It is just about mid-summer now, as the days are longer and hotter than the rest of the year here in the Southern United States. Summer is a time associated with vacation, the beach, and no school (woo hoo!). For many kids this means summer camp. Personally, some of my favorite memories growing up come from various summer camp programs I was a part of from girl scouts to soccer camp. Now as an adult working in the zoological and aquarium industry, I see hundreds of enthusiastic campers enter our doors every day. It is so important to inspire the next generation to care for our world better than we have and the generations before us have. That’s why when I stumbled across Reef Relief, a nonprofit membership organization that targets education specifically to improve and protect coral reef ecosystems, I knew I had to spread the word about them.
Like I mentioned before, Reef Relief is a nonprofit organization that focuses on educating the public on improving and protecting coral reefs. To do this they increase public awareness of current threats in the ocean and aim to provide members with a rigorous science curriculum that will educate the public and add advocacy to increase, conservation, protection, and restoration acts for coral reefs. Reef Relief takes their mission to heart and want to make the public more aware of the importance and value of coral reef ecosystems in the ocean by increase scientific understanding and knowledge of how ecosystems function in the ocean.
In addition to increasing general knowledge and helping people understand the importance of coral reefs, the organization aims to design, develop, support, and implement new ways to protect and restore areas where coral reef ecosystems are found. Reef Relief supports eco-tourism as part of a sustainable community development project that’s goal is to protect and preserve coral reefs.
Coral Camp and more of Reef Relief’s work
As part of their mission, Reef Relief offers a wide variety of educational programs to the surrounding community. Starting with their Discover Coral Reefs School Program, this platform offers ocean education to over 1,000 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. Available in both public and private school systems throughout the Florida Keys, the program educates students about the importance of the ocean and the pivotal roles coastal ecosystems play. To maximize education and engagement, the program utilizes both classroom activities and activities in the field. During the program, the current science curriculum of each school is supplemented with focus on marine science lessons specifically tailored to families residing in Florida and the importance of the environments around them.
In case in school education isn’t enough, and your child wants to spend more time with Reef Relief and ocean conservation, the organization also offers a camp option properly named Camp Coral. This is the summer camp option that specifically uses interactive activities and field trips to the ocean to educate kids 6-12 years old about a wide variety of subjects such as ocean ecology, coral reefs, marine life, and sustainability. Some camp activities that have been included in the past include classroom lessons on identifying common species of coral, fish, and invertebrates around the Florida Keys area. Kids also will learn about oceanography, tides, symbiosis, snorkeling, and conservation. The organization provides a heavy focus on the no trace left behind principles of snorkeling etiquette and gives kids a chance to practice their skills. One of the best parts about this camp is that they offer scholarships sponsored by the local community so that children have the ability and option to participate regardless of income in their household. This unique camp is such an awesome opportunity and important mission to get the next generations involved with.
In addition to educating the conservationists of tomorrow, Reef Relief also works hand in hand with the local community. The organization coordinates volunteer programs to foster exceptional stewardship with the community. In fact, in the least six years Reef Relief has removed over 24,000 pounds of marine debris from the shores and waters of the Florida Keys through their coastal clean-up volunteer program. The organization has also partnered with the City of Key West in order to educate not only guests visiting the area but residents too about the stormwater and local water quality through the Stormwater Education and Outreach project. To aid this project The Key West High School Reef Relief Club and a group of alternative spring break volunteers help stencil storm drains throughout the city each year with no dumping messages.
Reef Relief distributes nearly 100,000 brochures to Florida Keys tourist locations (like resorts, hotels, visitor centers etc.). This is a smart, effective, and important way to connect and educate the public about the beautiful but fragile coastal ecosystem they are about to interact with. Urging people to reduce and recycle as well as dispose of all trash properly is one was to improve and protect the coral reef ecosystems in the area.
How do I get involved?
Now you may be asking yourself, how can I get involved and that is great! First of all if you live in the near the Florida Keys or don’t mind the commute I highly recommend visiting their Reef Relief environmental center. Here guests and community members will learn all about the organization’s mission. The theater shows free daily films related to marine resource issues and on the way out you can pick up a wide variety of brochures and other materials on what you can do to help. The center is located in the historic Old Town of Key West and is free admission for all.
However, if you are not in the position to trek down to the Florida Keys then you can read a lot more on what to do on their website here. It is also important to note that Reef Relief would not be able to do all that they do without support. The organization has received funding from Mote Marine Laboratory’s, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, The Dogwood Charitable Foundation, Lannan Foundation, Cascade Foundation, and the Cowels Charitable Trust. In addition to local businesses and community members, you too can donate to help their cause on their website, https://www.reefrelief.org/ .
For the last 27 years Reef Relief has made considerable headway in its mission to improve water quality, protect wild life, and conserve Florida’s coral reef ecosystems. Whether you’re sending your child to coral camp or volunteering to clear coastal debris yourself, Reef Relief has something for every ocean conservationist to dig in to. Below check out the most recent video from Reef Relief’s coral camp, and get inspired!
References and photos courtesy of