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The Teacher's Guide to Marine Conservation Field Work

In the world of marine science, there is literally an ocean’s worth of opportunities for students outside the classroom...

In the world of marine science, there is literally an ocean’s worth of opportunities for students outside the classroom. From field trips to summer camps to real research projects, students and educators have more ways than ever to get near, on and in the water. As part of our focus on education in this issue, we’ve compiled a list of field trips, camps and exhibits for students of all ages. For younger kids, these can bring a first-time learning experience that introduces them to the marine environment and the basic idea of conservation.

For teens and young adults, these experiences often help them make the connection between knowledge gained in a classroom and how they can use that to make a difference in the world. Supporting these programs are major universities, non-profits, state conservation agencies and even private businesses. A few can come at significant cost, but most offer very affordable options or even provide services free of charge. What they all have in common is the goal of putting the future into capable hands.

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Florida Aquarium. Florida

The Florida Aquarium’s theme for 2014 is “One Ocean, a journey around the world.” Teachers can take their students to the aquarium or bring the experience to them with programs in classroom and auditorium spaces to accommodate any group size. Groups can also book a trip on the aquarium’s 130-passenger catamaran, the Bay Spirit II, to search for wildlife, such as sea birds and dolphins, or choose a behind-the-scenes tour and learn how the aquarium takes care of its many residents.

For groups that are more than a few hours away, the aquarium offers a unique sleepover program to maximize visiting time. For teachers, the aquarium offers professional development opportunities, including Tanks to the Ocean, a new middle school program sponsored by the Guy Harvey Foundation that combines professional development, online web programming and a live distance-learning component for students.

Loxahatchee River Center Jupiter,

The River Center, located in Burt Reynolds Park in Jupiter, offers free, in-classroom education programs to public and private schools groups throughout the school year. Outreach programs include a presentation about the Loxahatchee River watershed, ecosystems, and the plants and animals found in these special areas.

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Educators also provide a unique opportunity with a portable touch tank, and a hands-on activity. In-classroom programs can range from 45 minutes to one and a half hours and are flexible for multiple classes based on the preference of the teacher.

MarineQuest Wilmington, North Carolina

With a rich, 34-year history, MarineQuest has a proven track record of education and well-honed programs for students from Pre-K to 12th grade. An outreach arm of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, their focus is on marine environmental education. Whether it’s working in an ocean lab for a summer or exploring local marine habitats,

MarineQuest helps put kids in touch with the marine environment. Opportunities range from half-day field trips to week-long stays and can include a research vessel cruise or discover scuba program. Through MarineQuest, students learn the biological, chemical, geological, and physical aspects of the ocean along with marine technology, and there are more than 30 summer programs for kids of all ages.

Broadreach International Trips

Broadreach is a global summer educational adventure program that leads over 70 worldwide trips for middle school, high school and college students. Their Caribbean Marine Conservation Program gives students a chance to learn about conservation in a hands-on way, and then put what they learn to use. Students volunteer in the Saba and Statia Marine Parks in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean to conduct research that will help protect and conserve local reefs, and they can earn college credit while doing it.

Other opportunities include the British Columbia Marine Mammal Studies Program, where students work with leading researchers in the field to assist in whale behavior research. Still more programs are available in the Bahamas focusing on marine biology, and in Fiji, where students learn about and study shark behavior while going on actual shark dives.

Carolina Coastal Discovery, Charleston, South Carolina

The Carolina Coastal Discovery Marine Education Program is conducted through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. It offers programs that reinforce the science standards through interactive lessons, both aboard the program’s 45-ft. catamaran, the E/V Discovery, and on land.

Aboard the Discovery, students collect water quality data and sample marine organisms that are collected by a trawl net. Land-based programs vary with the age of the students but include: shark, fish, and squid dissection, salt marsh field study, beach field study, marine debris, plankton analysis, sea turtle ecology or careers in marine science.

Program organizers develop science investigations using field sampling techniques and equipment that echo current research methods. Through these projects, students learn about conservation and benefits of the estuary, while developing critical science investigation skills. Throughout the school year, the education staff conducts over 200 programs across multiple locations.

The Carolina Coastal Discovery Marine Education Program is a Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation grant recipient.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Monterey, California

A powerhouse in marine education and conservation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is loaded with education programs to engage kids of every age. From hosting field trip experiences to offering professional development programs for educators and reaching out to the community, the Aquarium has a long history of ocean advocacy.

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Several unique programs exist for middle school and high school-age kids. Teen conservation leaders go through a two-week training program and then volunteer to help interpret exhibits for guests and can also help support the Aquarium’s summer camp programs. In the process, they can earn community service hours and build relationships with Aquarium staff. Another unique opportunity is Young Women in Science, a week-long summer camp just for 7th and 8th grade girls. Included is lots of time on the water for kayaking, diving and seeing the ocean up-close. Numerous other programs are available for all grade levels.

Manatee Observation & Education Fort Pierce, Florida

From self-guided tours to standards-based programs on- or off-site, the Manatee Observation and Education Center helps enrich existing science curriculum. If visiting the center, students are engaged at a hands-on level and can follow a turtle, touch a sea star and watch for manatees. Outreach programs can also be brought to students at schools or other locations and include lessons, activities, props and sometimes live animals.

WaterVentures Crystal Springs, Florida

The centerpiece of WaterVentures is a 53-ft. semi-truck that’s been transformed into a science learning lab on wheels. All of the environmental education exhibits have been designed by the experienced teaching team from the group’s parent organization, the Crystal Springs Foundation. The traveling exhibit visits schools throughout the state and provides interactive activities to teach kids about Florida’s diverse watersheds, water conservation and recycling.

FWC Saltwater Youth Education Programs Tallahassee, Florida

Across the state, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers events and programs to get kids involved in both fishing and conservation. FWC’s Saltwater Kids’ Fishing Clinics are one-day events for ages 5-15. The kids complete five skill stations designed to teach them the vulnerability of Florida’s marine ecosystems and instill resource stewardship principles. These community events also teach fundamental saltwater fishing skills while providing a positive fishing experience. A streamlined version of the program, called the Kids’ Saltwater Fishing Activity Box, can be sent out to organizers that want to conduct smaller youth fishing clinics. Also available for use in multiple locations is the FISH Exhibit.

FISH stands for Fish, Invertebrates and Saltwater Habitats. This mobile display illustrates Florida’s coastal habitats and has live organisms representing coral reefs, beaches, mangroves, seagrasses, oyster bars and salt marshes. Display boards throughout the exhibit promote the importance of habitat to coastal fisheries and ways people can support the conservation of these resources. The Marine Field Activities Program is a curriculum-based program that mimics the collecting activities biologists conduct to gather information for managing marine resources.

After teachers complete a 40-hour workshop, they can bring student groups to the coastal centers to conduct the field activities. Also available are Youth Saltwater Fishing Camps that introduce youth to basic saltwater fishing skills and promote conservation.

International Game Fish Association Dania Beach, Florida

As part of its mission to support anglers, the IGFA works to foster a love of fishing and a sense of environmental stewardship in the next generation of fishermen. The Education Department offers in-house and outreach field trip programs to schools, camps, scouts and other such groups. All aspects of the programs are geared toward helping students learn in an environment outside their school’s classroom, and each is carefully designed to introduce scientific concepts and present them in an experiential way that engages the student’s sense of exploration, substantially adding to the impact and reinforcement of each lesson.

When school is out, IGFA runs day and week-long fishing camps. In this intensive program, campers spend time in the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, where they learn about fishing techniques, ethical angling and marine biology. Field trips take the campers on a variety of fresh and saltwater adventures, including drift boat, pier and shore fishing, snorkeling, encounters with wildlife and much more.

Mote Marine Laboratory Sarasota, Florida

Kids who live far from the ocean can still come face-to-face with sea monsters or visit a coral reef, thanks to the traveling exhibits of Mote Marine Laboratory. Mote is a world-class marine science institution whose exhibits—like the award-winning Sanctuary Reef—bring science education to thousands of people across the nation.

Traveling exhibits in Mote’s SeaTrek program allow kids at schools, libraries, museums and other places to connect with Mote’s science educators through a TV screen during real-time video conference programs. Even better, budding marine scientists who live near Mote’s home in Sarasota can literally get their feet wet in the field. Mote offers hands-on education programs that allow kids, families and school groups to explore the marine environment and learn to think like scientists.

SEA Lab Redondo Beach, California

The SEA Lab is the Los Angeles Conservation Corps’ coastal education and training center. Throughout the school year it offers a variety of hands-on and grade-specific activities that explore science from an ocean point of view. In addition, the SEA Lab’s Traveling Tidepool brings animals out to Los Angeles area schools and community events. Visitors to the SEA Lab facility can also experience California’s marine life up-close, with the opportunity to touch sharks, anemones, cucumbers and many other sea animals.

Students can cut open a squid and explore its anatomy, or spend time learning about adaptations that make marine animals so unique. During the summer, camp programs are offered for two different age groups; the “Mini Mariners” is geared for four to six year old children and the “Ocean Explorers” is geared for seven to eleven year old children. Activities include crafts, games, exploring tidepools and kayaking.

Ocean Discovery Centers Ft. Pierce, Florida

The Ocean Discovery Center allows teachers and students to tap into the wealth of resources available through the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. The Center houses interactive exhibits, small aquaria, a video theater, and other displays exploring the marine environment and depicting the research efforts of the Institute. Significantly, exhibit content is continually evolving to showcase the ongoing research and conservation efforts of Harbor Branch and to give visitors a close-up look at emerging technologies used by the marine research community.

Marineland St. Augustine, Florida

Known for amazing dolphin experiences, Marineland offers two different summer camp programs. Seaside Eco-Adventure (SEA) camp for kids ages 7-12, and Teaching Environment Education in Nature (TEEN) camp to teenagers ages 13-17. Both camps educate participants about ecosystems, local animal life and conservation while providing hours of entertainment. Sessions will begin June 9 and go through August 7. SEA campers explore the local ecosystem on a sea-side hike, learn about sea life during a mock dolphin stranding and have an up-close encounter with a dolphin. Activities at TEEN camp include an eco-boat tour with Ripple Effect Kayaks, a squid dissection, and a chance to get up-close and personal with a dolphin during one of their in-water immersion programs.

FROM THE TEAM: Special thanks to Fred Garth for this article that was originally published in

The Online Fisherman

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