The catchphrase “where the river meets the sea” is often heard around the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. On Friday, March 2, it was expanded to include “where art meets science.”

A play titled “Breath Maker and the Bay” was performed there by Donna Barber’s Franklin County School fourth grade class, with the addition of actors poached from fifth grade. Beautiful ecologically-themed art from Lydia Countryman’s class was also on display, along with Apalachee-inspired pottery made after a class visit from potter Marian Morris. The play featured music and movements from Melinda Lombardino’s music class as well.

“Living in a balance. We’ve got the talents. To change the story. To end in glory. What is next? This is a tribute to… the water that flows from us to you.”

So ended this first ever-play performed at the ANERR amphitheater. In the play, inhabitants of the bay were living in harmony until the twin villains of invasive species, the lionfish played by Troy McKenzie, and his slightly dimwitted and thuggish sidekick, a tiger prawn played by Dexton Teat, begin to invade. This threat is magnified by micro plastics which the oyster, played by Bradley Page, valiantly tries to turn into pearls.

At first, the bay creatures, led by their queen, known by many names including the Apalachee name Breath Maker and played gracefully by Payton Carpenter, believe that the trash humans dump in the bay is a way of paying tribute to them. That is, until they begin to sicken. The queen (mother of all mullets, star of the starfish) consults with her sister, the regal Duchess of Dog Island played by Kendra O’Neal, and her brother, the River King played by Gavin Page.

Penguins, charmingly acted by Kinnly Gilbert and Jamie Banks also find their way into the bay because the Antarctic is gradually being warmed and the ice is turning into moss. They are aided by two turtles, Septima (Kassidi Busby, who learned Spanish for the role) and Marjorie Stoneman Douglass (Mylie Smith) The turtles are based on two actual turtles Barber’s class has been tracking all year as part of their science and Florida history classes.

Completing the cast are the dolphin played by the talented Gwenyth Lamberson, the slow-moving manatee adorably played by Seth Thomas, the black skimmer (who is very confused by the penguins) played by Ethan Gilmore, the seahorse who is captured by the villains, played defiantly by Curstin Lashley, and two Franklin County children played by Makynna Whitten and Noah Sullivan. Helping tie in the impact of the Apalachee on the Bay is a ghost played by Aubrey Paulk

The play was co-directed by multi talented Susana Lewis and Melanie Humble. The stage manager was the efficient Kaitlyn Lambert.

The play practices were also opportunities to learn about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the way in which microplastics are threatening the health of the ocean. The brilliant staff at ANERR were very supportive of the project and provided their scientific expertise to the class in the months leading up to the performance. After the final verse of the concluding song, an audience member asked the class what the experience had been like for them. Several of the students gave impassioned speeches about the need to protect the health of the bay and to change the story. Truly, these students do have the talent and promise to create a balance in the ecology of our bay that will be a tribute to them for many generations.