Yesterday was the annual Marine Science field expedition to the waters surrounding Cedar Key and her sister islands.
Most of the pictures I took are just for my kids and me since I keep them anonymous on my blog, but I was able to sift through the 85 photos and find a few "back o' the head" type shots that illustrate the trip experience, while keeping the kids pretty incognito.
I'll split the trip into a few posts ... remember, I'm working on dialup here.
So, let us begin with anticipation ... perhaps the best part of any experience.
Above, half of my total crew of 29 kids are heading out for their first experience dredging the seafloor. At this point, they are clean, dry, unslimed, uncrabpinched, unshrimpstuck, but still thrilled to be there.
The bulky open ocean life jackets are an insurance requirement (thanks alot, lawyers). We did get to take them off when the boat wasn't underway.
Our procedure was to lower a dredge net over the side and tow it for 3-5 minutes. The net was then hauled aboard, full of seaweed and critters. This was dumped onto the deck of the boat and the students dug through it, capturing and mostly releasing a host of juvenile marine life.
A few live critters came home for our classroom aquarium.
At first, there is some trepidation, but pretty soon the kids were digging through the seaweed with gusto. They also worked the lines and the heavy dredge after I do the first network and model what the technique is. It's a lot of work, the dredge is not just some fluffy netting. It's a welded metal frame that probably weighs 50 pounds empty and twice that when it's pulled aboard full of seaweed and mud. Still, they absolutely love this part, managing the net, hauling lines ... it's a beautiful thing to see them working at sea in the fresh air ... far from their Wii's and Xboxes.
Here's a sweet little pipefish ... actually, this is a pretty big pipefish. Pipefish are seahorse cousins with similar lifestyles. If you straightened out a seahorse, you'd pretty much have a pipefish. This one was dressed up in some amazing blue highlights ... it is the season to show off, of course.
The whole pipefish resting briefly on my hand. They are a little tough to keep happy in the aquarium unless you raise brine shrimp or provide other tiny live feed.
The seagrass beds below are full of juvenile animals, fish especially that are spending the most vulnerable period of their lives in the thick food rich cover. This little grunt was one of many young fish that came aboard.
I told the kids to rescue fish from the seagrasses first as they are the most delicate of our catch. Most of the inverts can survive a little time topside, but fish need water. They translated this message into "FISH ARE OUR FRIENDS" from Bruce the shark, in Finding Nemo. That became their chant as they tossed tiny fish back into the drink.
My friend Albert and me.
Albert is a County Agricultural Extension Agent and the provider of the boat services. His office takes school groups, 4H groups, and others out on the water for a variety of activities aboard their brand new pontoon boat. He and I have done these trips together for a long time, which makes it really nice. We know each other's routines and procedures and what to expect from each other.
"Highly trained and efficient" as we used to say in another life of mine before teaching.
If you toss in the fact that Albert is a heck of a nice guy who is going to go the extra mile to make sure the kids get a great dredging experience ... well, it just all comes together.
And I do so love it when a plan comes together.
Tomorrow: Part Two: "You Caught A What?"