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