Volume 16, Issue 22 - May 29-June 4, 2008

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Raising Ecoheroes

Give a kid a day on the Bay, and the return is lifetime interest

above: Middle schoolers decked in water gear prepare a seine to net fish in the shallows. Below: Annapolis Elementary third-grader Avery Groft holds a pair of silversides but worries about another dropped into the sands. Right: Annapolis Elementary third-grader Omar Hernandez and schoolmates safely release baby horsehoes into the Bay.

story and photos by Sally Bolig

“It felt kind of cool, because you’re in the water, but it also felt sad because they’re still young and they really don’t know how to take care of themselves yet,” said Omar Hernandez. For six months, Omar’s Annapolis Elementary School third-grade class has been raising horseshoe crabs. Now, in the shallows of Sandy Point State Park, they were sending their babies back to their element.

Raising — and releasing — horseshoe crabs is one part of Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ No Child Left Inside program.

“We’re trying to get [kids] outside to appreciate the earth and everything that we’ve got here so that they will grow up to be great decision makers and protect the earth,” said Candace Morrell, the Department’s stewardship coordinator. As she spoke, elementary and middle schoolers from three schools realized her hopes. Falling under Nature’s spell, kids wallowed and waded in sand and water.

No Child Left Inside has been creating environmental heroes for a decade. Each year, about 50 teachers learn about the crabs and how to care for them, so that they can teach their students.

Long-enduring as these armored prehistoric arthropods are, our times are getting the better of them. Seawalls and hardened shores cut them off from the sands where they lay their eggs. They’re harvested for bait and medical research. Fewer crabs mean fewer shorebirds along the Atlantic seaboard. So while kids are learning, they’re also helping restore species.

“We’re hoping that the kids are going to learn that a species like the horseshow crab is so important to the Bay and that they’re going to have to take certain actions if they want the Bay to become cleaner,” said Natural Resources’ assistant secretary Frank Dawson.

On the sun-struck beach, other ecoheroes in training piled straws and weights and pipe cleaners atop a volunteer, building a shorebird to understand how its anatomy works. Still others dropped into the sand, grasping for as many kidney beans as their palms could hold. Kids who didn’t indulge in the necessary load of beans couldn’t reach the next step of the game, just as shorebirds that don’t find their fill of horseshoe crab eggs won’t make it to their breeding ground.

It might just take a good time under the sun, with toes in the tide, to create ecoheroes on a mission to save not only horseshoe crabs, but their full, lovely world.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.