The seventh graders from Temple Middle School donned new life jackets before stepping onto skiffs to explore natural habitats near the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

Group of middle school students in red life jackets on a skiff.

Temple Middle School students with Marine Educator Dodie Sanders. Photo taken February 2020.

Their quest? To find dolphin pods and observe the animals in their natural environment.

On this trip, they were in luck. In Wassaw Sound they spotted dolphins playing and exhibiting mating behavior. Marine educators explained the importance of the popular sea animals and the need to protect them by not feeding them, which encourages begging behavior, and by reducing the amount of debris in the water.

Being able to get out on the water is critical to helping them understand the delicate coastal ecosystem. Without life jackets, the water explorations would be impossible.

“It is our policy that all passengers on our boats wear life jackets,” says Todd Recicar, marine operations supervisor at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “Our previous inventory was approximately 10 years old. The new equipment will not only improve safety but comfort as well.”

Support from Friends of the UGA Aquarium made it possible for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to enhance its water-based educational programming with the purchase of 36 new life jackets and other safety equipment for boating operations.

Middle school students sitting in a skiff wearing new, red life jackets.

Students setting off for Wassaw Sound. Photo taken February 2020.

During their three-day field trip, the students also dissected squid, and studied plankton some of the many hands-on activities that allow them to apply lessons they are learning in the classroom.

“We’ve been coming here since 2015. We love it,” says Teresa Steele, an English Language Arts teacher at Temple. “Even though we visit annually, there new engagement strategies built into the program. Students have fun but are challenged to think critically. Overall, it is just a great place to learn and visit.”