Middle school trips have been a major component of the Carefree Learner for over 30 years.  Thousands of Sarasota 7th graders have been out on the boat to experience firsthand the amazing variety of life in Sarasota Bay.  We also provide tours to some district high schools.

A Typical Trip

A middle school trip begins at 11:15 AM on the dock at Marina Jack, in front of the boat, where the instructor introduces him/herself and the captain.  Many important topics are covered in this segment of the trip, not the least of which is safety.  The students are shown where they are prohibited from standing, told they must wear a ski-type life vest, told not to stand on the bench seats and told where the time out area is (rarely used).  The briefing also covers the extensive history of the boat, what we will be doing during the trip, what we will pull up in the net, and why Sarasota County School Board funds this wonderful program. They are then allowed onto the CFL and asked to put on and zip up their life vests. 

Once we are underway, the students are given a laminated sheet of species which may be seen during the trip. We discuss them until we are ready to deploy the otter trawl - net.

The instructor tells the students how to set up their sorting boards, picks four students to carry four trays full of sea life from the stern of the boat to the sorting boards. The net is put out and pulled across the bay bottom for 3 or 4 minutes, then brought back on board.  The contents of the net are divided between four plastic trays and the students carry them back to their groups to examine.

The excitement is unbelievable as the kids break open healthy clumps of sponge to discover puffer fish, sponge crabs, minute juvenile shrimp, brittle stars, snails, worms, sea cucumbers, pinfish, flounder, file fish, snapper, sea urchins, squid and a myriad of other species living on the bay bottom.  As you can imagine, the squealing gets pretty intense. All fish, crabs urchins, etc. are put into 2 large centrally located aquariums to be discussed and handled later.

With the sponges dropped back into the bay to regenerate, sorting boards cleaned and stowed, the CFL is about to make her way into Hudson Bayou.  Before we go into the bayou, the instructor discusses the grasses of the bay as we float above them and their importance to the fish and all of Sarasota.   With Selby Gardens’ lush red mangroves on the north side of the bayou, the instructor gives a detailed lecture about the types, survival adaptations and importance of the mangrove tree to Florida.  The concept of an estuary is gone over at this point and how the roots of the mangroves protect juvenile aquatic species and benefit the shoreline.

Leaving Hudson Bayou, the captain pulls the boat onto a small spoil island.  This part of the trip is what the kids have been eagerly awaiting - discussing the contents of the two onboard aquariums.  The instructor fishes out the various species we caught in the otter trawl and discusses them with the students.  Some of the species are safe for the kids to handle.  Each species’ role in the bay, defensive adaptations, reproductive methods, life span, feeding habits and food value is discussed in detail.

With all the species covered we motor back to the same spot where we pulled the trawl and the students get to use small dip nets to catch the critters in the aquaria and return them gently to the bay.  We then head back to Marina Jack, while the instructor talks to each of the four groups, asking if they have any questions, soliciting feedback.


Interested in Taking your Students?

Email CarefreeLearner@gmail.com or call Megan Ehlers at (941) 955-0181.