By Claudia Gunther, Education Dept.

It’s mid day and I got “The Question of the Day” from Lauren: ‘Would you like to go on the boat?’ ‘Sure’, I say as we wend our way downstairs from Dolphin Terrace and out to the dock where the Sea Life Safari is waiting for me. The crew is told that I’ll be joining them as the substitute crew member and with that I join Captain Richard, our own Captain Cathy and John, my fellow Education volunteer. ‘Oh, by the way’ Cathy says, ‘you have to work’ which gets a laugh from our passengers as we move out from the dock. Cathy takes the mic and tells the passengers about CMA and some of the things we’re going to see, then turns the narration over to Captain Richard who explains about the Intracoastal waterway, the Memorial Causeway and how the spoil islands were created.
We reach the designated area for deploying our net and Cathy explains that CMA has a permit to pull a net and that we report what we find to the State. John tells me that it’s time to get to work. First things first: I must put on a life vest because first and foremost is my/our safety. John explains where I need to stand (don’t get my feet in the curl of the rope as it’s going overboard lest I want to go with it) and how to deploy the net. Cathy adds that the rope will go fairly fast and not to get rope burn by holding on too tightly. Both are good tips. Next is the bucket brigade. John and I put 5 gallon buckets over the bow, fill them with water to fill the cooler that will house the critters we hope are in the net. Well, the buckets are easier said than done. There I am, on the bow of a moving boat, tossing this bucket, that’s attached to a fairly short rope, overboard. Well a couple times I needed John’s help because just like a kid with her hand in a cookie jar not wanting to let go of the cookies, I got too much water in the bucket and couldn’t lift it on board. Once we got the cooler filled it was time to pull in our net.
What a haul, a sea horse, lots of pinfish, cow fish, a stinging nettle who rightfully deserves its name, white grunts, sea bass, a smooth puffer fish, ghost shrimp, mangrove snapper which, per Cathy change their name to ‘lunch or dinner’ when they mature, filefish, several mojarra, and a burrfish that John said had nasty teeth and would bite . While our passengers were collecting shells and two hermit crabs on the spoil island we counted each fish, added their numbers on a record sheet and put them into containers for show and tell. Boy do Cathy and John know their fish. After we shoved off from the island John and I got to show our catch to the passengers. We would call out what was in the container and Cathy would talk about the fish while we took them around for the folks to look at and photograph. As we approached the Sand Key bridge one of the passengers spotted a dolphin making its way back into the Gulf. The final highlight of the trip, as we’re turning into the canal west of CMA, a pod of dolphins chasing their lunch.
Back at the dock the passengers went ashore and we all agreed it was a great trip. I know I had a great time and have a new appreciation for the “boat people” and what they do to make the guests’ trip enjoyable. It’s a lot different when you’re part of the crew instead of being a passenger. I particularly want to thank Lauren for asking me The Question of the Day, and Captain Cathy and John for their patience. And one last word for those of you who’ve never gone on the Sea Life Safari: Go.

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