By Laurie Sterbens
For Hometown News
School's out, so what could be more fun than a day at the beach? How about an entire week as a marine explorer?
Kids age six through 16 do just that in the Summer Camp program at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet.
Each day, campers meet in the Marine Science Center classroom between 8:30 and 9 a.m., clad in the camp T-shirts and closed-toe water shoes, ready for a full day of fun and learning. Activities include canoeing instruction; canoeing in the Indian River Lagoon; snorkeling and canoeing at Blue Spring; cast netting and seine netting; plankton collection and classroom microscope activities; fishing; exploring scrub jay habitat at Lyonia Preserve; meeting a live raptor; and a visit to the Museum of Arts and Sciences.
New activities this year include squid dissection and taking apart owl pellets to see what's inside. Another new addition is an ROV camera that will allow campers to see underwater and document monofilament line.
Campers also get a "behind the scenes" look at the Marine Science Center's bird and turtle rehabilitation programs. At the end of the week, families attend a potluck barbecue take a tour of the facility with their child as the guide.
This summer, the center added three, two-day camps for younger children, ages six to eight, which introduces first-time campers to the activities of the weeklong camps.
"We know there is a need for camps for these younger children, because they're really like sponges; they want to learn everything," said Shell Webster, director of the Summer Camp program. "The last two days we've talked about why the sea turtles are here, how to protect them, how they can conserve them and help them so we can carry on the effort of the conservation."
A recent rainy day provided an opportunity for the campers to learn about manatees. Trey Hannah, a Volusia County Manatee Protection Program associate, said he teaches the campers about manatee biology and physiology, and then takes them canoeing in areas near manatees.
"We teach them how to properly interact with manatees, to stay away from them; just be careful around manatees, for the most part," he said.
The day before Mr. Hannah's visit, a herd of manatees provided the children -- and a couple of tourists -- with a spontaneous learning opportunity when they swam up as the children were netting along the shore. Camp leaders got the children and the bystanders out of the water as the animals swam by.
"It was the perfect teachable moment," Ms. Webster said. "They showed up right on time."
Many of the campers are from out of state, attending the camp while visiting grandparents who live in the area.
Gabbie Buice, 8, of Atlanta, said seeing the sea turtles and stingrays was her favorite activity. "I really like petting the stingrays because they're so soft and they're very pretty."
She also has taken the center's conservation message to heart. "I saw on their website about adopting a turtle nest, and I was very interested in it and I'm going to do it today sometime," she said.
Ella Wakelyn, 8, of Deltona, returned to the camp this summer after attending last year. "I really like to see the stingrays and feed them, and I also like going on the field trips, although sadly today we couldn't go because of the weather."
Aidan Ford, 9, of Wilbur-by-the-Sea, was another returning camper. "I like petting the stingrays and learning new things," he said.
While Summer 2013 sessions are full, reservations for Summer Camp 2014 will open in January on a first-come, first-served basis for the 10 sessions that run June through August. For more information, call Summer Camp Director Shell Webster at (386) 304-5529 or email email@example.com.
The Marine Science Center is at 100 Lighthouse Drive, Ponce Inlet, and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit marinesciencecenter.com.