Day Four – Monday 4/2

Night fishing was a success and it sounds like we have plenty of fish for dinner Thursday evening. Students caught a variety of fish as well as a shark and they attracted a sea turtle that followed their boat.

Day four each year is a busy day for all of our students. They have been working on a small density study project where they go to an assigned ecosystem and take a quadrat or transect line and count numbers of organisms in several locations. As an eating group, they work on analyzing the data collected and put that into a report. The groups also begin work on their culminating project which is a similar but larger study of their choice, in a location of their choice. The 2nd year students help facilitate this work as well as go to their own locations. The art students have been working on their pieces so check out the photos to see what they are up to!

Highlights today include dolphins playing in the bay in the morning and again before dusk, a stingray hanging out by the dock, a sea turtle interacting with a couple of our kayakers, snorkeling in a channel with a nurse shark, and collecting specimens at the rocky coast.

Day Three – Sunday 4/1

Our morning began with a Habitat Study seminar and church for any of our students and families that wanted to attend. Each year on Sunday we give students the time to go to church or to explore until lunch. Our afternoon consisted of each eating group visiting various habitats for study. Each group is assigned a specific ecosystem and completes a density study to be shared with the class. We had approximately 50 people go night fishing this evening while the rest of the group stayed back at the hotel for a relaxing evening of conversation and games. Hopefully our night fishing group does well because the fish will become one of our dinners later this week!

Don’t forget to check out our image gallery to see pictures from our week.

Day Two – Saturday 3/31

Our day began with a 1st year seminar on Chemical and Physical Characteristics of the Marine Environment and continued as half of our groups went snorkeling at a local quarry. The quarry is an interesting environment because water feeds into it from the Gulf so there is movement of water but we don’t experience waves like we do in open water. This location provides for two environments of study, man made walls and mangroves. We were able to see algae, sea squirts, anemones, and fish, to name a few. The other half of our groups went to the rocky coast and collected specimens for further study back at the Goshen College facility. We have a license for collection and we maintain tanks for keeping our new friends healthy. We do release each specimen back to the location we found it to be sure to not harm the animals.Later in the day we had seminars on water quality as well as learning how to classify 15 different local algae specimens that Mrs. Weaver collected earlier this morning.

The 2nd year students worked as facilitators for the seminars today and then had their own excursion out to a location called the bight. The art students worked out by the water for the day, and our families spent time at the pool and finding their own adventures around town.

Dinner was delicious and prepared by Christy Smith and our eating unit hosts. We eat well on this trip! The evening will end with students having the choice to continue snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, or working on their assignments. We have a wonderful group again this year and it is great to see new friendships forming between the four schools.

Day One – Friday 3/30

Our first day on site is a day for learning how to snorkel out at the Grassy Mud Flats, right out in front of our hotel. Sightings included a spotted ray, various crabs, lobster, algae, grasses, and fish. After a day of snorkeling, we got cleaned up and headed down to Key West for an evening of fun.

2018 Adventures Begin!

Our trip here was somewhat eventful, 27 hours into the trip we found out all traffic to the keys was being re-routed.  The drive to the keys is long so finding out we were going to spend several more hours together on buses could have upset anyone, but not our group! The Marine Bio staff would like to compliment the students and families traveling with us. It is in difficult experiences that we see the strength in others. Instead of complaining, we saw groups begin to play games and listen to music together. What a fabulous group! We have students from Goshen, Northridge, Wawasee, and Northwood this year. We also have staff from Goshen, Northridge, and Wawasee.

Throughout the week each morning will begin with our student athletes and others meeting out at the dock for an early morning run. Some of us run faster than others (some of us walk) but it’s a time for reflection and thinking about the day ahead. We see some beautiful sunrises! Breakfast and lunch is held with our eating groups and we have wonderful host families that feed us and provide us with a place to connect. Each day we have adventures that provide us with opportunities to explore various ecosystems which will ultimately turn into a large project for each eating group. So, join us daily to find out what we are learning.

Thank you to all of the parents and community members that make this trip possible!

Field Studies, Turtle Hospitals and Group Photos

See photos of the our day here.

Today is beautiful yet again, however we have a very nice breeze which keeps the heat down a little bit.  I’m a bit nervous to even admit that considering weather reports back home suggest snow today for Goshen.  To make all of you feel a bit better I will let you know about the amazing scent that permeates the air here.  As Dylan Steury has told his mom, Michele Fanfair Steury, “You know you are in the Keys when you smell that!”  The sea grass that decomposes along the edge of the sea wall causes the most “awesome” smell of methane you can imagine.  Some days it’s not very noticeable however today because of the wind working sea side is pretty stinky.  The other day I saw a T-shirt that said, “You smell like low tide!”  Quite appropriate for down here. Despite the smell, and honestly it’s not that bad most of the time, working here is amazing.

Yesterday the students worked on their field studies which will be presented today, Thursday, at 4:00pm.  It’s crunch time as all work needs to be completed before we leave Friday morning.  Some have been keeping up, but there are always some procrastinators.  Shocking I’m sure! 🙂

Second year students spent the day at the Coral Reef Restoration project in Key Largo with Alex Neufeld, a GHS Alumni.  I haven’t had the chance to talk to anyone about their experience up there, but hope to later today.

The chaperones and kids went out to John Pennekamp to experience the reef.  It was pretty amazing seeing the more colorful fish and coral that lives out there compared to that living off of the resort.  Because the resort water environment is grassy and muddy, the fish that live there tend to be less colorful so they can blend in.  It’s been a great learning experience.

The afternoon was filled with trips to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon.  The place is amazing.  We learned there are 7 species of sea turtles and that 5 live in this area.  At the time of our visit there were only 4 there.  Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Kemps Ridley.  The Leatherback are not typical patients of the hospital.

Turtle patients come to the hospital when they get calls from people like you and me who have found them stranded or sick.  You can tell a turtle is sick if they are floating on the water or have a lot of barnacles on their shells.  Some amount of barnacles is common, but having a lot means they are not swimming and diving much.  Those that find and call in the turtle rescue get to name it.  Hence the really odd names they have there:  Smelly cat, Little Fat Briana, George (which is a girl), Poppy, Tippy, Chuck Norris, Franco, Bubble Butt.  This list goes on as there are 47 turtles currently residing there.  Some are permanent residents while others are there temporarily.

To be released as a turtle you must have at least 3 working flippers and 1 eye.  For a few turtles, this has held them back. Shark bites, boat propellers, and other accidents have led them to multiple amputations and poor eyesight. Without flippers they can’t dive and swim.  Another reason that a sea turtle cannot dive is if they have “bubble butt syndrome” which is what happens with a turtle gets hit by a boat or something else which causes a deformity in their shell.  The syndrome was named after “Bubble Butt”, who is a permanent resident at the hospital.  You can immediately tell a turtle has this because they cannot dive and they have a very conspicuous lump on their shell sticking out of the water.  These turtles also have air trapped in their muscles resulting from their impact with the boats.  The hospital has tried many ways to release them of this air, but have not been successful.

Last night we had yet another amazing meal of hamburgers, brats, and numerous salads.  I’ve been so impressed by the meals prepared here.  We are very blessed to have such an abundance of food.  After the meal we had the annual group photo.  Because we had such a large group this year, 163 people, we took a few smaller group photos as well as the big one.  Below you can see us in our lavender shirts.

All of us!

Marine Biology Students

Marine Biology Staff

Chaperones and kids

Island Grill Videos

Sorry for delay with the videos from Tuesday night’s Island Grill meal.  As I said yesterday, the Coconut Cowboys really know how to get a party going and to encourage the students to dance and sing along with them. The highlight of the evening was the mash up of Beatles songs with Riley Bove.  Also enjoy the entertainment of the backup singers and Sweet Home Alabama.


Pennekamp, Coconut Cowboys and The Beatles

See photos of the day here.

Tuesday the students and some staff and parents went to John Pennekamp for a snorkeling excursion.  This is a favorite for many as its a chance to see some larger and more brightly colored marine life than what is visible outside of our resort.  Pennekamp is a roughly an hour from the resort depending on traffic, so they headed out early.  For those of us staying back at the resort it was a very quiet day.

After the snorkeling trip they had a short amount of beach time and then time to get cleaned up for the Island Grill.  Every year the restaurant closes down for the group meal.  They serve an assortment of items such as Mahi, chicken, burgers and vegetarian options.  This year they were also entertained by a band called the Coconut Cowboys.  Reports say they were pretty amazing and had a great knack for getting students to sing with them.  I will be posting video of this later!

The busses arrived back at the resort around 8:30 just in time to roast marshmallows and have s’mores to end a pretty great day!

Today the remainder of the adults and kids will be heading to Pennekamp so I have to cut this short.  Look for the videos of the dinner later tonight.



Bights that sting, puke fests and prom proposals

You can see photos from our day here.

Yesterday by far was the one of the most interesting days.  It started off fairly normal with students heading off to their respective habitat studies, and excursions, but one by one, the stories starting coming in.

During the afternoon the 2nd year students took the pontoon to a location called Triton Flats.  There assignment was, according to Kyle Taft, “To collect biodiversity and quadrant data. While there we also found a sea hair, we named it Papa Shrek.  It looks like a large black slug with wing like fins on the back of it.”  In previous years Kyle said they found another that they had named Shrek.  As you can see on the link they do look a bit like Shrek!

Apparently this black slug like creature was a favorite of Sara Taft, something known by Camden Lacy.  He used it as inspiration to ask her to prom while out on the flats.  Rumor has it she said yes.  I’m sure it will be prom proposal that people will remember for a while.

Also during the afternoon a group headed out to a location called “the bight”, pronounced “bite”.  Among those on the trip were Christina Haimes and Pete Biddle. They were out snorkeling the area and were not seeing much.  According to Haimes, “We thought we would head to the mangroves were we have typically seen better marine life.”  So off the two of the went.  Soon they found themselves in very shallow water, about a foot deep, that was mostly sediment and grass.  What they didn’t notice right away was that something was living there, a lot of somethings.

“We floated into this area that was really shallow and as I looked down I quickly realized that it was home to jellyfish. A lot of them.  I tried to stay calm and not disturb them by just moving my hands and flippers just a little in attempt to get out of there.  Pete was trying to do the same thing.  Stay on the surface and move as little as possible.  Unfortunately it wasn’t enough because we were both stung quite a few times.  My biggest fear while snorkeling has been to be stung by a jellyfish.  I can tell you now that it hurts, a lot.” Biddle had a body suit on so he didn’t get the welts caused by the jelly fish stings.  Haimes had quite a few all over her legs about the size of baseballs.  By the evening and after using cortisone cream, she was feeling better.

And just because I know you are all thinking it, although Haimes had offers, she didn’t allow anyone to pee on her stings.  “That is a myth!”, she exclaimed.  🙂

The evening seemed to be fairly relaxing for some of us.  The place was quiet as many were out on the second night fishing excursion.  The first night went really well, lots of fish caught, quiet seas, only one got sick.  What a perfect time THEY had.  As I was heading to breakfast I began to hear the stories of a not so perfect night.

WARNING: Don’t read further if you are prone to sympathetic vomiting!

They are calling it a “puke fest”.  Forty-two passengers were aboard and only 8 managed not to be sick.  It started in the front of the boat when someone “let it fly”, spraying those down wind.  (I imagine it was something out of a movie.)  From there on they started dropping like flies.  The conditions were not ideal.  High waves and rough seas kept them from going out as far as the previous night.  The boat was rocking and even though they took precautions, it wasn’t helping.  Sara Holsopple said, “They warned us that it was rough and people were going to puke. Eventually I just closed my eyes and leaned forward.  It helped.”

Dani Smith was perhaps the worst off.  ” I just hung over the side of the boat until it stopped. (which was hours) Then I tried to lay down and just get through it.”  Some didn’t get sick but felt nauseas the majority of the time.  You could find people laying down wherever they could squeeze.  One student was sleeping on a bench and fell off.  “I heard a thud, ” said Josh Haimes, ” and he was down.”

Those that didn’t get sick actually caught quite a lot of fish.  I believe we have 27 lbs in total.The fish kept will be filleted and eaten on the last night we are here along with all of our other left overs.

For those of us that didn’t go, well, be glad you didn’t.  For those that did, I hope you have a better time at John Pennekamp snorkeling today and that the seas are calmer.  And if you do feel sick, jump out first please!




Sun loving, Churches and Night Fishing

You can view photos from our day here.

Sunday showed up just a beautiful as all the other, slightly overcast which was welcome by those who chose to not wear sunscreen the previous day.  Yesterday I mentioned that there hadn’t been too many cases of sunburn.  Well, that’s not the case now.  A few are worshipping the sun gods a bit too much and keeping our good doctor on site, Christina Haimes, fairly busy.

The students started work on their habitat studies yesterday with an early seminar. After which, if they wanted, could attend church or mass at the local Baptist and Catholic churches who welcome us each year.  Apparently we double their size upon arrival.  Joel Holsopple and family attended the Layton Baptist Church where they found it to be very welcoming and were even invited to a lunch afterwards. The church is attended over by Pastor Robby.

On a daily basis marine life is found around the resort and at the GC facility.  Yesterday a little orange sea horse was found and put in the temporary viewing area.  The GC facility has a tank that is filled with ocean water and aerated to ensure preservation of the life that temporarily lives in the tank.  Specimens, such as star fish, puffer fish, and now sea horses, are brought in for observation and then released after a day or so.

Because of the size of our group, Night Fishing and John Pennekamp snorkeling is divided into two groups.  Last night the first night fishing group went out and apparently had a great time.  It never fails that someone gets a bit sick and from what I hear, only one did.  I’m sure those on the boat were happy for that small number!

Many fish were caught, among them a large grouper.  Some had a different experience with the fish.  According to Karly from Northridge, she was hit in the face with a flying fish!  Fortunately no injuries and she was not knocked out of the boat.  😉  It was a late night for those that went and an early morning.  Hopefully they aren’t all crabby today.