Marine science adventures located in Gulf Shores is a hands-on three day field trip where students observe, discuss and collect in eight marine ecosystems. Developed by Dr. John Simpson, a retired biology professor with over 30 years experience developing field trip activities, schools from Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have participated.
“Typically, our groups range in size from 40 – 80 participants which include students, teachers and parents. Our mission is to impress on students the vital importance of the marine ecosystem and how complex and fragile it is” says Dr. Simpson. “We begin with night activities collecting specimens in little lagoon using nets called seins. Students will collect 10 – 20 different types of invertebrate and vertebrate specimens. They are thrilled by what they see such as puffers, sea robins, and phosphorescent comb jellies during our night activities. “
The next day, the group will visit the coastal sand dunes discussing dune formation, structure and function. Spotting an Alabama beach mouse nest prompts talk of endangered species and human impact on marine ecosystems.
“Discussing individual, community and government responsibility to help prevent polluted watersheds causing dead zones around the world will help students understand that being a good steward to the environment is crucial,” said Simpson. Discussion and collecting at the Gulf of Mexico and intertidal zone are exciting for students. Using seins and suction tubes students collect a variety of specimens which include sea stars, crabs, star gazers, moon jellies, and many more. Using suction tubes, they see the living ecosystem that lives in the zone between high and low tide, the intertidal zone. Specimens such as mole crabs, ghost shrimp and many types of mollusk are observed both on beach and bay shores. “On the Gulf beach, we demonstrate a threatened loggerhead turtle nest while discussing the life cycle of this beautiful animal as well as characteristics of the gulf and human impact. “
The next stop is the Pine Beach Trail Maritime Forest located in Bon Secour refuge. Maritime forests support a large variety of plants and animals. Along with sand dunes, they provide a barrier for high winds during hurricanes and tropical storms. Freshwater wetlands provide a habitat for the American alligator and thousands of birds and butterflies find nourishment for their fall and spring migration. The next stop is the picnic grounds at Fort Morgan where students rest and enjoy a picnic lunch.
A tour of historic Fort Morgan with a tour guide allows students to hear firsthand account of Fort Morgan history and a soldier’s life during these times. “I’m somewhat surprised and delighted at the attention and questions from students at this point.” The tour guides at Fort Morgan are historians and present the information at a level that captivates the students. The next stop is the salt water marshes and tidal pools. “As we take a trek through the smelly and mushy marshes students seem bewildered wanting to know why we have to do this” said Dr. Simpson.
Impressing on them the importance of these incredible flourishing wetlands and how smelly dead and decaying plants and animals called detritus are necessary for a healthy marine ecosystem is our goal here. “What better way to achieve this than walk them through rather than point to the marshes, said Simpson, they will never forget this walk.”
Our next location is Mobile Bay Estuary at the end of Fort Morgan. “We sein, use plankton nets and suction guns collecting up to 20 different specimens in most cases,” said Simpson. “Students learn the importance of estuaries and why they are called nurseries of the sea. Collecting with plankton nets with magnifying lenses students are amazed at the small planktonic specimens we collect. When we tell them that the largest fish in the gulf, the whale shark, and feed on these microscopic life forms as well as fish that are only inches long they are like, really? We also collect many different types of marine worms and other types of invertebrates and vertebrate using these collecting techniques. “
After a long day, the group heads back to Gulf Shores Beach Retreat, where our students stay during this trip. The beach retreat, a Christian retreat used primarily in the summer, is perfectly located between the beach and little lagoon and has bunkrooms, kitchens and a large lecture room.
After dinner, students participate in a beach environmental scavenger hunt and beach sculpture contest. Then students are allowed some free time for swimming, volleyball and basketball until lights out at 10 p.m. The next morning starts with summary, conclusions and questions. From the onset of the trip, student teams compete with each other during field trip and beach activities and prizes are awarded. Student workbooks and specimen collections are given to the group to take back to the classroom to study taxonomy.
Finally, before departing for a tour of Alligator Alley, students view a summary video created for their group of the activities during their three day trip. After their tour of alligator alley they head back home.
“There is no doubt in my mind that after this trip students have a better understanding and appreciation of the marine ecosystems and how important and vital each is to the survival of our oceans,” said Simpson
Out staff is local and includes retired biologist, master naturalist, docents and volunteers. We stress safety first in all our activities and our staff are trained in first aid. Anyone who would like to volunteer to train as a docent are welcome and can call 251 609-3436 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.