Two new individuals joined the Sanibel Sea School team at the beginning of the month, bringing their passion of the outdoors and teaching others with them.
Sam Lucas, originally from Baltimore, Maryland, joined the Sanibel Sea School staff on Nov. 1 as the new conservation initiative coordinator and marine science educator. She attended Salisbury University, on Maryland’s eastern shore, where she received a bachelor of science degree in biology.
While attending the university she did an internship doing animal husbandry where she took care of fish, reptiles and amphibians.
“I started doing animal programs and began teaching. I was like ‘oh this is awesome. I like this,'” Lucas said. “They hired me as a naturalist, so I started to really fall in love with teaching.”
After graduation she worked as a master educator for two years at a field station along the coast of the eastern shore of Virginia. Lucas spent time teaching about coastal ecology and barrier islands. She said she taught about barrier island formation, wetland ecology where there was a marsh plunge and a forest walk. In addition, Lucas was a first mate on a boat where they led oceanography stations patrolling for critters, followed by an organism lab where they looked at plankton, fish and invertebrates.
“I love taking kids and people of all ages out in the field and getting really hands on,” she said. “I have found that even though people don’t initially have a connection, through positive experiences they really come out with a really great opinion on it.”
Lucas said when they were given a fun experience and the opportunity to sit back and slowly get accumulated, great moments surface, such as two kids jumping into the mud and the marsh at the end of the program.
“The initially hesitant people, I learned, were actually really into it by the end,” she said.
Since Lucas came from a general biology background, the experience taught her a great deal.
As she causally looked online for new job opportunities she stumbled upon the Sanibel Sea School.
“It looked so awesome and it was exactly what I wanted to do,” Lucas said. “It involved teaching, more environmental education and I’m also going to be involved in a lot of conservation work. I was actually really looking at getting involved in conservation, so it is the best of both worlds for me.”
Although she spent many summers in Florida with family that lives north of Clearwater, this is the first time she has experienced Sanibel.
“Right now I am having a lot of fun learning about all the shells, and critters,” Lucas said.
She said she is looking forward to teaching a new community.
“I’m really looking forward to learning more about conservation and getting involved with the community here,” Lucas said. “I definitely want to learn more about the history and community of Sanibel.”
Since she is new to the area, Lucas said one of the things she really enjoys doing is going on day trips to different areas and exploring different towns. In addition, she’s excited about learning about paddleboarding.
Walter Cheatham, who grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, also joined the Sanibel Sea School team on the same day as the outdoor education coordinator. He attended Auburn University where he started off in veterinarian medicine before falling in love with wildlife biology.
Cheatham worked for the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit while looking for a graduate school where he wanted to study coyotes and foxes.
“Then I fell in love with my wife and I ran away to Florida right around the corner,” he said pointing over his shoulder while sitting outside of the Sanibel Sea School. “I locked the door to my house and loaded enough stuff that I could survive off of. Right around the corner I rented a house for three months and she worked at Shell Point.”
From there, the couple returned to South Carolina when he became a teacher. A couple years later they returned to Florida after his wife wanted the warm climate again. He’s been in Southwest Florida on and off since 2011, full-time for three years.
Cheatham became a tour guide on Estero Bay, “a biology class on the water,” which required long hours.
After other job opportunities, he then landed a job at the Calusa Nature Center where he ran the education department.
“I helped facilitate creating a nature based montessori school there,” Cheatham said.
Unfortunately “Irma shook us loose, my family,” he said, and they lost their house, resulting in finding another job.
“This job, pure serendipity,” Cheatham said. “The way that this job sounded was it would marry my education background and the guiding.”
He said when individuals go “nature vacationing” people approach their off time experiencing a sense of place in an area where they are not normally.
“If you look at education as advocacy, you are speaking on behalf of,” Cheatham said.
A favorite experience is showing the youngsters mangrove crabs.
“When you grab a mangrove crab and you let it crawl across your fingers, you will see a little hand come to meet yours. All of a sudden in that moment you have a value change. That child has developed a narrative with a natural space with a natural feeling. If you can do that for 10,000 people . . .,” Cheatham said you can make quite the difference.
He said to develop those types of endeavors with the motivation of providing those value changes, is something he seeks with education.
“When you garner new knowledge you should be excited and empowered,” Cheatham said. “That’s why I do what I do.”
As the new outdoor education coordinator, he said his job is to paddle.
“We live in this world where we get up, get in our car and turn on the air condition and we ride in the car to our office. We go inside and work and there is a whole host of physiological problems with that. Our bodies are used to fasting and our bodies are used to change in temperature,” Cheatham said. “How do you garner an appreciation of actual inhibited natural space? You develop a fear, every step of your day is controlled. In order to change that value people have to be on the water. Paddling is putting them on the water, so they make it them. All of a sudden when you are on the water, the ocean and myself become one. So when you harm the ocean, you are harming me.”
He said people need to reconnect with nature. In order for that to happen, Cheatham said someone needs to start with that initial conversation.