PUNTA GORDA — A group of about 20 people put on their rubber shoes and waded into Charlotte Harbor collecting specimens at Ponce de Leon Park Thursday morning. They pulled nets through manatee grass, collecting a variety of sea specimens, including blue crabs, pipefish, ghost shrimp and tiny flounder.
The event marked the kick-off of a Watershed Education Program, a series of more than 40 educational-outreach activities organized by the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, and sponsored by a grant from the Mosaic Company Foundation.
“We have the largest unspoiled estuary on the Gulf,” said Steve Osborne, a CHEC board member. “With over 1,000 acres of mangroves, it is one of the most productive estuaries in the state. It nurtures all kinds of specimens, including those species that sustain our population of game fish — for which the area is known.”
The series is open to the public, and provides residents and visitors of the Peace River watershed with knowledge that CHEC volunteers hope will encourage the adoption of behaviors to protect water resources. The wading expedition is just one of the different activities, which also will include Water Ecology School, Mom & Tot Nature Adventures, Up & Down River Educational Bus Trips, speaker programs and boat journeys.
“We really want to emphasize education,” said Stacy Calvino, CHEC board member. “For a lot of kids, this is their first time outdoors or their first hiking trip, or often their first boat ride.”
For many of the people participating in the wading tour, it was the first time they really had a chance to explore Ponce de Leon Park.
“I’m looking forward to bringing my granddaughter down here and exposing her to the sea and plant life,” said Allyce Wohlleber of Port Charlotte. “I’ve been here to watch the sunset before, but I never realized the park had such a nice beach and coastline.”
The programs will continue throughout the fall, and will be posted for registration on the CHEC website calendar at www.checflorida.org.
“This was a great day for wading,” Osborne said. “This is what it’s all about.”
Monica Dorken, an educator/program coordinator at CHEC, said taking the organisms out of the water for a short period of time has very little negative impact on the animals or the environment.
“These animals are very hearty,” Dorken said.“The estuary is very dynamic. It changes with the climate, with the water flow and with the tides.”
After learning about the various specimens the group collected, and viewing them under a microscope, they were released back into the water.
“We have a saying,” Dorken said. “‘Goodbye, swim free and have a nice life.’ Then they are gone.”