As the morning sun glistened off the crystal clear azure water at Lameshur Bay a group of teens were anxious to jump in and get busy as research assistants.
The morning snorkel and fish collection was just one of many exciting and educational activities 16 teenagers from St. Thomas and St. John took part in last week during the first science camp hosted at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station.
While VIERS, located at the island’s remote south shore near Lameshur Bay, has hosted summer weekend eco-camps for local youngsters for the past nine years, last week was the first time the camp was opened to students between the ages of 13 and 16 for a four-night, five-day adventure.
“We weren’t really sure what kind of response we were going to get,” said Hilary Maynard, VIERS environmental educator, who has worked at the eco-camps for three years and run the show for the past two. “Originally we intended to have 12 kids for the science camp, but we got probably 50 inquiries. So we ended up taking 16.”
For many teens, the August 3 through 7 science camp wasn’t their first time camping at VIERS.
“This is my third year at VIERS,” said Zola Roper, a 14-year-old St. Thomas resident. “I come back each summer because it’s fun. I like swimming and studying things under the microscope.”
C.J. Scatliffe, a 14-year-old St. John teen, has been at VIERS more times than he can remember.
“I’ve been a lot of times,” said Scatliffe. “It’s something to do.”
Other campers were enjoying the great outdoors at VIERS for the first time.
“I heard it was a lot of fun out here so I wanted to come and check it out,” said Kwasi Browne, a 13-year-old St. John student.
Both veteran and first time campers agreed on the best part of science camp — swimming. Hiking, scavenger hunting and tie-dyeing also topped the list of favorite activities at VIERS last week.
VIERS science camp, however, isn’t all scavenger hunts and games. Campers also took part in some serious scientific studies.
On Wednesday morning, August 5, the teens were busy snorkeling around Lameshur Bay and collecting fish for Donna Nemeth with the University of the Virgin Islands, who is researching parasitic fish.
“The kids are helping to collect fish with plastic baggies and nets and then they’re going to study and dissect the sick fish and help count parasites,” said Maynard. “They’re doing some really incredible stuff. They’re excited to not be in school, but still learning some amazing things.”
The older students offered a unique opportunity to bring together the many researchers who use VIERS and its wet lab as a base and local students, explained Maynard.
“We have the researchers here and the kids here, and rarely is there much interaction between the two groups,” she said. “With the younger kids, you can only rely on them for so much. But with the older kids you can rely on them to count parasites correctly, for example.”
In addition to helping Nemeth, VIERS science campers also assisted Dr. Sara Gray’s sedimentation studies, aided Mike Fox in collecting mangrove mud and filtering the sediment samples and heard about Peter Edmund’s 22 year long coral degradation studies in the bay, Maynard added.
The science camp was the last weekend of summer camps at VIERS, where staffers also hosted 84 youngsters between the ages of seven and 12 during four two-night eco-camps through June and July.
“We taught six kids how to swim this summer,” said Maynard. “The kids were really excited about camps and had a great time.”
Making their summer experiences even better, all of the campers enjoyed VIERS free of charge, thanks to support by Disney, Graystone, Innovative, International
Capital and Management Co., and Vento Trust, through Friends of V.I. National Parks, Friends officials are dedicated to giving local students marine science opportunities, explained the group’s development director Noreen Cavanaugh.
“Our mission is to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources of the VINP and to promote the responsible enjoyment of it,” said Cavanaugh. “In this educational and fun way, through the partnership with VIERS, we are able to help to inform our future generation about this unique natural treasure.”