Community trips are an important part of the Carefree Learner program. Over the years we have had generous support from our longtime adult “partners”, i.e. The Sarasota Audubon Society, Englewood Shell Club, Sarasota Shell Club, Littoral Society, Selby Gardens and some condominium groups. With the exception of the shell clubs and Audubon trips, the majority of these adult trips are very much like the middle school trips in that we pull the otter trawl. Like the middle school students, our guests break up the sponges we pull up to see the wide variety of sea life they contain. The netted fish, urchins, seahorses, crabs, sea stars and mollusks are put into the aquaria to be discussed a bit later in the trip.
Since the adult trips are longer, we have time to take in the unique bird rookery in Robert’s Bay. Safe from predators, blue herons, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, ibis, egrets and night herons make the rookery their home, creating nests and caring for their fledglings. It is a raucous site in the spring when mating is peaking.
Because the CFL draws so little water (14 inches), we are also able to poke into a relatively pristine stand of mangroves. Coconut Bayou, on the back side of Siesta Key is a perfect spot to discuss our mangroves: red, black and white. Coconut Bayou is also a microcosm of how Sarasota has changed from its humble beginnings as a fishing community to one sporting multimillion dollar bay front mansions. The negative environmental impact of such structures is discussed.
After leaving Coconut Bayou, we pull the CFL onto a near-by spoil island to discuss the sea life we captured earlier in the trip. The educator on board takes each specimen out of the tank to discuss its defense, feeding and reproductive strategies, lifespan, food value and its place in Sarasota Bay. Many photographs of the critters are shot. Some specimens are safe to pass around without harming the creature: urchins, small crabs, sea stars and puffer fish, for example. While on the island, we also discuss the origin of the unnatural spoil island and the problem posed by invasive foreign flora.
From the spoil island, we head back north to Marina Jack. The instructor points out the island community of Bird Key to the west and relates how at one time the bay bottom there was a vast and productive grass flat. He or she than makes him/herself available to our guests to answer individual questions about the bay, the CFL program and/or the colorful history of Sarasota.