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Still thriving at 45

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Marine Science Station offers hands-on environmental learning experience

By Mike Wright

CRYSTAL RIVER — It’s a classroom unlike any other in Citrus County.

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And like that special teacher, it leaves a lasting impression.

The Marine Science Station on Fort Island Trail is celebrating its 45th year of offering boat excursions to the Gulf of Mexico and hands-on environmental instruction to elementary- and middle-school students.

Earnie Olsen visited the station in his youth. Now he teaches there and captains the boats that take children into the Gulf for up-close encounters with marine life.

Station director Hugh Adkins said the Marine Science Station field trip is an eye-opener for many students who have never seen the great outdoors in such a personal way.

“Some have never been on a boat,” said Adkins, the director for 11 years. “This is totally new. They leave here motivated.”

The 15-acre property station is on Fort Island Trail at the Salt River, across the street from the Academy of Environmental Sciences. A full day includes some classroom instruction, a visit to the Barry L. Cannon Memorial Aquarium and a climb to the top of a 60-foot tower for a bird’s-eye view of the estuary.

Boat rides to the Gulf introduce students to marine life and coastal birds.

The classroom instruction is also hands-on. Crystal River Middle School sixth-graders on a recent visit received a lesson in the aquifer, groundwater and the negative impacts of faulty septic tanks and fertilizer.

Of course, the lesson was hands-on with a model showing the layers of limestone beneath the ground. Dye gave a vivid example of how fertilizer runoff or leaky septics find their way to the underground streams and eventually into drinking water.

“If you have a well, it’s your responsibility to have it tested every once in a while,” Olsen said.

The aquarium, built in 1967, included a horseshoe-shaped tank. “It has a pretty interesting creature in there,” Olsen said, as students crowded around.

Soon he was handing over a hermit crab for all to hold and inspect.

“This is a living fossil,” he said. “They were around before the age of dinosaurs.”

Jordan Shaffer and Maliky Williford enjoyed the experience, but for different reasons.

Jordan visited the station as a fourth-grader.

“This stuff is definitely more interesting,” Jordan said.

Maliky, a first-time visitor, agreed.

“It was funner,” Maliky said, “than what I’d heard about.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. 

What: Marine Science Station’s 45th anniversary open house.

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17.

Where: Fort Island Trail Park; boats will shuttle visitors to the station and back.

Information: 352-795-4393.