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Fish And Friends Make 4-H Marine Camp Popular With Youth

Ami Neiberger

Jerry Culen, (352) 846-0996 ext. 250

NICEVILLE—Flippers and fun are all it takes to get kids interested in marine life and teach them, say organizers of the popular state 4-H marine camp, held last week at the 4-H Timpoochee Environmental Education Center.

With more than 100 kids at the University of Florida facility, the camp buzzed with activity. One group seined with nets the Choctawhatchee Bay’s shallow intracoastal waters, searching for marine life and specimens for the camp’s marine education center.

Campers clustered around a bucket, arguing over a mysterious fish found by the dock. It’s a mudfish, said some. Nope, it’s a dogfish, declared others.

Well, it really is a mudfish, said camp staffer Emily Arnold of Bonifay, settling the dispute. The campers returned to their nets and didn’t have long to wait for more excitement.

A turtle bent on fleeing the merry mayhem sped past the gaggle of goggles and flippers, nearly capsizing an errant photographer. “Wow, did you see how fast he went?” shouted a camper, as others roared with glee.

Meanwhile, in the swimming area kids are racing in a team competition to build sturdy rafts out of cardboard, duct tape and discarded plastic bottles. Another group canoes down the shoreline looking at water birds.

It was a pretty normal morning at state 4-H marine camp last week, with youth also enjoying snorkeling, deep sea fishing and swimming.

The marine camp is so popular that dozens of youth were turned away this year, even though an extra week was added to the camp’s schedule to accommodate twice as many kids. Another week of marine camp is slated for July 24-28, and it filled up weeks ago.

Organizers say the popularity is partially because of the price, a bargain at $175 for a week. But kids say the camp is fun. “I like the marine lab, it is totally cool,” said Dallas Henderson, 10, of Umatilla, who caught three baby fish and helped others catch a “huge” crab.

Although still smarting from her team’s defeat by seven seconds in the raft building competition, Henderson enjoyed making new friends like Danielle Borth, 11, of Micanopy, and learning the Timpoochee shuffle on the dance floor. The girls became friends on the bus on the way to camp and have been inseparable ever since.

Social experiences are important for kids, say organizers. “Sometimes as educators we want so much for kids to learn that we forget how important it is for them to have fun and make friends,” said Jerry Culen, associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and organizer of the camp.

“Young people need to understand the importance of marine habitats, but they need to have social activities too. Learning how to get along with people is part of growing up,” said Culen. “If they care about the environment but can’t communicate with people, they will have a hard time making a difference later in life.”

Of course, even for the most gung-ho marine student, there is still time for the usual summer camp hijinks. “I brought shaving cream and toothpaste for the last day,” said Jonathan Lee, 12, of Niceville with a mischievous look in his eye.

The combination of fun and education works. “I wanted to see what life in the water is like,” said Andrea Banner, 11, of Pensacola, while waiting for an afternoon snorkeling trip. “I came because I love animals.”

It’s worth it, say staff. “Kids should learn about marine life,” said staffer Emily Arnold, who spent her morning identifying fish and running a beach clean-up contest for campers. Entries included pottery shards, bottles and trash. “Teaching a younger generation will help ensure a clean water environment in the future,” said Arnold.


Sink or Swim: Raft Building Rates High with 4-H Campers. Phoebe Henderson, 9, of Umatilla, competes in the 4-H raft-building contest during marine camp at the 4-H Timpoochee Educational Center near Niceville. Organizers from the University of Florida say that it’s important to combine education and fun together for kids to have successful camp experiences. (UF/IFAS photo by Ami Neiberger)-30-