Imagine growing up a few blocks from the the ocean or bay and reaching middle school without ever having been fishing or shell collecting. Imagine not knowing what a jellyfish is—or a horseshoe crab. Or that the tide comes in and out. Or, if you do know about it, never having seen it first hand. This is the reality for many kids that live in New Jersey’s urban coastal communities. Even more disturbing is that they don’t even know that these coastal treasures not only belong to them, but also offer a wide range of career choices.
To remedy this situation, we launched SeaQuest, our after-school, marine science enrichment program for middle school kids. SeaQuest immerses kids about a range of marine and environmental science concepts and career choices. The field-based learning forges a relationship between kids and the coast. It impresses upon them that they live in a special place, and teaches them that the Shore is part of their personal heritage and responsibility.
SeaQuest comprises 12 weekly sessions. The groups are limited to 15 to 20 students selected by their school to allow adequate time for hands-on learning and attention to each student. Topics include beach profiling, water testing, marine fish and invertebrate anatomy and biology, marine debris removal, habitat conservation, current coastal issues, and visits with professionals in various marine and environmental science disciplines. Recently these have included visits to the Coast Guard station on Sandy Hook, local water purification plants, a clam depuration plant, a charter fishing boat, and the Sandy Hook Marine Lab to meet the researchers and learn about their projects. The kids also learn how to fish and tag fish, and cook a seafood meal together, sometimes for the very first time. Each child who completes the course receives a certificate of completion from the American Littoral Society.
We began SeaQuest in a single school in Wildwood, New Jersey in 2005. With the help of generous funders who care about kids and the environment, we now offer the program in six coastal towns including Camden, Keansburg, Asbury Park, Long Branch, Red Bank and Hoboken.
Perhaps the most telling feedback we have received to date, was from a young boy from Camden who stood on our porch overlooking Sandy Hook Bay, flung out his arms and proclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!”