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Students experience barrier island environment

By Staff | Nov 5, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Students in the Gulf Middle School STEM program took a cruise to Cayo Costa State Park on Oct. 26 as part of the No Child Left On Shore initiative, a collaboration between the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Captiva Cruises.

Youth from a Cape Coral school 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 students from the STEM program at Gulf Middle School to the unique excursion on Oct 26. A group of 30 – which entailed 24 youths and six adult chaperones – had the chance to take part in the experience.

The trip was made possible through a Cape Coral Community Foundation grant.

Captiva Cruises educator Richard Finkel noted that it was a first for the STEM students.

“I’ve worked with the school before, but this was the first time these kids have been out,” he said.

PHOTO PROVIDED The students take part in a show and tell involving items found on the beach.

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.

The initiative strives to provide experiential education opportunities for the children of Southwest Florida who might not have firsthand exposure to the coastal environment by any other means.

“Our focus is really to provide an opportunity for our younger generations to experience firsthand the natural resources that are around us, especially the coastal ecosystems,” Finkel said. “To realize how valuable these coastal ecosystems are.”

“A lot of people growing up in Southwest Florida don’t have the opportunity to get a firsthand learning experience out on a barrier island or out on the water,” he added.

After departing from the dock, the animal sightings began.

PHOTO PROVIDED Captiva Cruises educator Richard Finkel holds up a pufferfish.

“We did see some dolphins along the way and a lot of white pelicans, which have just started coming back down to the area,” Finkel said, noting that the students also saw brown pelicans so they got to compare the sizes of the two species.

“The wildlife, it’s always fascinating for the kids to see,” he added.

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

“It was a good opportunity for them to get their feet wet and splash around in the water,” Finkel said, adding that they took a walk and did some beachcombing. “We talked about what had washed up.”

The students found a variety of shells, sand dollars, crab exoskeletons and more.

PHOTO PROVIDED One student shows off a lightning whelk he found.

“We all discussed what we found and did a little show and tell,” he said. “And I always being some things as well to talk about – a sponge that washed up, a piece of coral.”

“They have fun looking at things and discovering new things,” Finkel added.

The group also found a few dead fish, the result of the recent spike in red tide concentrations.

“We saw the effect of red tide – certainly, the kids had questions,” he said. “We discussed what red tide is and how it impacts the area.”

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

“We pulled up quite a bit,” he said.

There were pinfish, parrotfish, silver trout and more.

“There was a pufferfish,” Finkel said. “There was quite a bit of fish.”

He noted that students were amazed at the abundance of marine life.

“You could see it on their faces,” Finkel said.

But beyond the educational aspects of the program, some simply enjoy the cruising.

“A lot of the kids don’t have the opportunity to get out on the water on a boat, and there’s just some excitement for that – for being out on the water,” he said.

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.