Of Sea Squirts and Shore Trekees: Port Royal Marine Maniacs Are in Their Sixth Year

Last year I visited the Port Royal Marine Laboratory (PRML) and met some of the budding marine scientists, who were enjoying the Marine Maniacs summer camp. This summer I, unfortunately, didn’t make it to that special place where Kingston Harbour meets the Caribbean Sea. However, they shared their account of this year’s activities, as well as some great photos. This is what environmental education is all about: hands-on learning. It is clearly a tremendous success, and the photos illustrate the enjoyment and eagerness to learn among the children (aged six to fourteen years old).

Campers relaxing on the dock before conducting the seagrass assessment. (Photo: PRML)

P.S. I understand that a Swedish-built floating cruise ship pier will be installed in Port Royal in the next three or four months, ready for the winter tourist season. I don’t believe that the work has started yet. I hope the environmental impact has been assessed. I also wonder whether the historic but largely neglected small town is ready for thousands of tourists. It will have to spruce itself up (especially in the solid waste department).

Here is the Lab’s summing up of this year’s summer “Mania” – and by the way, it was plastic and styrofoam-free!

The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Port Royal Marine Laboratory recently concluded its sixth year of the Marine Mania Camp Programme. Our Seasquirts Programme (6-9 yr. olds) was held from July 9 -13, while our Shore Trekees (10-14 yr. olds) were hosted from July 16-20.  Due to the overwhelming demand last year, we knew that we had to increase our usual camp maximum from twenty campers to thirty campers weekly. Registration opened mid-May and both camps were fully registered in short order. We had several returning campers (17 out of 60 were returning Squirts and Trekees); some were completing their final year as a Squirt this year or had “graduated” and were now joining our Trekee Programme. Campers were shuttled daily between the UWI Campus and Port Royal.

2018 Seasquirts pose for a picture at the Closing Ceremony. In the background is the PRML’s Biodiversity Centre, funded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica. (Photo: PRML)

Our Seasquirts enjoyed an awesome introduction to the marine environment through a myriad of activities. We started the week learning about the importance of mangroves and enjoyed a boat trip to the mangroves in Port Royal, viewing crabs, brittle stars, oysters and lots of seabirds. We introduced the campers to beach safety, teaching them about what to pack when visiting the beach, things to look out for and enjoying the beach in a safe way. By mid-week, we had completed a marine litter assessment at the Port Royal Beach, identifying the common types of litter found on beaches and potential impacts before undertaking a power clean-up. We wrapped up the week with a trip to the UWI’s Lyssons Beach, playing sports, games and enjoying the water.

For the Shore Trekees, every morning was spent outdoors. What better way to introduce them to the marine environment than to have them mucking through the mangroves on the first day. The campers were very hands-on with seagrass searches, identifying many juvenile organisms living in the beds by the PRML’s docks. By the end of our second day, we had completed zooplankton tows in the Kingston Harbour; basic microscopy to view and identify various species of plankton; Beach Botany (coastal plants and their adaptations); as well as a trip to Recycling Partners of Jamaica in St. Catherine to learn about their operations and implications of plastics and pollution.

Seasquirts conducting a beach cleanup and assessment of the Port Royal Beach. (Photo: PRML)

Boat Safety was also a component of this camp and the campers were introduced to the various parts of the boat; what to do when traveling by water; and skills such as compass navigation (which included the Camp Houses doing a timed scavenger hunt on the property), knot tying and using safety equipment. We were able to get all the Trekees snorkeling at Lime Cay, a favourite for many of the campers as they were able to view the animals in the natural habitat and handle some of the safer organisms. Many of our campers were able to identify many of the species, as they entered camp with a special interest in the natural environment. Having seen the underwater world of Lime Cay, they returned to view the Netflix documentary “Chasing Coral” and learn about the impact of climate change on the world’s reefs. This turned out to be an eye-opener and an emotional event for some.

Both Camps concluded with Closing Ceremonies, allowing family members and friends to visit the PRML, learn what the campers did during their week with us and learn themselves what can be done moving forward. During our Trekees’ Ceremony, we were able to surprise two of our outstanding Trekees with PADI Discover Scuba Diving Certificates through the PRML’s PADI Instructor, Mr. Hugh Small.

Shore Trekees brave the Port Royal mangroves on the first day of camp. (Photo: PRML)

This year, the PRML was able to host a “zero single-use plastics and Styrofoam” event. This was accomplished through our awesome sponsors for the fifth straight year, Jamaica Money Market Brokers/Joan Duncan Foundation, who continue to sponsor the Camp’s reusable water bottles. Biodegradable products for our Closing Ceremonies (for example, cold cups and soup cups) were obtained from locally-based IngenBio. Plans for next year have already started – most importantly, sourcing sponsorship for persons who would not normally be able to access our programme (for example, kids from Port Royal).

Thanks to Outreach Officer Chauntelle Green for this update!

You may contact PRML at: Department of Life Sciences, University of the West Indies,
Mona Campus  Office Tel: 967-8344 / 967-8302  Mobile: 391-0254

A young scientist gets down to business, using the microscope to identify and view the various species of zooplankton. (Photo: PRML)

2 thoughts on “Of Sea Squirts and Shore Trekees: Port Royal Marine Maniacs Are in Their Sixth Year

  1. Just the thought of ‘Sea Squirts’ makes me smile! I crossed one of your posts off the screen, and now this one will replace it for ‘weekend’ enjoyment! I’ve been working on a deadline, images have now been emailed, and it seems as if it should be monday — but – ‘earth to lisa’ it’s closer to the next weekend!

    am offline til next monday!


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