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Lee County campers take excursion to Cayo Costa

By Staff | Jun 25, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Lee County Parks and Recreation's Special Needs summer camps took part in a cruise on June 14 as part of the No Child Left on Shore initiative, a collaboration between the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Captiva Cruises.

A group of local youth – ranging in age from 6-18 – had a chance to take a cruise, see marine life like dolphins and visit Cayo Costa State Park as part of the No Child Left on Shore initiative.

In partnership with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Captiva Cruises treated participants in Lee County Parks and Recreation’s Special Needs summer camps to the excursion on June 14. A group of 23 – including adult chaperones for the campers – got to take part in the unique adventure.

Captiva Cruises educator Richard Finkel noted that it was the first time for many of them.

“We worked with them a few years ago, so it’s been a few years,” he said of the Special Needs programming. “So most of these kids have never been out with us.”

No Child Left on Shore was started in 2010 by Finkel and Paul McCarthy, former owner of Captiva Cruises, as a collaborative with the SCCF. It is an environmental, educational outreach program.

PHOTO PROVIDED Lee County campers walk the beach looking for shells and marine life.

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.

“The idea is to provide an opportunity for a good percentage of our Southwest Florida population, mainly youth groups, to get out on the water – to experience the water,” Finkel said.

In doing so, they encounter the local environment and marine life first-hand.

“It’s something that a lot of the youth don’t have the means or the opportunity to do otherwise,” he said.

While the No Child Left on Shore trips normally center around education – teaching participants why conservation of coastal ecosystems is important – the recent one focused more on exposure to them.

“With this particular segment of our population, it was really just a nice way for them to experience being outside and out on the water,” Finkel said. “It was more the opportunity to experience the resources, experience a barrier island – experience the environment.”

Not long after leaving the marina, the group had its first wildlife encounter.

“After we left the dock, there was a big group of dolphins that hung around the boat for awhile,” he said. “You could see in a lot of these kids the excitement.”

The group cruised around the Pine Island Sound for a bit before heading to the state park.

“We certainly made note of the birds we saw,” Finkel said.

There were pelicans, cormorants, wading birds and more to be seen.

Upon arriving at Cayo Costa, the adults and youths took to the trail, taking in the vegetation and wildlife on the way to the shoreline. Once it reached the water, the group took part in a beach walk.

“For them to get their hands in the sand and collect shells, which they did,” he said.

The group checked out the seagrass, egg cases, crab shells and more discovered on the beach.

“There was a variety of life, evidence of life, washed up on the shore,” Finkel said.

Eventually, the group made its way back to the boat for the return trip.

“We did see some more dolphins on the way back,” he said, adding that the route took them along the Gulf-side of North Captiva Island. “We definitely saw their faces light up in seeing the wildlife.”

No Child Left on Shore is funded by donations raised by the SCCF, with Captiva Cruises providing reduced rates. Each participating group typically arranges its own transportation and chaperones.

Individual donors can earmark funds to the SCCF for the initiative.

Those interested in supporting the initiative or who have questions about it can contact the SCCF at SCCF@SCCF.org or 239-472-2329 or Captiva Cruises at info@captivacruises.com or 239-472-5300.