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.



Seminars, Sea Squirts and Rockin’ Night Life

See our photos from today here.

Each morning is a beautiful and balmy 80 degrees with a slight breeze coming off the water. Walking out of our rooms and not being cold at 8am is such a welcome change from the cold weather back in Goshen.  So far there hasn’t been too many with sunburns as the kids have been fully informed of the sun’s danger on their Indiana skin!

After being energized through a pancake breakfast, the students set off for an introductory seminar on the marine environment.  Claire Penner and Ariana Perez Diener said they covered topics on different levels of the ocean, waves and tides.  They learned about the physical characteristics of sea water and how temperature and wind affect it.  They also learned about the affects of the sun and moon with the tides.

Afterwards they went to the quarry that some students went to the previous day.  They saw sea squirts, described by the girls as, “reddish orange and you can squish them and they spray water.”

After lunch the students attended two more seminars on algae and water quality.  Seminars are held at the Goshen College facility across the street about a 10 minute walk from the resort.  Students road out on the pontoon during the seminar.  Others out for leisure, took kayaks through the channels looking for exercise and marine life.  Rick and Griffin Hetler found the tides against them going out and then fighting again as they came back.  They said it was quite a work out!

During their leisure time you can find students, lounging on hammocks, throwing frisbees and baseballs, swimming in the pool, kayaking or paddle boarding.

That evening we had our first common meal right out in front of the resort.  We dined on grilled chicken, baked potatoes, black bean salsa, asian salad and cookies. We eat VERY VERY WELL!  The kids are working hard all day long and refuel at each of our meals.

When it began to get dark, some of the groups were able to go on an excursion to the rocky coastal line.  When the tides go out, many marine life cling to the coastal edge until the tide comes back in.  It’s the perfect time to take a flash light, gloves and some shoes for some exploring.  Many found sea urchins, crabs, and sea cucumber. Other groups will be heading out on different nights.

Everyday has been an adventure for everyone.  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Grass, Mud and Chickens

See photos from Day 2 of our trip here.

Friday we all woke early to have the first meal with our eating units.  Everyone is assigned to a group that meets for meals, bookwork check-in and excursions. The groups have a mixture of students, staff, chaperones and kids which allows for bonding with people that you wouldn’t normally have opportunity.  The food is plentiful and well prepared by the families living in the unit that serves it.  Everyone is required to pitch in for cleanup!

After breakfast and daily announcements, the students set off on their first full day of marine study. First year students spent their day at the grassy mud flats on the pier outside the resort and a quarry roughly 15 minutes away.

The grassy mud flats were described by Anna Paetkau.

“It’s important to shuffle when you aren’t snorkeling so you don’t step on marine life hidden in the ocean floor, like sting rays.  We snorkeled around, diving down to find shells.  We found a lobster family under a rock. Some of us saw sting rays, small sharks and barracuda.  We also saw some fire coral, sponge and a school of small fish which we tried to catch but they are so fast.”

After lunch they went to the local quarry, where according to Anna,

“It was important to jump in and away so you don’t disturb the upside down jelly fish that live near the edges.   We swam around the edges where the rock wall and mangroves are looking for lIfe inside the mangroves. It was murky and mostly full of jelly fish. On the wall you could see sea worms, a little algae, and anemones.  We also swam across to the other side of quarry to see comb jelly fish.”

Second year students studied quadrants.  Trey Santiago of Northridge High School said,

“We took a quadrant made of PVC pipe that is 1 meter x 1 meter and threw it into the water.  Then we would tell those on the pier what we found within the quadrants to record it.  I saw some algae, fish and some sponge.”

The IB Art students spent the day, “Traveling to Key West stopping along the way at various locations to find inspiring things in nature [to create drawings for later],” said Dani Smith.

Later that evening we all traveled to Key West which is about an hour and half from Layton.  The students were able to see and experience the interesting and colorful life that is Key West.  Dani’s favorite part was the pier at Mallory Square where the local artists come out at night.  The sword swallower was a favorite of Dani’s.  Trey enjoyed Mallory Square as well and liked how the local architecture was incorporated into nature.  However he felt the homes were to crowded and wouldn’t want to live there!

One of the odd things you will see in Key West are the many chickens and roosters roaming the streets, affectionately called “gypsy chickens” by the locals. Walking around you will see little families of chickens, rosters and chicks nesting in gutters and other small spaces.  They have gotten used to people and wander in and out of open restaurants.  Check out this article for more information on why the population has grown so large.

The bus arrived back at Lime Tree around 10:45pm just in time for everyone to get to bed for another early morning of marine study!


Planes, Busses and Automobiles

Thursday, March 30, the GHS Marine Biology group converged on the little town of Layton, Fl located on Long Key.  The ride was long for many in the group, roughly 28 hours.  Some opted to drive themselves and others flew.  But by 4:30 pm we were all here.

According to Mr. Weaver, this is the largest group he has brought here to Layton. Below is the group statistics.

  • 60 GHS students
  • 11 Northridge Students
  • 1 Marian High Student
  • 58 School staff and parent chaperones
  • 32 Children of staff and chaperones
  • 2 Bus drivers

That is a total of 164 people! About 30 more than previous years.  Thank goodness that amount of people didn’t scare Mr. Weaver off.

During the week students will be studying the marine life surrounding us as well as at the Coral Restoration Foundation and John Pennekamp State Park.  Follow us on the website for details on our daily activities and to see photos located here.  You can also follow our us on Twitter @GHSMarineBio, Facebook – GHS Marine Biology 43rd Year or Instagram -GHSMarineBio.

This trip takes hours and hours of planning and requires many willing hands to make it successful prior to even arriving.  Thanks to Carl Weaver and all of rest of you for allowing this 43rd year to commence.


Turtle Hospital and Marine Studies

Earlier this week we visited the turtle hospital to learn about how sea turtles are rescued, medically aided, and rehabilitated for return to the ocean.  Very inspirational and encouraging! Marine biology students have also been working on a couple of projects throughout the week–a habitat study and an independent project of their choice.

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John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Marine biology students along with the adult chaperones and kids enjoyed a day of snorkeling at John Pennekamp State Park.  This was  followed by a meal out at the Island Grill.  Lots of fun was had by all!

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