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Adult workshop series at Sanibel Sea School to spotlight rivers, connections

By Staff | Feb 16, 2018

Dr. Bruce Neill

While the Sanibel Sea School designs most of its programs for youths, it is offering a continuing education workshop for adults in February focused on exploring rivers and their connections.

Formatted as a four-week lecture-based course, “Rivers: The Great Connectors” will involve in-depth discussions related to energy flow within rivers, biological communities and watershed management. Participants will spend time examining rivers around the world and will learn how the Caloosahatchee shapes the local marine ecosystem in Southwest Florida.

Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill, the instructor for the workshop, explained that the goal with the school’s youth programming is to educate and foster a love of the ocean in the future generations.

“Adults, more commonly, we want them to remember they’re in love with the ocean,” he said. “We want to use the environment and their knowledge about the environment to affect the way they see the world.”

Costing $75 per session or $300 for the series, participants meet once a week from 9 a.m. to noon.

Neill explained that limnology is the branch of science that studies freshwater bodies.

“Rivers are their own ecosystems,” he said, noting that rivers connect lakes to oceans, connect people to water and connect inland habitats to coastal communities.

“River Continuum Concept” will be held on Feb. 21. The course will cover how rivers are classified and how they evolve over time and geography. Participants will gain perspective on rivers and how the various physical, biological and chemical factors combine to determine the nature of rivers.

“Tropical vs. Temperate Rivers” is planned for Feb. 28. Although the basic geography of rivers is similar in tropical and temperate regions, many of the chemical factors and biological communities are very different. The course will cover some of the differences and compare and contrast the systems.

Neill cited a riffle – a rocky or shallow part of a stream or river with rough water – as one example.

“It has it’s own biology living in the riffle,” he said, as compared to the calmer less turbulent areas under the water’s surface just upstream and downstream from the riffle. “It’s not all the same.”

“Mighty American Rivers and Their Challenges” will take place on March 7. Participants will explore some of the great rivers in North America, like the Mississippi River and Missouri River, as well as worldwide, including rivers in Europe and Africa. The course will also examine some of the challenges that humans have presented to rivers.

One learning point is how rivers can flow north, like the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.

“River’s don’t have to flow south,” Neill said.

The four-part series wraps up with “Rivers in Human History” on March 14. The final course will take a look at how integral rivers have been in human history and how important they continue to be.

“The history of humanity is that we need rivers,” he said.

Neill estimated that at least 60 percent of humanity lives within 10 or 20 miles of an estuary.

“Most of the humans on the planet live around the mouths of rivers,” he said.

Along with the interactive discussions, participants could end each course with a beach walk.

Additional reading resources will be available for those interested in learning more.

Neill explained that both residents and visitors can take something away from the series, citing the following quote from Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum:

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”

“We’re giving people a little bit of information about the natural world to help them love it more,” he said.

For more information or to register, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org.

Neill studied zoology at the University of Georgia, earned his master’s degree in coral reef biology and sea urchin behavior on Guam, and later completed his Ph.D. in conservation biology at Montana State University. He has held academic positions at colleges and field schools, as well as at elementary schools and the American Museum of Natural History.

The Sanibel Sea School is at 455 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.