Annual event makes learning a hands-on adventure for hundreds of schoolkids and their parents

One thing you won’t get from scientists is unanimous agreement on stuff.

Marietta, Georgia eighth grader Sofia Keserica, firmly set on a career as a marine biologist, differs with her mom whether Savannah State is the only college in Georgia that offers a degree in marine biology.

Jenna Harper, manager of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, disagrees with Lisa Bailey, longtime organizer of the reserve’s annual Estuaries Day event, whether you could call this year the 19th “annual” such event, since they skipped holding one in 2011, after they moved from Apalachicola to their newly built facility in Eastpoint.

Dispute over each little fact is part of being a scientist, and nowhere was that spirit of discovery and exactitude more celebrated than Friday afternoon at the reserve, when more than 400 schoolkids, and as many adults, took part in the excitement that is Estuaries Day.

Keserica, who by the way eventually conceded, graciously, to her Googling mom, that the University of Georgia does indeed offer such a marine biology program (although she seems to have her heart set on Florida State), was taking part for the fifth consecutive year in Estauries Day, together with younger sister, fifth grader Josie, and parents Gene and Erinn.

For a long time she’s been keeping a meticulous journal of her marine biology studies, complete with colored pencil drawings, her detailed classifications done in conjunction with her family’s visits to Estauries Day. Earlier in the week, she joined with a reserve crew in doing maintenance on the East Bay marsh grass that surrounds the weather station there.

Keserica has even started a marine-related business “Mermaid Slime” (you can find it at mermaidslimezzzshop.etsy.com) but on Friday, her business was applying temporary tattoos to those children who successfully completed a treasure hunt along the reserve’s walking trail, piecing together clues drawn from the nature-related quotations that appear along the trail.

Inside and outside, there were all sorts of things to do, like enjoying the touch tanks where you could explore the look and feel of marine life, or crawling through a maze created to show how a turtle hatchling finds its way from birth into the water.

Or you could explore under microscopes the presence of micro-plastics in seawater, gathered by volunteers off St. George Island and Carrabelle, which provided kids an eyes-on look at the effect these tiny particles, from soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, you name it, have on the composition of our oceans.

This and more were the creative handwork of Bailey and her crew, who each year find innovative ways to offer schoolkids a hands-on exploration of the world under the water in our estuary.

Harper said the benefit, of having 30,000 visitors a year at the reserve and 2,500 enrolled in formal programs, extends to parents as well, as they take in lessons they might otherwise overlook were it not for their child’s enthusiasm.

Like that shown by 19-month-old Asher Griffith, who loved the handmade turtle maze as his parents, Allison and Koble, watched nearby. Or the energy of ABC kindergartner Kixstyn Bartley, who together with older sister, fourth grader Kaydence, repeatedly crawled hrough the maze.

Estauries Day’s reputation of course extends to local students, but it goes beyond that, as far north as Woodstock, Georgia, where four homeschooled families – the Adamsons, Faulkners, Geigers and Bournes – made it a weeklong vacation educational adventure during a time that corresponds with fall break in the public schools.

They all stayed on St. George Island, and in addition to Estauries Day, are exploring the area.