As summer day campers hit the beach and the wetlands at Southgate Coastal Reserve Wednesday, they weren’t swimming but learning about what lives and grows at the reserve. The youths spent the morning on a field trip observing, investigating and exploring the reserve.
Around 90 campers from kindergarten to twelfth grade in the Caribbean Summer Youth Alive and Big Island Adventure Camp eagerly clustered around representatives from local marine and environmental agencies who told the children about the mangroves, the pond, salt marsh, the beach and the coral reef.
The purpose of the Field Days program, sponsored by St. Croix Environmental Association, was for local students to interact with and learn about their environment.
John Farchette, the East End Marine Park ranger for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, told the older students about the watershed and how it relates to the sea. He told how just a single drop of motor oil in a gallon of water can be toxic to humans, and how all of the drops of oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and all the other fluids from cars, get into and impact the sea surrounding St. Croix.
Farchette took the students on a long hike down the beach to do some seine net fishing to catch living organisms. He talked about the creatures’ purposes and why they need to stay where they are.
“When the students learn about and understand our natural and cultural resources, they will be able to address issues that come up with the environment,” Farchette said.
Migdalia Roach, also from the Marine Park, had the students in third and fourth grade take part in a skit about all of the sea creatures playing a part in keeping the coral reef clean and healthy.
Marcia Taylor, from the University of the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory services, gathered fifth and sixth graders around her under a sea grape tree for a session on identifying shells, urchins, sea biscuits, coral and sponges. Then she led them on an exploratory hike on the beach to find the sea creatures she had shown them.
“We want the local children to learn about what’s in their environment,” Taylor said. “I want them to recognize and know what plants or animals are here.”
Sharon Grimes, from the Virgin Islands Network Environmental Educators, played a “Leave It or Take It” game with the youngest campers, using a bucket of sand and a bucket of water covered with a T-shirt. The children put their hand through the sleeve and pulled out objects found in the sea or on the beach. They had to determine if the object was trash to be taken and disposed of or if it was part of nature to be left on the beach.
Jennifer Travis, visitors’ services specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge, played a sea creature identification game with the little ones.
Kristen Moy, a volunteer with the National Park Services, staged a stuffed hawksbill sea turtle nesting on the beach. The children pretended to be sea turtle scientists and collected data.
“It was cool to learn about the turtles and keep the data,” said 10-year-old Lahenri Buckley. “But I don’t know why people go and get the eggs.”
Kaima Liburd and Leah Motta, environmental specialists with DPNR’s Water Quality Management program, told the fifth- and sixth-graders about water pollution and how it affects the environment and their health.
Julian Samartino, 11, said he learned about staying healthy and keeping germs and sewage out of the water. “The real lesson I learned was about the $50,000 fine if you get caught polluting the sea,” Samartino said.
Lynnea Roberts, environmental education coordinator for SEA, organized the field day and led a walk through the salt marsh and pond that was more mud than water. Roberts said the boys who came back with mud up to their knees and higher loved it.
“The boys said the hike was awesome,” Roberts said.
Roberts said SEA would like to do field days at the reserve for all public and private school second-graders on St. Croix. They are planning on having it instituted in the upcoming school year.