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Fort Myers youths experience coastal environment

By Staff | Jul 2, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED The Quality Life Center of Southwest Florida's summer campers took part in a cruise on June 21 as part of the No Child Left on Shore initiative, a collaboration between the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Captiva Cruises.

Land-locked youth from Southwest Florida had the opportunity to take a cruise, see a variety of marine life up close and visit Cayo Costa State Park as part of the ongoing No Child Left on Shore initiative.

In partnership with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Captiva Cruises treated participants in the Quality Life Center of Southwest Florida’s summer camp to the excursion on June 21. A group of 29 – including five adult chaperones from the Fort Myers center – got to take part in the experience.

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

“We have worked with them before,” he said of the center. “But a lot of these kids were first time, never been out on a boat before, so it was an introduction to the area for many of these kids.”

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 Participants check out a horseshoe crab's molt, or exoskeleton, found on beach.

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.

“We teamed up to provide an opportunity for a lot of our local youth a means to get out on the water and experience firsthand what’s out here,” Finkel said of the partnership and program with SCCF.

“A lot of the kids never have the opportunity for first-hand observation, to gain first-hand knowledge of the area,” he added. “Experiential education goes a long way for anybody, but especially for kids.”

After departing from the dock, the dolphin sightings were abundant.

“There was a lot of dolphins along the way, which was again a first for a lot of these kids – to see dolphins in the wild,” Finkel said.

PHOTO PROVIDED One youth assesses the water's clarity using a succi disc.

He noted that the youths’ faces and eyes lit up with excitement.

“To have dolphins come up to the boat or very close to the boat, it’s something I never get tired of seeing,” Finkel said. “For kids to see it for the first time, it’s a magical experience.”

The group cruised the Pine Island Sound before heading to the state park.

“We looked at the water along the way and the different depths of the water,” he said. “We checked the clarity of the water using a succi disc. It’s basically a simple instrument that marine biologists use.”

Finkel explained that the device served as an opener for a discussion about the importance of the water’s clarity in certain areas, specifically for seagrass which needs sunlight. He told the youths how brown or murky water, say because of water quality, can damage seagrass due to lack of sunlight.

PHOTO PROVIDED One participant zooms in on his surroundings using binoculars.

“And the seagrasses are a vital habitat in the estuary – a food source, but also a habitat for a lot of marine life,” Finkel said, adding that it leads into a talk about the importance of water quality.

Upon arriving at Cayo Costa, the youth got to explore the environment.

“They did some beachcombing and looked at the shells they found along the beach,” he said. “They looked at examples, of the evidence of life washed up on the shoreline.”

The group was fascinated by coquina clams and a horseshoe crab molt, or exoskeleton.

“We did a show-and-tell with all the things found on the beach and all the things I bring with me,” Finkel said, noting that his collection includes unique shells, sponges, soft coral and a skate egg case.

PHOTO PROVIDED Captiva Cruises educator Richard Finkel provides an up-close look at some marine species.

“It’s things that I’ve collected over the years that I think are neat,” he added.

The youth also had an opportunity to play in the waves for a bit.

On the way back, Finkel got out the trawling net – always a highlight for participants.

“It was an eye-opener for a lot of the kids. They got really excited about the life we observed before we put it back,” he said, citing a pufferfish, seahorse, sea urchin, spider crab and more. “A real variety.”

“We saw more dolphins,” Finkel added of the return trip. “And a variety of frigate birds, pelicans, cormorants, and herons and egrets, which are often near shore as well.”

He explained that many participants in the No Child Left on Shore initiative do not know what to expect of the trip, and some are not even sure about being on the water because they have not before.

“But when we get back, they really enjoyed the whole day – being out on the beach and getting their feet wet,” Finkel said. “The first-hand exposure to this new environment for them and getting to see and feel everything. It sparks an interest hopefully.”

Todd Thomas, the center’s administrative programs director, reached out to Finkel afterward.

“On behalf of the kids and the Quality Life Center, I want to express our gratitude,” he wrote in an email. “There was so much learning going on that it was hard to keep up with. It was a great day and the kids enjoyed the trip.”

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.