Posted by Michelle Atkinson, Environmental Horticulture Agent

Can you tell me how old a fish is just by looking at a slice of bone? That’s one question youth will learn how to answer in the Manatee Marine Explorers Day Camp created by two University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agents.


“There is so much more to the ocean than what you can see on the surface,” says Angela Collins, a UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County agent and co-organizer of the camp.
She and fellow Manatee County UF/IFAS Extension agent Michelle Atkinson will introduce attendees to the diversity of marine life that may be less familiar than dolphins or sea turtles. During a fish dissection, Collins will show what makes fish unique—such as gills—and what makes them not so different from us. “We’ll show the kids where the heart is, the stomach, intestines—things they can relate to,” Collins said.
These young scientists will also discover the otolith, a tiny bone in the fish’s head that can tell a scientist how old the fish is—just as a tree gets more tree rings as it ages, the otolith likewise develops rings as a fish grows older. Attendees will practice looking at a thin slice of the otolith under a microscope to find out a fish’s age.

Environment stewardship is also high on the agenda. Atkinson’s Extension work often focuses on water quality, so she wants participants to understand that what goes into the ocean affects the animals that live there. For example, broken fishing lines that end up in the ocean can become an entanglement hazard for birds and other wildlife.

turtle-plastic-bag-under-water-deep-sea-blue-ocean-garbage-trash-ecology-swim-fish-pollution-caught-shell-legs-toes-feet-head-photoPhoto Credit:

In response, participants are creating containers that local fishermen can use to collect broken lines and dispose of them properly when they return to shore. Stickers explaining how to use the container will add a creative touch.

Both Collins and Atkinson ultimately want to encourage curiosity and show how fun science can be. However, teaching environmental stewardship and appreciation also has a serious impact. “Tourism is the number one industry in the state of Florida,” Collins said, “and tourism is dependent on healthy marine ecosystems.”

Next year they hope to include more days of activities as well as a field trip.
Registration is capped at 50 participants and will close June 3. Activities will be held at the UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County office on June 10. The camp is free. For registration and more information, go to


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