Summer is usually a time for children to kick back and relax with friends. But for campers at Sanibel Sea School, their very last week of summer vacation involved researching habits of spawning tarpon, just off the shores of Sanibel Island.
With the help of Bruce Neill, executive director of Sanibel Sea School, young ocean scientists each painted and labeled 30 coconuts to be launched into the Gulf of Mexico. They hoped to understand where spawning tarpon eggs would float in ocean currents. Most campers thought their numbered coconuts would land just a short distance away, like possibly Captiva. Others hypothesized more remote locations of possible landings.
Just two days later, though, with Hurricane Irene stirring on Florida’s East Coast, the phone calls about coconut landings on local Naples beaches began to flood in. First-ever pink coconut appearances came from unknown callers in Naples.
“Our first call came in from Naples, from people who might’ve been drinking that evening,” said Neill, regarding their first semi-coherent evening message on Sanibel Sea School’s answering machine.
Meeting more coconuts on beaches in Naples became commonplace, as frequent beach walkers were soon discovering colorfully tagged oddities. According to Jenna Sullivan, ocean advocate and marine educator of Sanibel Sea School, 25 of their 30 coconuts washed up along Naples shores from Keewadin Island to the shores of 32nd Street South, to Doctors Pass.
During their weekly walk together on the beach, Jim and Nancy Yoder, of Berkshire Lakes, never expected to see a hot pink coconut sitting in their path. They cherish the beach, walking at least two miles every Saturday. But when they returned back on the beach to their car, they spotted the second nut to land in Naples.
“I have it on display in my den room, and I myself was a biology teacher for many years, so it sparked my interest. My grandchildren were excited, too. They wanted to know what the study was all about,” said Jim Yoder.
Coconuts numbered 18 and 30 soon floated to Naples shores as Collier County School Board Chairwoman Julie Sprague was taking a scenic walk along Horizon Beach near Venetian Bay.
“At first, I had no idea what it was, and I thought it was something the hurricane brought in. So I picked it up, thinking it was trash,” Sprague said. “Then I found a second coconut a few feet away. After I called, I learned so much about Sanibel Sea School. I care about all the education that goes along with it, and I learned a lot about what the kids were trying to study in the currents.”
Sprague shared her newly found pink coconuts with a charity she champions for — the Susan G. Komen Foundation. “The pink colors fit well, and they are now a conversation piece in my office, as I work in improving community health,” Sprague explained.
Nancy Berggren of Naples was truly tickled to discover a coconut during her daily run along the beaches by of Gordon Drive. She quickly donned the Sanibel Sea School T-shirt presented by Sullivan, and posed for a photo with her nut.
Still another coconut was caught, but quickly released by Captain Ray Markham, of Backwater Promotions, off Keewaydin Island. “We were taking a tour from the visitor’s bureau, and I found it about three quarters of a mile north from Marker 44 (on the navigational chart),” explained Markham. “Currents can be pretty strong, so I released the coconut again, to see where it would land again, because of the hurricane.”
“The catch and release coconut changed our study a bit, but now it is back out in the world to be found again,” quipped Jenna Sullivan, who plans on collaborating with Neill, to launch another coconut current research project during the holiday season in December.
“The week before Christmas, we’re going to launch 30 coconuts, and 30 small pieces of wood, to see how they float differently. We’ll include greetings from children. It will be a coconut telegraph, with greetings of peace and happiness on each one,” Sullivan said.
To learn more about Sanibel Sea School go to www.sanibelseaschool.org