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-Maggie Allen, Reef Relief staff

Halfway into our third week at Coral Camp, our summer is well underway! Twenty-five students have filled up our environmental center for the past three weeks, where they’ve learned about the coral reef ecosystem through field trips and classroom sessions. Our camp runs until August 13, and we are expecting full and exciting weeks for the next two months. So what’s in store for these lucky campers and staff members?

On Monday, we introduce the students to coral reefs and take them to the Key West Aquarium, where we enjoy the touch tanks and numerous exhibits. On Tuesdays, we teach the campers about sharks, whales, and sea turtles, and then we head over to the Eco-Discovery Center, where the kids complete a scavenger hunt and watch a film about the Florida Keys. For lunch, we walk on over to Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park. This is the perfect time for the kids to test the waters and hone their snorkeling skills. After the day at the beach, Rudy dissects a bony fish and a shark, teaching the students about the anatomy of a fish. Although it disgusts some, many are enticed by the fish’s entrails and are captivated by the way Rudy casually sticks his hands into the bloody insides.

Wednesday brings lessons about the coral reef ecosystem, tides, and sand.  We also head over the Key West Wildlife Center and Higgs Beach, so that the students can learn more about erosion, dunes, and various flora of the beach. In the afternoon, we discuss climate change and other threats to coral reefs. To help everyone understand ocean acidification, we conduct a science experiment, where the kids pour vinegar on a rock, a seashell, coral, and a piece of chalk. With the chalk disintegrating at a rapid rate, we hope the campers understand the urgency to save the coral reefs from climate change’s impacts.

Thursdays and Fridays are our reef days. Fury and Sebago allow us to hop on their catamarans and ride seven miles out to the barrier reef. We’ve had adventurous times at the reef so far. Parrotfish, blue tang, hard and soft coral, angelfish, stingrays, sergeant majors, barracudas, and tarpons are just some of the many organisms we have witnessed so far.

At the end of the week, the campers also learn about coral reproduction, symbiosis, and scuba diving through activities and discussion. Finally, the kids present their posters they have been working on all week. These demonstrate an understanding in the importance of protecting the coral reefs, with slogans like “Keep the Reef Clean, Green, and Pristine.” The colorful and creative posters provide all of us staffers hope that the kids will walk away from this week with more than just slight sunburn.