Captiva Cruises, SCCF program enables youth to explore ocean, Cayo Costa
More than three dozen land-locked children from Estero and Bonita Spring had an opportunity to dolphin watch, go shelling and more as part of the local No Child Left on Shore initiative.
Captiva Cruises, in partnership with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, treated 38 youth from New Horizons of Southwest Florida to a cruise on April 21. Participants in the non-profit’s Super Girls and Super Boys clubs, they got to see the Pine Island Sound and visited Cayo Costa State Park.
“These are kids that have never had the opportunity to be out on the water or out on an island beach,” Richard Finkel, Captiva Cruises educator, said. “The reaction is incredible and the enthusiasm.”
He added that they may see dolphins or hold a starfish for the first time.
“These are things that some people might take for granted,” Finkel said.
Yady Galano, director of the Super Girls Club, explained that the children are fourth- and fifth-grade students whose parents cannot take them to places like the beach, so it is home to school and back.
“It is extremely important because the lack of opportunities to be exposed to educational trips is few,” she said. “It’s a life-changing experience. It makes a big different in their lives.”
Galano explained that the youth encounter new wildlife and habitats and get to learn about them.
“They are able to be exposed to new knowledge and new things,” she said.
Fourth-grader Genesis Morales, 10, said it was her first time.
“I was excited,” she said. “This was my first time being on a boat.”
Genesis got to take home some sea shells she found.
“Riding the boat and seeing the dolphins was my favorite part,” she said.
For fifth-grader Alejandra Flores, 11, it was her second trip. She went last year with the club.
“I liked going on the beach with everybody and getting wet,” Alejandra said.
“I like it,” she added. “It’s very fun.”
Fourth-grader Michelle Martinez, 10, also took part for the first time.
“I liked driving the boat,” she said. “It was fun.”
Arlene Lopez-Gomez, assistant for the Super Girls Club, explained that each of the children got the opportunity to try driving the boat. She added that it was probably the best part for most of them.
Michelle added that she also collected sea shells.
“They should get a chance to do something like this because it’s wonderful going to the beach with friends,” she said of other children.
Lopez-Gomez reported that the youth got to spend a lot of time in the water.
“This was definitely a really nice experience for them,” she said. “They just really appreciated it.”
Galano agreed, explaining that when it was time to go, the children kept asking if they could just stay one night and go home the next day. Given a no answer, they asked about doing it again next year.
“It is a big thing for the kids,” she said.
Finkel explained that the cruises are fun but also educational.
“We saw a variety of wildlife. We saw some dolphins along the way and a variety of birds,” he said.
The children explored the shoreline, finding sea shells, mole crabs, coquina clams and more.
“They found some sand dollars, as well,” Finkel said.
The No Child Left on Shore initiative was started in 2010 by Paul McCarthy, former owner of Captiva Cruises, and Finkel as a collaborative with SCCF. It is an environmental education outreach project.
The initiative strives to provide experiential education opportunities for the children of Southwest Florida who might not have first-hand exposure to the coastal environment by any other means.
“All these boating opportunities in Southwest Florida – and kids never have that experience,” Kristie Anders, education director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said.
She added that hands-on experience is different than classroom learning or seeing it online.
“That experience might inspire further interest in the marine environment from kids that it might not ever have occurred to them, ‘I could grow up to be a marine scientist’ or ‘I could grow up to be a boat captain,'” Anders said. “We think it’s really important to have first-hand experiences.”
She reported that there are about six to eight cruises scheduled every year.
“Those trips have anywhere from 25 to 40 kids,” Anders said.
The initiative is funded by donations raised by SCCF, with Captiva Cruises providing reduced rates on the charter boat excursion. The groups typically arrange for their own transportation and chaperones.
Individual donors can earmark funds to SCCF for No Child Left On Shore.
“We have some that are faithful and contribute every year,” she said. “But, SCCF is committed to this program, whether we get earmarked funds or not. It’s just something that we firmly believe it.”
Those interested in sponsorships or donating can contact SCCF@SCCF.org.
Groups interested in learning about the program can also email SCCF.
For additional information, visit online at www.sccf.org.