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USF College of Marine Science Celebrates Clam Bayou Marine Education Center During 50th Anniversary Events

More than 500 children and adults visit the USF College of Marine Science Clam Bayou Marine Education Center each year to take part in community service and educational programs.

Among the many accomplishments the USF College of Marine Science will celebrate this week as it marks its 50th anniversary is the creation of its Clam Bayou Marine Education Center, where hundreds of children and adult learners convene each year to learn about the wonders beneath Florida’s waters.

“When we first arrived at Clam Bayou, we teared up. We didn’t even mind the white shag carpeting,” recalled Teresa Greely, PhD, director of education and outreach.

Greely and Angela Lodge, PhD, coordinator of education and outreach, carry out the numerous community outreach and education programs based at Clam Bayou.

“It’s allowed us to triple our programming,” Dr. Greely said, “and empowers our children, to show them that it is possible for them to become a scientist one day.”

The Clam Bayou Marine Education Center is located in a historic home on four acres of waterfront land overlooking Boca Ciega Bay. USF has leased the property from the City of St. Petersburg since 2004.

While the home, built in 1969, still feels residential — complete with a built-in record player in the kitchen and an en suite bath finished in avocado-colored tile that has long since gone out of style — it is ideal for the USF College of Marine Science’s purposes, Dr. Greely said.

A former bedroom is stocked with more than a dozen microscopes. The walls have been paneled in white board, creating a canvas on which students project images of the plankton and other tiny creatures they pluck from the water.

Another bedroom is used to help students imagine the mesopelagic zone, a deep, dark layer of the ocean where bioluminescent creatures make their home.

The former living room is now filled with tables and chairs for classroom instruction, and the spot in the garage that might have once been reserved for the family station wagon, is now used to store water-monitoring equipment and sampling gear.

And, yes, the white shag carpeting has been removed.

For all the home has to offer, it’s the water that makes the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center so special.

“We have four distinct habitats right outside our door,” said Dr. Greely, describing the site as a microcosm of Florida’s ecosystem.

“We have the oyster bar. The oysters are thriving. We easily have 50 percent more coverage than when we first arrived.The presence of oysters is an important indicator of the health of the bay. Oysters filter hundreds of gallons of water in a day. They’re often our first line of defense in filtering the water of pollutants.

“We also have the seagrass meadows, the sandy beach and the mangrove forest. This is really the upper limit of the mangroves. They don’t thrive any farther north of Tampa Bay.”

Combined, these precious natural resources create a one-of-a-kind living laboratory — and Drs. Greely and Lodge make full use of every inch of it.

On any given afternoon, children from area schools can be found collecting water samples off the property’s dock, testing for salinity, chlorophyll levels and dissolved oxygen — the same data municipal, regional and state agencies monitor.

Using a 50-foot net, the students catch, identify and measure fish before setting them free again. For many of the children, it’s their first up-close experience with marine life.

On the front lawn, they run from end to end, collecting candy when they’re finished, in an exercise Drs. Greely and Lodge facilitate to simulate fish migration and energy expenditure.

During the summer, the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center is abuzz with girls participating in the College of Marine Science’s Oceanography Camp for Girls, which this year marks its 25th anniversary.

School groups, teachers, and college students visit the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center for trainings, field trips or courses. Members of the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida are frequent visitors and Drs. Greely and Lodge are currently developing an ocean badge for the girl scouts.

It’s not just young learners who make their way to the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center.

Volunteers of all ages come to pluck litter from the roots of the mangroves or remove invasive plant species. Volunteers have removed more than 5 tons of marine debris from Clam Bayou through the years. Educators from across the state come to complete continuing education credits through curricula developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey and GLOBE, an international science and education program.

“We teach them how to bring the ocean to their classroom — or their classroom to the ocean,” Dr. Greely said.

In all, the USF College of Marine Science Clam Bayou Marine Education Center educates about 500 visitors each year — but the impact of the facility is too great to quantify.

“We see a boost of confidence in the children who come here. They may have never thought it was possible for them to become a scientist, but they come here, and it suddenly seems possible,” Dr. Greely said.

“We have parents who tell us, ‘I’ve never seen my child so happy being wet, muddy and exhausted — and so excited to get up and do it again the next day.’”

While the USF College of Marine Science’s Clam Bayou Marine Education Center is not open to the public, it is adjacent to the City of St. Petersburg’s Clam Bayou Nature Preserve, where visitors can observe the same ecosystems and enjoy kayaking, hiking and nature watching.

A tour of the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center and a kayaking trip through the neighboring preserve are planned as part of the USF College of Marine Science’s 50th anniversary celebration. For more information visit http://www.marine.usf.edu/50-years/schedule-at-a-glance.

For more information about the Oceanography Camp for Girls, visit http://www.marine.usf.edu/girlscamp/index.shtml.

Story by Rachel Pleasant, University Communications & Marketing, video by Ryan Noone, University Communications & Marketing

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