As the culminating event for the semester, Ms. Walsh’s Upper School Marine Biology students stepped out of the classroom to participate in a kayak trip at the Lido Mangrove Tunnels at South Lido Beach Nature Park. The group focused on in-person experiential learning, covering many of the topics they studied in the classroom during the year.
Paddling through the dappled sunlight created by a canopy of arching branches, the group of juniors and seniors listened as their tour guide explained how the area was originally created as an attempt to combat mosquito infestation and has subsequently become an important home to a huge assortment of marine life. The mangroves now provide a protected nursery area for fish, crustaceans, and shellfish, and also provide food for the large assortment of marine life–on land and in the water–who live there.
As they glided through the quiet tunnels, Ms. Walsh encouraged the students to identify plants and organisms they recognized from their introduction in the classroom. The kayakers enjoyed the shade provided by the three types of mangroves (black, red, and white) and pointed out small mangrove snapper, snook, and other juvenile fish swimming in the protection of the exposed roots. They paused often to examine invertebrates they encountered, including upside down jellyfish, sea stars, and oysters, with many excited to see the bounty of semi-terrestrial mangrove crabs scuttling along the branches.
Traveling through one of the mangrove tunnels with crystal clear water, students identified many native waterfowl including a variety of herons–majestic great blue herons, skittish little blue herons, and regal black-crowned night herons. As they moved out to the open water, they viewed egrets, osprey, and pelicans as they scanned the surface for mammals such as manatees and dolphins.
At the conclusion of the trip, the group commented that they enjoyed the opportunity to apply their discussions of marine ecosystems in a real-world setting. They were grateful to witness the beauty of the plants and animals firsthand and felt the experience was made more meaningful knowing the importance each element played in the marine ecosystem overall.