Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
Joe Abbate with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours discusses the characteristics of the seaside elder plant on Masonboro Island with fifth graders from Wrightsville Beach School on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as part of the barrier island ecology pilot program sponsored by Masonboro.org.
Why are the seaside elder’s leaves waxy? How do bivalves feed? Why is it important to protect barrier islands?
Colorful and varied answers to these questions and more ensued from the group of 24 fifth graders from Wrightsville Beach School on a field trip to Masonboro Island Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Accompanied by their marine science teacher Cissie Brooks, Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours owner Joe Abbate, Sea Turtle Camp program coordinator Emily Rossi, and Masonboro.org and Masonboro Island Reserve Local Advisory Committee board member Haywood Newkirk, the students were part of a pilot program its organizers hope to spread to elementary schools around New Hanover County.
Spearheaded by Masonboro.org, Newkirk said the program could potentially let students who would have never set foot on Masonboro Island experience its beauty.
“This is our Yellowstone,” Newkirk said. “One of the best things we can do is teach our kids about it and this all started with Masonboro.org kicking around ideas about how to expand its educational outreach.”
WBS was chosen as the pilot school because of its proximity to the island and because many of its students would already be somewhat familiar with the island, Newkirk said.
Once ashore the students broke off into three groups to learn about the various ecosystems on Masonboro like the beach, the dunes and the salt marshes. While on a survey of the dunes with Abbate, fifth graders William Daley, Niccolo Caliea, Lane Spetrino, Abigail Richardson and Avery Galloway commented that being out at the beach and away from the classroom was a much better learning environment.
“The beach is awesome for everyone,” Galloway said.
Abbate, a biologist by trade whose boats were used to shuttle the teachers and students to the island, echoed the students’ observation.
“This is the best laboratory for teachers,” Abbate said. “It is something that should be available to everyone but then you also have to watch the impact you have on the environment.”
All 24 sandy-footed students back aboard The Shamrock, Newkirk and Brooks said they felt like the afternoon’s program could easily translate to every other elementary school.
“This falls in so beautifully with what we already do in class,” Brooks said. “A lot of kids in schools are learning about these ecosystems and never step out of the classroom.”