Thirty adults and children waded waist-deep into the waters of Crandon Park last weekend, dragging nets through soggy beds of seagrass and scooping up crabs, shrimp, bubble algae and juvenile fish.
Naturalist guides from the Biscayne Nature Center in Key Biscayne helped the children — and parents — collect a variety of sea life and place them in plastic containers filled with water. The children, ranging in age from 3 to 12 years, then sat on the sand to learn about the sea animals they brought to the surface.
The Biscayne Nature Center hosts its public Seagrass Adventure for groups of up to 100 people once a month. Every day, the center hosts field trips from local schools.
“It’s our most popular program,” said Sandra St. Hilaire, program coordinator for the Biscayne Nature Center. “People love going into the seagrass and catching animals they’ve never seen before, and they get to see them up close and touch them.”
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The children scooped up a multitude of crabs, shrimp and small fish, but what they wanted most to find, a seahorse, eluded them.
“Seeing a seahorse is magical,” said Theodora Long, executive director of the Biscayne Nature Center. “So is seeing a conch and sea star.”
They did, however, scoop up a pipefish, which is in the same family as the seahorse. Male pipefish, like seahorses, take on reproductive responsibilities by carrying the female’s eggs after mating. The female pipefish deposits the eggs into a pouch on the front side of the male pipefish's body.
The kids caught several toadfish, which look exactly as their name suggests.
“It looks like a grumpy old man,” said St. Hilaire to the group of giggling kids.
The children also caught a sea hare, a bulky, gooey creature that inks purple when in distress.
“It’s inking!” the kids yelled, as they passed the soft-bodied creature around the circle. Only a few wanted to touch it.
Jack Temko, 8, was one of the few. He rinsed his hands of the purple ink in the ocean after passing the sea hare on to another kid.
The seagrass adventure was designed to teach children about the ocean and the creatures that call it home. It worked; the kids were fascinated with the sealife.
Yosjany Mora, 38, took her two daughters, Gianna, 4, and Alessandra, 3, to the seagrass adventure.
“They love nature,” she said. “Here, they got to be hands-on seeing the animals. They loved it.”
Natalia Sanchez Del Valle, 12, has been participating in nature center events since she was 4. “I come all the time, and every time I learn something new,” she said.
Seeing kids enjoy learning is one of the best parts of the job for Brett Brumund, a naturalist guide at the nature center. Brumund, 21, studies marine affairs at the University of Miami and has worked at the nature center since March.
He also enjoys the wonder on kids’ faces when they move from the nature center’s seagrass adventures to their snorkeling. “They love the transition from small fish in the seagrass to big fish in the coral reef.”
St. Hilaire loves being part of a child’s first ocean experience. She said about 30 percent of the Biscayne Nature Center’s events are free of charge so families can learn about nature.
“Some kids have never seen the ocean,” she said. “When they come across the causeway and on to the beach, their eyes light up.”