Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In the Water - Oleta River State Park

ECO - Every Child Outside, Oleta River State Park in N. Miami, Florida, January 27, 29, 2009
Oleta River was once a free-flowing river, heading east from the Everglades to mix and mingle with the coastal waters of the Atlantic, forming a Mangrove Swamp and estuary. The park still shows a bit of it's old self, with huge Mangroves throughout the park and a lovely little lagoon filled with crabs, jellies, fish, urchins, snails - to name a few, and dolphins frolicking in the bay. The river is now straightened into a canal; but, the estuary, and a good deal of mangroves, are still in existence and are thriving and protected. This estuarine ecosystem is a nutritious nursery - protecting and feeding the baby fish that then feed humans and their fishing interests. The habitat also creates a healthy and happy home to many other babies of the ocean environment - sharks, turtles, crabs, shrimp.

The focus of the class was on limestone and coral. I wanted to give the children an understanding of the foundation of Florida. We discussed the state's natural history - briefly illuminating the repetitive inundation and depletion of the ocean waters of the Florida Plateau and its effect on the land. Because the Florida Plateau was under water for millions of years we have a deep layer of limestone very close to the surface. Limestone is made up of ancient corals and shells - calcium carbonate leftover from ages past. Almost anywhere you go in south Florida you can look on the ground and find rocks and shells that give you a glimpse into the ancient oceanic past.

The next part of class was to explore and discover life in the lagoon, so I supplied nets, buckets and shovels - to encourage digging and catching. Luckily there were a few animals here and there who decided to cooperate and show themselves and allow our young marine biologists to catch them.

We took our nets, buckets and shovels and headed for the water. I found out later that most of my students didn't know they were possibly going to get into the water, therefore, they weren't dressed in bathing suits. That didn't stop the kids - they got in and got wet and had a blast. Each class was different, the morning class was at high tide. I thought it would be harder to find critters because the rocks were covered, to my surprise, we found more life. The incoming tide brought in the jellies, a surly and upset puffer fish, and a baby trigger fish.

Once the tide subsided, we were able to get on the mildly treacherous and sharp rocks to find limpkins, chitons, snails, hermit crabs, shore crabs and sea urchins. The sea urchins are my favorite. We had to walk around the jetty to find them tucked under the rocks - they are purply-black and super cool. In the sand, under rocks, and in the seaweed we found many sand bugs and some crabs. The kids were fascinated with the fossils in the limestone and throughout the day were "discovering" many different samples of rocks and shells.
We collected everything together and viewed it in clear buckets filled with water.
The children got to hold the hermit crabs on their hands and touch the sea urchin's spines. The puffer fish deflated and waited patiently to get out of the bucket. When the class was done we released the animals back to their watery home, said "thank you" and moved up the beach to play a lively game of Sharks and Minnows.

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