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Coral Camp for Kids for this past summer was a huge success as we saw our classes filled to capacity every week beginning in June and ending on Friday, August 19th.  We saw a 30% increase in the number of Coral Campers this year as opposed to last years numbers.  Coral Camp for Kids was also invited to present its programs and activities to the National Marine Educators Association conference that was held in Boston, MA, on July 1st

The program is growing every year as parents from all over the lower keys recognize the value in educating our young minds about the challenges that our coral reef ecosystems are facing and the fact that these kids will be the ones that inherit these challenges as they grow into adulthood.  With the invitation to the conference mentioned above, Coral Camp for Kids is now recognized nationally as a unique and comprehensive program for the education of kids aged six through twelve years of age in the marine sciences.

We feel that it is vitally important to reach these kids at a young age so that are aware of the challenges facing all of  us with regards to climate change, over fishing, and pollution—the Big Three, so to speak, in terms of the major stressors affecting coral reef ecosystems the world over along with others.  Their synergistic effects is what is killing corals the world over, and these stressors must be mitigated or corals will begin to become less abundant with the possibility of extirpation in certain areas including the Florida Keys.  The cascading effects of the loss of coral reefs through other interconnected ecosystems will be profound and could result in the first mass extinction event ever witnessed by modern humans! 

 The need to protect these vital ecosystems is urgent and the time is now!

This is the one of the main reasons that we feel that Reef Relief’s Coral Camp for Kids is vitally important and results in an appreciation and awareness on the part of these young minds.  Through our activities and field trips the kids become more self-confident; they come away with better self-esteem, and they come away with the knowledge of the importance of coral reef ecosystems and the need to protect and conserve them for future generations of Coral Campers!

 This summer the kids enjoyed a variety of new activities:  we dissected a barracuda and found a jack in its stomach; we dissected a jack and found an octopus in its stomach!  Now, the kids love that kind of activity but, they also learn the importance of stomach content analysis and its use as a scientific tool when we look at food chains, food webs, and predator/prey interactions.  Too much for a six year old?  Just ask the kids, they learn from it believe me.

 We were able to purchase a microscope as the result of being awarded a grant because of Coral Camp for Kids.  We looked at sand grains from all over the world and translated that into high energy vs low energy environments.  We looked at the plankton community and saw microscopic moon jellies (the bane of this summers snorkeling activity on a few occasions) and others such as copepods and diatoms and their importance in marine food webs.  The kids were amazed that the largest living animals on Earth feast on copepods and other small organisms such as krill and sand lances.

We demonstrated coral reproduction, specifically, broadcast spawning by using bubbles and the wind that acted as our ocean currents.  The kids learned how corals reproduce and at the same time dispersal mechanisms and the importance of coral larvae recruitment to other areas of the reef tract.

 We took the kids on field trips everyday and we cannot thank enough the sponsors that helped out this year with Coral Camp for Kids and we are hoping to work with them again next year and they include: 

 Sebago Watersports with Captain Eric and crew, they enjoy having the kids and  are a great help to our mission; Fury Watersports and Captain Andy and crew; the Key West Aquarium and their staff; the Key West Wildlife Center and Tom and other staff members; Mr. Kyle at the Key West Butterfly Conservatory; Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and their staff for allowing us to teach proper snorkeling techniques to the kids before taking them out to the actual reef tract; NOAA’s Eco-Discovery Center and the staff there along with the Mote Marine lab exhibit, both vital educational tools for the kids and a lot of fun too!

 We could not give the kids the unforgettable experience of Coral Camp without our sponsors and we thank all of you very much for helping us here at Reef Relief and for helping our community has a whole through your generosity and understanding of the need to educate our kids.

 We also owe a debt of gratitude to Pastor John of the Glad Tidings Community Church that provided us with transportation to these various venues that made up our fieldtrips.  Key West Transportation also helped with transportation of the kids and we thank them as well.

And last, but not in any sense the least, we want to thank our summer

intern Samantha Rose for her work with the kids.  Samantha (Sam) was essential to the program this year as she provided her knowledge and her warmth and kindness to the kids and she is missed not only by us at Reef Relief but by all of the kids as well.  She had a very positive influence on all of them and they all were very sad when she had to leave.

Next year is looking even better and we will begin signing up kids a little earlier as we anticipate even more kids coming to camp next summer. 

Parents, Reef Relief’s Coral Camp is an experience that the kids will never forget and for those of you considering enrolling your child or children next year, rest assured it is an unforgettable experience and the kids learn so much  and at the same time they have an absolute blast, except in the presence of those evil moon jellies, on the other hand, I guess we should thank them as well, as the kids learned a valuable lesson from them too!

 See you kids next year!

 Rudy and Mill