For the second year, student campers ages 14-18 explored, kayaked, researched, and discussed and debated environmental issues at the Ambassadors of the Environment (AOTE) Summer Camp Program on Marco Island.
The AOTE Summer Camp Program is offered by Marco Island Academy (MIA) in collaboration with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society’s team, led by Dr. Richard Murphy, director of education. The camp ran from June 15 to 19, with one overnight experience.
This year 12 students attended, including Brittanie Lopez, whose home in Winnemucca, Nevada is almost 3,000 miles away from Marco Island. Brittanie, who will be a senior this fall, made her first trip to Florida to attend the camp. She enjoyed being in Florida’s nature, saying “it is really pretty, and there is a lot of water,” while also noting that they “don’t havepalm trees in Nevada!”
Returning this year are students Olivia Watt and Jordan Barrett. Olivia, who is entering 10th grade, was happy to return because there was new material added to the program and she was excited for the new experiences. Jordan, a senior, was acting as a volunteer and assisting when needed.
Kayla Kladis, a first-time camper who is also entering 10th grade, heard about the AOTE Summer Camp Program from Olivia. Kayla said that camp was “going great.” She said the best part of her first day was kayaking through a tunnel of mangroves, which she described as so “unreal” it was as if it was “from a movie.” Both Olivia and Kayla were looking forward to the boat ride on the Dolphin Explorer so they could see the dolphins in their natural habitat.
The program, through individualand group challenge activities, encourages the students to reflect on how they can make a difference in the environment by their own actions and behaviors.
Activities are grouped into five subject areas: ocean, land, culture, responsible living and challenge activities. Four principles tie all the activities together: “Everything runs on energy,” “Nature recycles everything,” “Biodiversity is good” and “Everything is connected.”
After introductions, the first day began with a kayak tour of the Isles of Capri mangroves. While on the water, students received lessons on the diversity of organisms and learned how the mangroves survive. Dr. Murphy prefers teaching in nature because when the students are “immersed in the ecosystems there will be a deeper connection, and it will solidify what they are learning.” The outdoors are a “living laboratory and natural classroom” he adds.
[/caption] alt=”A10-CBN-6-26-2″ width=”200″ height=”106″ />Dr. Murphy led the students on a trip to Caxambas Park where they scraped fouling organisms off the dock, which they collected in buckets. The students, upon returning to the classroom, placed their findings on petri dishes. A video scope magnified the organisms 250 times and projected it onto a screen for viewing. Dr. Murphy explains that the activity “shows the value of natural ecosystems and species, and how they are connected, and why we should protect nature.”
Some of the other activities included a tour on the Dolphin Explorer and trips to Otter Mound, Big Cypress National Park and Tigertail Beach. A visit to the Marco Island Historical Society taught the students about the Calusa Indians.
Students also enjoyed some familiar camp activities. They played games, drew pictures, enjoyed a beach sunset and ate s’moresat a campfire.
Dr. Murphy explains this unique approach: “This is not school so we need to be very clever and creative in making sure the kids have fun and then, subtly, infusing information into those fun and activities.”
Each day ends with reflection and journaling. Jane Watt, Founder and Chair of the Board for MIA, tells the students to “reflect on what your experience was during the day” and to “put everything together that you have learned.”
Sustainable living is the conclusion of the five days. For the final activity, students were divided into three groups, and designed their own vision of a sustainable community. They addressed issues like water, energy, food, waste, buildings and more.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to make a significant impact on the next generation, particularly young people who are destined to become leaders and powerful decision makers,” says Dr. Murphy.