Port Royal Sound Maritime Center Day Campers Get a Taste of the Outdoors
On a recent sunny Monday morning at the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center in Okatie, parents dropped a group of kids off for the first day of a week-long day camp focused on teaching the type of outdoor skills that Beaufort County residents have relied upon to harvest the bounty of the sound for generations. Throughout the week, campers received a generous helping of science and natural resources education from camp leader Chris Kehrer and the other counselors and volunteers.
At orientation on the first day, while nametags were still being handed out and counselors talked about the activities planned for the coming weeks, the kids were asked, “what are you most excited about doing this week?”
The answers came in fast and excited bursts:
“Going out on a boat that we built!”
“I like crabbing!”
“We are going to do all those things and a lot more,” said Kehrer. “I am most excited about having fun with you guys this whole week.”
After some instruction in tying basic fishing knots from a few volunteers with a wealth of fishing knowledge between them, the campers headed out to the Maritime Center’s dock and pier, where fishing rods and baited crab traps waited for them. The tide had just flipped – dead low changing over to incoming with water moving past the Center’s dock at a brisk pace, and the kids were first reminded that they must wear life jackets while on the portion of the dock next to the water.
It wasn’t long at all before the group up top learning to bait & deploy different types of crab traps were hauling in some keepers. Patiently, volunteers showed them how to use a pair of tongs to remove the crabs from the trap without letting them get away (or pinch a finger). The tongs also proved to be a useful implement for holding the crabs still to measure them against the blue DNR adhesive crab ruler on a nearby cooler. In addition to the proper way to measure the length of a “keeper,” these budding crabbers were also instructed in how to identify male and female crabs and how to return the undersized ones to the water. In no time at all, they were going at these tasks like seasoned veterans.
Down on the floating dock, a camper landed a nice-sized red drum, and using a DNA collection kit provided by the DNR’s Waddell Mariculture Center, Keherer demonstrated to the group how to measure the fish and then take a small fin clipping before returning it to the water. Red drum larvae produced from wild fish captured by DNR biologists are stocked into outdoor nursery ponds at the nearby Waddell Center in Bluffton, where they’re raised to a size of 1-2 inches before being harvested and stocked in South Carolina’s coastal estuaries, including Port Royal Sound. The genetic information contained in the clip of fin from a caught-and-released red drum gives DNR scientists very valuable information about how the stocking program is working, and about the overall health of the fishery. Since 2003, DNR biologists have worked with charter boat captains and other recreational anglers to collect fin clips from red drum caught in Port Royal Sound and elsewhere. These young campers are learning firsthand and early on about the importance of anglers working together with the DNR to help conserve and protect the health of fish populations like the red drum, as well as the important role that the estuaries and marshes surrounding Port Royal Sound play in nurturing red drum and many other species.
In addition to learning fishing skills and marine science, during their week at camp, the young participants in this program were guided through the construction wooden “Bevin’s” skiffs, a design with a deep history in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, by volunteers with the Lowcountry Maritime Society. Campers learned to follow design plans, use hand tools and apply their new skills to building a boat. When not working on the boats, campers participated in junior naturalist activities that highlight different themes and experiences, including ecology, arts, history, natural resources conservation and boater safety, and at weeks end with parents and siblings there to cheer them on, they launched their boats from the Maritime Center dock.
The Port Royal Sound Foundation and the Maritime Center are dedicated to preserving both the ecology and valuable natural resources of the sound and its surrounding watershed for future generations. The future of natural resources protection lies in the hands of those who embrace the outdoors, and by sparking the imaginations of these young campers, they’ve gotten a healthy head start on that goal.