In the mangrove habitat just off the coast of Key Largo, baby barracuda, sea stars, and upside-down jellyfish can be found in their earliest days of life. Known for little tidal action and vegetation in which to hide from predators, mangrove forests are the ideal place for young water species to safely mature and develop.
And for 11 intrepid and intellectually curious Notre Dame Preparatory School students, the mangroves became a living classroom where they could take a “deeper dive” into the lessons learned in their marine biology class offered as part of NDP’s rigorous STEAM program. It was a place to grow and develop their interest in marine biology and to better understand the integral relationship between the ocean and the species that make it their home.
During the school’s marine biology trip, these students, along with three teacher-chaperones, traveled to MarineLab in Key Largo, Florida, where they engaged in five days of scientific study and aquatic exploration. The students immersed themselves in learning about the ocean’s biodiversity and experienced what it’s like to have a career in marine biology.
“Experiential learning is something the students will never forget,” says Maria Madero ’05, marine biology teacher, trip organizer, and self-described lover of educational travel. “This trip is geared to what working in the marine biology field is like, and the students are getting exposed to real career experience.”
The students explored five aquatic habitats, including a lagoon, mangrove forests, and coral reefs, and conducted research and gathered data in each location. Water quality samples were taken and recorded from each site and then sent to a national marine research institute which tracks the oceans’ health. The students collected more than seven pounds of plastic debris and 17 meters of plastic fishing line and conducted fish and coral surveys, identifying diverse species. Snorkeling in Banana Reef allowed them to swim with hammerhead and nurse sharks, loggerhead sea turtles, and eagle rays.
All of the hands-on educational activities the students engaged in taught them a valuable and impactful lesson on the interconnectedness of the world and the responsibility we have as global citizens to preserve our natural home for future generations, a commitment of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and a central message expressed by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si.
“Marine biology is key to the health of the environment,” says Madero. “These experiences showed the girls that every action has a consequence, positive or negative. Being immersed in this [marine] ecosystem shows you just how precious it is.”
“Everything animal, from microscopic plankton to sea turtles, is impacted,” agrees Makayla Novak ‘24, who participated in the trip as a follow up to taking marine biology last school year. “Knowing what you do in your everyday life affects a whole different world…it’s transformative!”