My daughter Kelly’s fourth grade class had their end of year field trip outing today and I volunteered to go along as a chaperone. The plan was to travel to St. George Island State Park, which is located on the east end of St. George Island, Florida. Another class was to join them on the trip, so a large tour bus was rented to accommodate all the school kids. Due to the desire to only rent one bus, the parents drove their own vehicle.
The departure time was 7:45 am with the estimated road trip and arrival at 9:45 am. Since my mother owns a cottage on St. George Island, I asked her if she wished to tag along. The plan was to drop her off at the cottage, then I was to drive on down to the park to join the others. All went as planned and upon my arrival at the park, the others had already unloaded and set up under the covered provilion.
Actually, since there were two classes on this trip, the other class was dropped off at the bay site, where they would first participate in seining activities with three state of Florida marine biologist.
My daughter’s class was to explore the beach side first. The first item on the agenda was to gather the class on the beach and form a shell and trash pick up line.
This activity allowed the teacher to explain the hazards of man-made items in regards to sea life, more particularly, Loggerhead sea turtles. These sea turtles utilize the beach of St. George Island as nesting areas. They are a protected species here and the authorities, as well as the community of St. George, take care in trying to protect them as much as possible. One problem the new hatchlings have is when residential lighting is too bright at night. When they hatch, the bright light disorientates the turtles as they attempt to find their way to the ocean to begin their life. If the light is too bright they move toward it, away from the ocean and the end result is a quick death. Another problem the turtles encounter is eating man-made trash on the beach which can become logged in their body resulting in death. The kids responded in earnest to the teacher’s lesson and all formed a line and went about cleaning up the beach. They found all types of trash, from bottle tops, lumber, string, tar balls, clothing and even an umbrella. As the beach combing progressed, they enjoyed walking in the beach sand and found many different types of shells.
Another lesson the teacher taught while on the beach, concerned the coquina clam. This is a small marine clam common in the coastal waters of the eastern and southern United States. They have variously colored, often striped or banded shells. They are found at the surf’s edge and when wave action uncovers them, they quickly burrow back beneath the sand. This clam can be made into a soup, and I once tasted some when my mother made a batch. I didn’t like it much, but I was a kid. Perhaps now it would be tasty. But somehow I doubt it!
Since Kelly’s class recently made a trip to St. Augustine Florida to visited the old fort there, the teacher explained how these shells were used in the construction of the fort. Take a look at the link I provided and learn about the fort as it’s pretty interesting.
After the beach combing, the kids were ready to eat lunch.
The parent crew had prepared hotdogs, chips, cookies and juicy watermelon slices. We all relaxed under the covered pavilion, eating and enjoying the warm gulf sea breeze until it was time to load up in the bus and head to the next location down the road. We were going to the blue canopy set-up next to the bay.
This section of the park is very narrow. I would estimate the distance between the gulf and the bay is probable only about 1000 yards. When we are hit with the rare hurricane, the park always suffers damage due to the high wave surge sweeping across the narrow section, usually washing out the road, eroding the dunes and damaging the picnic areas.
At the blue canopy, the Florida marine biologists had set up tables with two aquariums; a seine net
lay next to the boat ramp ready for the kids. The biologist first discussed what the bay was, explaining that this area was called an estuary . An estuary is basically a nursery for sea life. He said the kids could expect to capture all kinds of sea life in the seine, especially because this bay was supplied by fresh water from the Apalachicola River which reduces the salinity of the water.
After the short introduction, the kids divided into three groups in order to put the seine into action. The first group was the seiners, the second the stompers, and the final group the bucketeers. The seiner’s job was to help walk behind the seine to corral the sea life while the stompers were to wade along side the net to prevent any creatures from escaping the side. After the net reaches the shore, with all the life captured in the net, the bucketeers dip into the net, scoop up the animals and empty those in the awaiting buckets, then carry the buckets to the aquarium to be emptied so all can see what was captured.
This was the exciting part! What would emerge from the buckets? The kids crowded around wide eyed in anticipation. Each scoop of the net revealed a wonderful collection of animals. Puffer fish, squid, pin fish, jelly fish, hermit crabs, blue crabs, and even one fish the biologist had never captured here, a sheeps head minnow . The squid, swimming in their schools, actually released some of their ink!
After several additional seine rounds, it was time for the kids to head back to the beach for the final hour. At the beach they all were smiles and laughter, running, digging and splashing in the surf. Some played football; others buried bodies in the sand or built sand castles with large moats.
The afternoon sun continued its decline in the west, signaling the time had arrived to head back home. All loaded in the bus and headed home, tired, but happy. All except my daughter and me. We headed back to pick up my mother at the cottage with plans to eat dinner at Kelly’s favorite beach eatery, the Blue Parrot. The Blue Parrot is located directly on the beach and is known for their “monster burger” the “biggest, baddest, burger” on the beach. If you ever go to St. George, be sure to stop there and enjoy a meal. In addition to the burger, they have a full complement of sea food.
When we finished our meal we were ready to get home and rest. We left with full bellies and a full day.