Sanibel Sea School was thrilled to host 13 students and two faculty from Culver-Stockton College for three days of ocean exploration. Based in Canton, Missouri, Culver-Stockton is a small liberal arts college that encourages experiential learning through travel study.
Led by Lauren Shellenberger, Ph.D., and Scott Giltner, Ph.D., undergraduate students from different courses of study came together recently for a six-day experience on Sanibel Island to study the marine ecosystem of Southwest Florida. Sanibel Sea School met with students for three days throughout their trip and offered sessions on seagrass, mangrove ecology, and kayaking in the mangrove bayous.
On their first excursion, students dove into seagrass ecology by visiting the vast seagrass beds in San Carlos Bay. Students learned the integral role seagrass plays in the marine ecosystem by providing a food source and habitat for many marine creatures. To take a closer look at what lives between the blades of seagrass, students used long seine nets to gently pull up tiny creatures. Finding numerous fish, crabs, and even a rare seahorse, participants were amazed by the diversity they found right off the Sanibel Causeway.
On the second day of the trip, the group ventured to Bunche Beach. As a natural preserve, Bunche Beach is home to an abundance of wildlife and hosts lush mangrove forests, which was the topic of the day. Students split into two small groups and strolled along the beach learning about the differences between red, black, and white mangroves then traipsed through the tangled mangrove roots on a mud walk. Students capped off the day with a snorkel in a channel of mangroves where they observed fish and mangrove crabs.
On the final day of the trip, students embarked on a kayak expedition to experience mangroves from a new vantage point. Participants kayaked on calm waters through mangrove tunnels leading to the Gulf of Mexico, where they beached their boats and had the opportunity to search for shells.
Prior to the trip to Florida, Shellenberger and Giltner prepared the students for field activities. They learned some basic marine biology, discussed marine conservation, and formed research topics to investigate in Southwest Florida. Students chose research areas on a variety of topics including water quality, mollusks, land use and development, and invasive species. When they return to Missouri, they will complete reports that will be the culmination of this capstone course.
“We really enjoy sharing the ocean with students from landlocked states,” said Sanibel Sea School Director Nicole Finnicum. “The students are always so enthralled by the ocean and end the trip with a newfound passion to preserve our marine ecosystem.”
Sanibel Sea School hosted Culver-Stockton College in 2018 and hopes to continue this partnership in the future.