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Sanctuary Explorers Camp: A New Generation Of Sanctuary Stewards
By Mara Flores Naumann, Camp Director
Sanctuary Explorers Camp is a compelling program that instills a sense of marine conservation and stewardship by exposing children from diverse backgrounds to the ocean. Campers begin the week being nervous and shy around the water, especially those who are completely out of their element- some have never been to the beach. One recreation center director remarked that our Crissy Field location worked “against” us because so many children do not want to leave the neighborhood which serves as their comfort zone, yet it is this small world that acts as a protective shell from which the children slowly begin to emerge during the course of the week.
The week starts off with a bang. After a flurry of activities including a visitor center tour, a running game illustrating the concept of sanctuaries, and topping it off with some t-shirt painting with fish molds, we hear: “I thought this camp would be boring, but I had so much fun!” and “Can we fishprint again tomorrow?”
In addition to the orientation on Crissy Field, campers visit tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and Pebble Beach and marvel at the numerous hermit crabs, striped shore crabs, and turban snails we find. There are squeals of delight if we are so lucky to find a spiky purple urchin, its spines a deceptively soft velvet color, or a giant green anemone, slowly drawing in its tentacles in response to a curious finger. There are children so intrigued by these intertidal treasures that they bravely reach out to a claw-bearing crab or carefully cradle a predatory unicorn snail to learn more. Extreme shyness morphs into boundless curiosity, a thirst for more knowledge of these wondrous creatures. One girl separates herself from the group, finds a quiet space, purposefully opens her tidepool identification guide, and lowers herself slowly to the ground, transfixed on what she has identified as a mossy chiton.
Tide pooling can only be rivaled by sand crab monitoring. When campers draw a sample of sand and wash it clean through the sieve to find their first pregnant female, they are mesmerized, and any pretense of teenage coolness is lost. Screams of delight emerge from each group of sandcrabbers, with chaos erupting when a camper slowly lifts up the telson to reveal thousands of orange eggs. Campers from other groups take a look and scamper off to their own group, eager to catch a pregnant female of their own. At the end of the monitoring activity, they feel proud of their scientific research into the population of this extremely important species.
Campers visited Pier 39 in search of sea lions after a talk by the Marine Mammal Center. They marvel at the sheer bulk of the California Sea lions, and repeatedly “bark” back to the sea lions below. Because of a partnership with the Aquarium of the Bay, campers are able to visit the massive tanks at the Aquarium, full of local animals, and begin to grasp the sheer staggering diversity of animals that live in the area. By the time we leave the Aquarium, they are identifying the gliding bar ray, the sulking garibaldi, the sleek leopard shark, and the hundreds of strawberry sea anemones, even so far as pointing to the sharks as they glide quietly by and loudly proclaim the shark’s gender.
With unique partnerships with: San Francisco Recreation and Parks; the Marine Mammal Center; The San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Families and others, Sanctuary Explorers Camp is offered to local recreation centers without cost, exposing inner city youth of San Francisco to the breathtaking beauty of the ocean. They graduate on the last day of camp after kayaking in the bay, and campers end their ocean week by carefully and thoughtfully thinking of an ocean wish. After sharing a personal wish for the future of the ocean, campers think of a personal way they could help make their wishes come true. By the end of the week, our new Sanctuary Stewards are carefully checking the lunch area for escaped trash and running quickly after plastic bags to make sure they don’t end up in a turtle’s mouth, or deciding that their future career will include guarding the coast. These are children who are now committed to protecting their environment, who now have a stake in how it is treated, honor all of us by proclaiming their promises to take good care of this precious entity we call the ocean.
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