Reef Relief camp adds ‘Big Kids’

Growing Up on the Water

For 32 years, Reef Relief has been established in the Keys, first as a fledgling environmental nonprofit, and now as a source of action and influence in education and policy. The environmental advocacy group was one of the forces behind the city’s monumental ban of oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens, community awareness of coral disease and moving away from single-use plastics.

The summer of 2019 also marks its 11th year of summer camps for kids.

“Now, we’re just starting to see those kids graduate from college, and how Coral Camp might have inspired them to pursue a major in environmental science or marine science,” said Alex Risius, assistant program director.

This consideration of continuing education is one of the reasons Reef Relief is launching a new addition to its Coral Camp roster: “Big Kids Camp.” The camp will run August 5 through 9 and is for ages 10-14.

“There are so many kids that have come to our regular camp year after year, and are getting older. We wanted to do something that would challenge those kids more, and have them doing something in the ocean in the summertime that’s a little more advanced.”

It’s more advanced in a number of ways. First, the campers will spend two nights at Dry Tortugas National Park. They’ll be conducting scientific experiments observing, noting, and measuring differences between the reef around the Keys and the reef at the Dry Tortugas. Campers will have more ownership in deciding what kind of projects they want to design, and will execute those plans in smaller groups. They’ll conduct fish identification activities and counts. They’ll also learn techniques to measure water quality, like finding pH, measuring salinity and using a plankton net to catch micro-organisms—as well as micro-plastics.

Reef Relief also has some exciting, and exclusive, ventures planned. The group will visit Loggerhead Key, is a remote key off the Tortugas, restricted from public use, to test out their research methods. They’ll also take a trip out on The Squid, Eco Tours’ cutting-edge boat, on which they’ll learn about hybrid electric engines, solar power and reducing carbon footprint.

Maybe the most sophisticated part?

“One of the coolest things they’ll do after this comparative study is share their knowledge with younger kids on the last day,” said Risius.

There’s also an application process. Reef Relief is committed to small group work and is capping the Big Kids Camp at 10 campers in this inaugural summer. They ask kids to have basic knowledge of snorkeling and ideally have attended the regular Coral Camp in the past.

“We want them to have a little grasp on marine science. In Coral Camp, we are already doing fish dissection and learning the basics of snorkeling,” Risius said, “and this is going to be much more advanced.”

“They are going to be the future leaders,” aid Risius. “We want to make sure they know exactly what is so special about our oceans, and they understand the negative effects humans have on it. Then, later in high school and college, and when they are establishing political positions, they realize the importance of it.”

The application process opened May 1.

Big Kids Coral Camp
Application opens: May 1
Camp dates: Aug. 5-9
Ages: 10-14
Cost: $375
For more info, visit Reef Relief at

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