By Natalie Strom
Since 2006, the crew of the Dolphin Explorer, a sightseeing vessel on Marco Island, has been studying the local dolphin population around the island and further south into the Ten Thousand Islands. The study, which monitors every dolphin seen while on the water, aims to provide a better look into the life of the porpoises that live year-round within these waters. The dolphins even have names. Two years ago, the study turned into a learning experience for fourth-grade students in Pennsylvania. Since then, the teaching program has greatly expanded and will soon be offered to fifth-grade Tommie Barfield Elementary students as an after-school program.
Captain of the Dolphin Explorer Chris Desmond explains, “We’ll have about 40 schools involved in this school year in our Environmental Studies Program. What has occurred is that the Program is now recognized as a STEM program by many school districts and we have been invited to present the program at their STEM conferences.” Recently, Desmond and his team presented the program to Lee County’s elementary and middle school science chairs.
Maureen Essi of Marco Island has taken up the torch to bring the program to TBE. “In 2009 after watching the documentary ‘The Cove,’ it became my mission, my regenerated dream, to educate others on how important it is that we, as humans, interact with dolphins and other wild marine animals appropriately. I am a registered nurse by trade, but my passion is education.” Essi will start the first program at TBE in January. About 25 students will be able to participate in the first session. “The curriculum covers not only dolphins but other animals here on Marco Island and teaches kids how to respect the ecosystem which we are fortunate to call our backyard,” she adds.
Essi hopes to offer the program for free although it costs around $2,000 to teach the 25 students. In order to reach this goal, she has arranged a fund raiser at the Little Bar in Goodland to be held on Tuesday, December 17. Ten percent from every check – whether it be for lunch, dinner or at the bar – that day will go towards the program. A donation jar will be available as well for those who aren’t hungry but still want to help.
Prizes will be raffled off throughout the day and live music is in the works.
Some of the prizes to be had are a free day at the hair salon from Julie Stoller, a full day of free paddle boarding at Tigertail Beach, two nights at the Marco Island Hilton and a grand prize of a fishing charter for six a la Unreel Charters.
Raffle tickets are $1 a piece, five for $3 or 10 for $5.
The first group of students to participate in the program will be chosen based on an essay written describing why they would like to participate. The school will choose the children based on those essays. Essi hopes to eventually run three sessions per year, allowing the entire 5th grade class to participate if so desired. To learn more about the program, visit http://www.dolphinprojecteducation.org/.
The Little Bar is located at 205 Harbor Place in Goodland. For more information, call the restaurant at 239-642-5663 or owner Ray Bozicnik at 239-642-7142.