Loggerheads, Tiger Sharks & Sea Stars, Oh My!
“Ladies, gentlemen, boys, girls, children and creatures,” called Cherie Sukovich to the 10 children in the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center Summer Camp for July 9 through 13. “I guess that includes just about everyone!”
Cherie, who teaches at South Fort Myers High School, is now in her 12th year as the director for the Marine Science Center Summer Camps. “I have been doing this for so long now that my volunteer assistant is my daughter, Jaime! She was a former Marine Science Summer Camper herself, whose first one was when she was just five years old. Since she has the perspective from both sides of camp now, she is invaluable and makes a real connection to the kids. This week, camp is for the Sea Stars and Loggerheads, who are basically grade school ages. Next week is for the Tiger Sharks, meaning Middle School and we tailor activities to that particular age group.”
The Ostego Bay Marine Science Center hosts week-long Summer camps throughout June and July for ages Kindergarten through 16. July 16 to 20 is for Tiger Sharks, with the final one of the Summer, from July 23 through 27, again for Sea Stars and Loggerheads. Sea Stars are children who completed Kindergarten through 3rd Grade, Loggerheads are 4th through 6th Grade, and Tiger Sharks are Grade 6 & up, with a maximum of 20 campers per session.
Fun & Educational
Campers explore the barrier islands and Estero Bay through field and beach trips, to introduce kids to seagrasses, plankton populations, mangroves and bird nesting areas. “All of our professional staff are State Certified Teachers through the Florida Department of Education, who undergo background checks and have first aid training,” said Marine Science Center President Joanne Semmer, adding, “A few are even ‘Golden Coconut’ Winners, the highest recognition afforded instructors at the Beach Elementary School. Our Summer Camps are truly educational, and not just a baby-sitting experience like many others, though we pack them with fun!”
Field trip locations include Lovers Key State Park, Newton Beach Park, Bowditch Point Park, Fort Myers Beach Community Pool, Matanzas Pass Preserve and the back bay, with Tiger Sharks enjoying a deep sea fishing adventure! “We travel to all field trips on the Fort Myers Beach Trolley,” said Cherie. “It teaches the kids about public transportation, while practicing patience, as even in the off-season, it can take us a little longer than usual to make our way around the island.”
Campers on the day the Sand Paper visited, were enjoying science and beach activities at Newton Park, right on Fort Myers Beach. “We spent yesterday at Bowditch Point Park,” recalled Cherie. “While there, we found every type of critter, like sea horses and all kinds of sports fish and tons of sand dollars; you name it and we found it! It is important for the children to learn first-hand the importance of the estuary.”
Many of the kids were already looking forward to Thursday, when they would go on a pontoon boat ride that the Fish-Tale Marina always donates. “Al Durrett is so generous to us; he is a Camp patron from the very beginning.” Cherie explained. “He provides the boat at no charge; all we do is pay for the gasoline. This ends up being the highlight of the week for many campers, so we cannot thank him enough. Each week on Friday, Camp hosts a Graduation Lunch in which we invite the parents to join us, then we venture to the Fort Myers Beach Community Pool, because what would a Summer Camp be without a pool day. Camp then concludes with a slide show, where parents join us again, to see snippets from our activities throughout the week.”
Jaime backs up her Mom about the pontoon boat. “That was and still is my favorite part,” she said with a broad smile! “I love the sea grasses, and seeing animals like the spider crab, sting rays, dolphins and manatee. It is especially fun when we cruise under the bridge and see all the bats chirping away!”
In The Newspaper
There were ten children in the session we joined, from age 6 to 12. Cooper, age 9, “enjoys the beach because we find so many fun things.” Matthew, 6, and Crosby, 7, both like using the casting net, “to catch a lot of fish, then discover what we caught.” Eli, age 11, agreed, especially “catching the crabs and bait fish.” For James, 8, it is much simpler – “spending time with my friends!” Kristina, 10, combines two things: “Going to the beach while making new friends!” Haven, also 10, found the field trip to Lovers Key the best part. Laura, age 12, going on 13, favored the pinch bucket, “to catch blue crabs,” while Sophie, 9, had a similar theme – “having the crabs be all over me!” Jahlil, age 6, offered the most unique answer: “Meeting you,” he said to this reporter, “because you will write about the fun we are having in the newspaper!”
Camp staff constantly monitors weather conditions to ensure the safety of the children; in inclement weather, they substitute indoor activities. Sunscreens and fluids are important with consistent reminders, considering that the kids are out in the hot Southwest Florida sun for most of the day. “Make sure you get sunscreen all around your neck area, and don’t forget the back of your knees; put it on real good, please,” cautioned Cherie and Jaime. “For those of you with sensitive skin, pull down the long sleeves of your shirt. The faster you do this, the faster we go down by the water.”
“Sunscreen is so important these days,” reinforced Cherie. “It is not at all like when I was a child, when we covered ourselves in Baby Oil, to literally fry our skin out on the beach, so thankfully we now know better! We ensure the kids hydrate all day, as in this heat, water is crucial for their safety. It is my job to make sure all the children stay safe, while teaching them valuable lessons and having a lot of fun, all at the same time.”
Camp registration includes a reusable water bottle, long-sleeve sunshirt the kids need to wear daily, sunscreen, and on Friday, to celebrate the conclusion of camp, drinks, snacks and lunch. Since water activities are of a prime importance, with a water event each day, campers must wear a bathing suit daily. They should bring from home a towel, change of clothes in a ziplock bag, comfortable shoes, water shoes, a lunch that does not require heating, plenty of fluids to drink for hydration, and a backpack to transport their belongings.
Drop off and pickup are at the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center at 718 Fisherman’s Wharf, on San Carlos Island, under the Matanzas Pass Bridge, near Doc Ford’s and Bonita Bill’s Restaurants, with plenty of parking under the bridge or at Bonita Bill’s. Camps run Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., for $275-per-child, that includes all materials; unfortunately, there is no before or after care available. For more information or an application, call 239-765-8101 or see www.OstegoBay.org.