GEORGETOWN — Some Carolina Forest High School students were able to get up close and personal with marine life Friday as passengers on the E/V Discovery, courtesy of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
The pontoon boat was docked at Hobcaw Barony all week as part of an “Earth Week Extravaganza.” Marine educators took students from area schools through Winyah Bay to learn about their area’s estuary and the wildlife that depend on it. Back on land, they tested pond water and learned more about pollution and the landscape.
“We’ve been doing this since 2007, and we try to come to Georgetown twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring,” said Julie Binz, education coordinator for the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) that works with the DNR. “Some of the students have never been on a boat before, so it’s really nice that they can get that experience.”
The Discovery boat is based in Charleston and makes stops up and down the coast. Binz said NERR pays for the program, while the schools just pay to get there. She said they are booked every day during the school year and also hold summer camps.
Myrtle Beach High School also participated last week, as did Georgetown County’s McDonald Elementary School and Waccamaw High School. Carolina Forest teacher Annie Johnson had to split her three marine biology classes over two days. Friday’s party of 39 were able to tour together on the boat, which is limited to 44 passengers.
With lifejackets on, students sat around the sides and on the bow as Binz described the bay. She said its water comes from the Atlantic Ocean and the Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Sampit and Black rivers and, unlike Charleston harbor and the ACE Basin, has more fresh water than salt water.
“Your estuary is unique, even in the state of South Carolina,” Binz said.
Binz talked about bald eagles as one flew in to perch at the very top of a dead tree and discussed how important a part the estuary plays in the lives of many different creatures. She also talked about the role of the DNR, which focuses on law enforcement, research and education and outreach.
As Capt. Tom Salisbury maneuvered the boat, Jessica Tipton used an otter trawl net to bring up marine life, from white shrimp and spot fish, to barnacled oysters. Tipton, a DNR public information specialist, put the living into a tank, pulling each specimen out one at a time to describe it and pass it around for inspection.
A white shrimp made its way around to senior Kenisha Holoman, who held it gingerly to take a closer look at its eyes that are on stalks – which allow it to see both up and around – as well as both its walking legs and swimming legs. She wasn’t sure it was alive until it suddenly jerked, then she quickly handed it off to the next student.
“They usually twitch on the people who like it least,” Binz said.
Holoman didn’t let it get the best of her, though, and took another turn with the shrimp. She said she wasn’t much with live fish, “but I can cook fish,” she added, saying she was going to study culinary arts.
Other students made sure to bring each specimen over to Holoman and her friend, senior Shayla Days, who said she had been on cruises but was nervous about being in a small boat and so close to the water. As she began to relax a little, she said she didn’t know why she had signed up for marine biology.
“I thought it might be boring, but it’s not,” Days said. “I like when we study the sharks.”
Tipton said Friday’s catch was mild compared with what was caught the day before. She said she pulled up a small fish, opened its mouth, and a huge parasite, almost as big as the fish, popped out like an alien.
That got a reaction from the students, who were willing and able to give correct answers as they were quizzed by the staff. Johnson said taking the tour after studying the ecosystem in class made it more interesting for them.
“I wish I could do this every day,” Johnson said. “Teaching them from a book just isn’t the same. I love it when they can see it.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.