Sanibel Sea School Brings Landlocked Students To Coast

provided to the Santiva Chronicle

Sanibel Sea School recently hosted fifth graders from Upthegrove Elementary School in LaBelle for a field trip on the causeway on two separate outings. One of the life science standards these fifth-grade students are learning in the classroom is “interdependence” and its integral concepts:

A. Plants and animals, including humans, interact with and depend upon each other and their environment to satisfy their basic needs.
B. Both human activities and natural events can have major impacts on the environment.
C. Energy flows from the sun through producers to consumers.

To reinforce what students are learning in the classroom, marine science educators designed three stations focused on ocean food webs. Despite the dense fog on both days, the students had a blast rotating through them. Students started learning about producers in the marine environment. Equipped with ID guides, they waded out into the water to find and identify macroalgae and seagrasses. Afterwards, we focused on an often-overlooked producer—phytoplankton! Because you cannot see most of them with the naked eye, phytoplankton is often a mystery to young explorers even though they are the most abundant and widespread producer in the ocean. Students learned how to use a phytoplankton tow and discovered what some common species look like up close.

The next step brought consumers into the mix. Students used seine and dip nets to catch and collect creatures. These creatures were placed into separate, aerated tanks based on trophic level; the students worked together to determine if they were primary, secondary, or tertiary consumers. At the end, students worked to create a food web in the sand by drawing arrows from tank to tank representing the transfer of energy through the web. All animals were released when the activity was finished.

The final station focused on what happens when things go wrong: What if you remove part of the web? Educators focused on the classic example of a trophic cascade in Alaska—sea otters, urchins, and kelp. Sea otters keep urchin populations controlled. Urchins feed on the kelp. Therefore, sea otters indirectly promote the growth of kelp by eating urchins. Marine science educators designed a game of tag where students were assigned roles and tasks to complete to demonstrate a balanced versus unbalanced ecosystem.

These field trips were made possible by Sanibel Sea School’s scholarship fund. Thanks to generous donors, Sanibel Sea School is able to offer trips for free or at a reduced rate to schools and community partners who have limited funds for field trips. “It’s especially rewarding to have the chance to engage with students from LaBelle, which is about an hour and a half inland,” said Youth Education Director Shannon Stainken. “Many of the students had never been to Sanibel and some had never even been to a beach at all. Out of the 40 students who came on one of the days, only one had been to Sanibel before.” Sanibel Sea School is dedicated to providing all students, regardless of socioeconomic or geographic limitations, with the opportunity to experience the unique marine environments of Southwest Florida. Fifth graders from Upthegrove Elementary School will join Sanibel Sea School for two more trips this spring.

If you would like to support this effort, contact Sanibel Sea School at or 239 472 8585.

Part of the SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) Family, Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time.

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