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Program enables youth to explore ocean, Cayo Costa

July 6, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Children from Dunbar and Immokalee recently had an opportunity to take a cruise, see dolphins and manatees, and visit Cayo Costa State Park as part of the local No Child Left on Shore initiative.

Captiva Cruises, in partnership with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, treated the youth from the Quality Life Center of Southwest Florida and The Immokalee Foundation to separate cruises. Approximately 70 participants total, including the adult counselors for the children, got to take part.

On June 29, it was the Quality Life Center's first time participating in the initiative.

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Youth from the Quality Life Center of Southwest Florida took part in a boat cruise on June 29 as part of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Captiva Cruises' No Child Left on Shore initiative.

"A lot of the kids that they have in their after-school program or summer program had never been out on the water, so it was a good opportunity," Richard Finkel, educator for Captiva Cruises, said.

He explained that the group cruised the Pine Island Sound before heading to Cayo Costa.

"We saw dolphins, so they were excited," Finkel said.

He noted that they spotted manatees while leaving the dock.

"They were really excited about that," Finkel said.

At the park, the group explored the shoreline and learned about the local wildlife.

"We talked about the things that washed up on the beaches, the shells and sea life," he said.

Back on the boat, they used a trawling net to discover what was under the waters.

"We pulled up a lot of crabs and a variety of fish," Finkel said. "We talked about the critters and their characteristics and their habitats."

On June 21, children from The Immokalee Foundation had their turn. He explained that the organization has been a participant in the initiative for a few years, with different youth getting the chance to go out each time. They also cruised the Pine Island Sound and visited Cayo Costa.

"They got some time out on the beach and some time on the water," Finkel said.

"We did see some dolphins," he added. "We talked about the variety of fish that we caught."

The No Child Left on Shore initiative was started in 2010 by Paul McCarthy, former owner of Captiva Cruises, and Finkel as a collaborative with SCCF. It is an environmental education outreach project.

The initiative strives to provide experiential education opportunities for the children of Southwest Florida who might not have first-hand exposure to the coastal environment by any other means.

"We're proving an opportunity for them to get out on the water and gain a first-hand experience of our local ecosystem," Finkel said. "A lot of these kids would not have that opportunity otherwise."

Todd Thomas, programs director for the Quality Life Center, explained that he is focused on providing more STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - programs for the center's youth.

"For this demographic of children, there are no science programs in the area," he said.

"It was a wonderful way for us to do a few things," Thomas added of the trip.

First, it helped get the children out of their normal atmosphere.

"Some of them had never been on a boat," he said. "Some of them had never seen Sanibel, Captiva or the barrier islands there."

The cruise also helped expose the youth to the scientific elements, like the ecosystem and sea life.

"It was really really successful," Thomas said. "The kids loved it."

He noted that there were even a handful of "budding scientists" in the group.

"There were about five or six of them that would really take off down the beach and really dig into what Richard was really saying," Thomas said of the educational components to the trip.

According to Thomas, some of the children had never seen a manatee or dolphin in the wild, in their natural environment. Finkel also took the time to point out red tide and educated them about it.

"There was amazement, there was wonderment and there was curiosity," he said.

Thomas pointed out the trawling net portion, that things were quiet on the boat leading up to it.

"But once that net came up and they saw all the different animals that came out of the seaweed, they were just oohing and awing," he said.

Thomas hopes to continue working with the initiative to bring more children out.

"We really are hoping to do this," he said. "It was a great trip."

No Child Left on Shore is funded by donations raised by SCCF, with Captiva Cruises providing reduced rates. Each of the groups typically arrange their own transportation and chaperones.

Individual donors can earmark funds to SCCF for the initiative.

Those interested in sponsorships or donating can contact SCCF at

Groups interested in learning about the program can also email SCCF.

For additional information, visit online at



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