The Sanibel Sea School recently invited fifth graders from Upthegrove Elementary School in LaBelle to take part in two separate excursions on the Sanibel Causeway.
One of the life science standards students learned in class was “Interdependence” and its integral concepts: plants and animals, including humans, interact with each other and depend on each other and their environment to meet their basic needs; Both human activities and natural events can have a major impact on the environment; and energy flows from the sun via the producers to the consumers.
To reinforce what the students had learned, marine science teachers designed three stations that dealt with the food webs of the oceans. They started learning about producers in the marine environment. Equipped with ID guides, they waded into the water to find and identify macroalgae and sea grasses. After that, they focused on an often overlooked producer – phytoplankton. Since phytoplankton is invisible to the naked eye, it is often a mystery to young explorers, despite being the most abundant and widespread producer in the ocean. Students learned how to use a phytoplankton tow and discovered what some common species look like up close.
The next step brought consumers into play. Students used calf nets and diving nets to catch and collect animals. The creatures were placed in separate ventilated tanks based on trophic level; the students worked together to determine whether they were primary, secondary, or tertiary consumers. In the end, they created a food web in the sand by drawing arrows from tank to tank depicting the transfer of energy through the network. All animals were released upon completion of the activity.
The final stop focused on what happens when something goes wrong: what happens when you remove part of the web? Educators focused on the example of a trophic cascade in Alaska – sea otters, sea urchins, and kelp. Sea otters keep sea urchin populations under control. Sea urchins feed on seaweed. Therefore, sea otters indirectly promote the growth of seaweed by eating sea urchins. Educators developed a tag game where students were assigned roles and tasks that they had to complete in order to demonstrate a balanced versus an unbalanced ecosystem.
The excursions were made possible by the Sanibel Sea School Scholarship Fund. Thanks to donors, she can offer free or discounted trips to schools and community partners who have limited funds for excursions. The Sanibel Sea School aims to give all students the opportunity to experience the marine environment of Southwest Florida regardless of socio-economic or geographic restrictions.
“It’s especially rewarding to have the opportunity to get in touch with students from LaBelle, which is about an hour and a half inland.” Shannon Stainken, director of youth education, said. âMany of the students had never been to Sanibel and some had never been to a beach. Of the 40 students who came on one of the days, only one had previously been in Sanibel. “
Fifth graders of Upthegrove Elementary will attend the Sanibel Sea School for two more field trips this spring. To support the effort, contact [email protected] or 239-472-8585.
As part of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation family, the Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to individually improve the future of the ocean.