This year, in addition to hosting beach cleanups, I was able to host snorkel cleanups with area youth thanks to a mini grant from the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit. With the grant funds, I purchased masks and snorkels for cleanup participants to use. It was amazing to see youth overcome their fears of using a mask and snorkel, and within minutes be able to explore the amazing marine life off of Lido Beach in Sarasota, FL. We were able to remove over 200lbs of trash from Lido Beach, but more importantly, area youth had their eyes opened to the problem of marine debris. Below is a letter from one of our youth participants.
"The organization of the Sarasota Ocean Preservers is run by a very inspirational group. Before joining along side them cleaning the beach I had no idea how the trash was effecting the sea life and the habitat they live in. You would be surprised how much trash you can find within a mile radius on the beach. We have found lots of trash on the beach for instance cigarette buds, bottle caps, fire work papers, bottles etc. After cleaning the beaches we have gotten to join them and snorkel. It was an amazing experience to explore the ocean and to take in the scenic views of the ocean life. To this day I still make sure to pick up trash I see while going to the beach, even when I am snorkeling. This was a life changing experience and I would strongly recommend it to anyone.”
Snorkeling is always weather dependent. Despite some cleanup days having water that was not calm enough for snorkeling, participating youth still enjoyed removing debris from the beaches and swimming afterwards. However, they still had fun. Here is a note from a homeschool educator and facilitator:
In the last year I have had several opportunities to enjoy Sarasota
Ocean Preserver’s programs offered by Brooke Welch. As a homeschool
educator and facilitator, the program has allowed children 6-10 years of age
the opportunity to take action in their community in attainable ways. If we
are to raise a generation that cares and respects the environment, it will be
important that children first have experiences in the natural environment.
Sarasota Ocean Preservers takes this a step further by empowering the
children as participating citizens now. The children can learn about the
impact of plastics and trash through books, videos, or activities, yet nothing
can replicate the real life learning offered through Sarasota Ocean
Preservers. At the end of a volunteering opportunity with Brooke the children
can actually see the five gallon buckets filled with human produced garbage.
They are able to see that those small bottle caps truly add up to an
astonishing amount of waste. It is for these experiences that I am thankful
knowing that this program is setting the foundation for our next generation
This year, we had a unique opportunity present when ABC news saw our group cleaning up Lido Beach after 4th of July. I was interviewed and able to share about the problem of single use plastics, fishing gear left on the rocks of the swim beach, and the dangers to marine life from boats. This opportunity enabled us to reach a much broader audience than previously anticipated.
Additional means of reaching a broader audience came through sharing the hands-on ray tagging research project I created last, which has been replicated in Cuba and Mexico for youth educational outreach on Spotted Eagle Rays. In addition, I have recently completed a stuffed dissectible shark project which I shared with youth during Shark Days Fins and Fun Family Festival at Mote Marine Laboratory.
Without the grant, I would not have been able to purchase the masks and snorkels for this project. This grant allowed students, without the means to purchase their own snorkeling equipment, to experience the amazing underwater world right here in their own city and begin to understand the importance of local conservation.
If you are a high school student living near Sarasota, Florida and are interested in marine science, I encourage you to look into the volunteer and internship opportunities available at Mote Marine Laboratory