FKCC camp embarks on research center visit

Day Five of the Florida Keys Community College ECO Adventures Camp went off with a squeak Thursday morning as the campers took in a day at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon. Campers were led on a tour around the facility that plays home to 27 dolphins and four sea lions, not only learning about the animals but getting up close and personal with the aquatic mammals.

“I liked seeing all the dolphins; they were squeaking and interacting with me,” said 12-year-old Carlton Daley III of Miami.

Ten children are taking part in the inaugural year of the camp, with six on scholarships provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A few of the campers, all ages 10-12, are from Key West, while the others are from Miami, Tallahassee and even one from Russia. The trip to the center was one of several different field trips the children experience, and they have already made stops at the local aquarium, Fort Jefferson and the Marathon Turtle Hospital. Camp director and FKCC Director of Marine Sciences Jack Seubert said he’s gotten positive feedback thus far.

“They’re loving it and finding it enjoyable,” he said. “I don’t know if they came in really smart or have learned a lot, but we’ve had some very interactive discussions.”

FKCC and the DRC have an active relationship, according the the center’s director of media and marketing, Mary Stella. The DRC hosts a number of week-long dolphin lab programs for FKCC students that earn not only credit but certifications. Stella said that getting students of any age at the facility is not only beneficial for the DRC, but the students and environment as well.

“We do a lot of field trips here from camps and Monroe County schools, and education is a big part of our admission,” she said. “It’s experiential learning at its best and we love having them here.”

On their guided tour, campers saw a variety of dolphins interacting with each other and the people around them, staff providing medical care and enrichment exercises, and even the kitchen that houses all the fish used to feed the animals. Seubert said he hopes that the trip would inspire the children to have a passion for helping marine life.

“The whole theme of our camp is fostering that stewardship, having a sense of conservation and restoration while developing that love for marine life,” he said. “And really, who doesn’t love dolphins?”

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, made a stop at the facility, sitting side-by-side by the campers as they took in the flips and tricks performed by some of the dolphins. An active scuba diver herself, Raschein said it is important for the youth to gain an early understanding of the waters around them and the creatures that live in them.

“This is where it all begins and if they don’t learn about the importance of conservation, then our waters don’t have a future,” she said. “Our best case scenario is that they’ll take these experiences and tell their friends. Maybe some of them will even want to be scientists.”

Stella echoed Raschein’s sentiments about the necessity of the children understanding their surroundings and developing a passion for marine life.

“We want people to come here, form relationships and connect with the animals, and get inspired to care more about conservation,” she said. “Hopefully, we’re raising the next generation who one day will take our jobs when we retire.”

mquirk@keysnews.com

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