Willacy County students introduced to Karma

February 15, 2012

By Jim Hiney

PORT MANSFIELD, TX — The Texas Sea Grant College Program’s floating classroom is currently cruising the waters of the Laguna Madre near here, introducing Willacy County public school students to a marine ecosystem that few have visited despite living a relatively short distance away.

An invitation from Dr. Richard Kline at The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) and a grant from Willacy County allowed the RV Karma to travel from its homeport in Corpus Christi to Port Mansfield to provide fourth through eighth grade students from the Lasara, San Perlita and Lyford school districts, as well as Icthyology students from UTB, with a unique opportunity to learn about the Laguna Madre first hand. The Karma is scheduled to complete the student trips and sail for the City of South Padre Island on Friday, Feb. 17, where it will host Texas Master Naturalists and other school groups on cruises through next Wednesday.

Willacy County students spent about two hours aboard the Karma participating in a number of activities, including helping deploy and retrieve a small trawl net. Sea life caught in the net was transferred to touch tanks on the back deck of the 57-foot former bay shrimp boat, where students were allowed to handle the catch while naturalists talked about the animals’ biology and role in the ecosystem.

Students also collected and viewed plankton samples, tested water clarity and learned about aquatic food webs.

Students likewise spent about two hours on land at the UTB Department of Biological Sciences field station in Port Mansfield, where Kline, an assistant professor of biological sciences, and his graduate students taught lessons on a variety of topics, including fisheries, coral biology and beach restoration. Kline also led students into nearby marine ecosystems, where they threw cast nets and examined the animals they caught.

“We’re showing these kids how important the marine environment is to them. These are experiences that the students would not have been exposed to in their classrooms,” Kline said. “Students learn much better when they get to handle these creatures in person instead of just viewing them on a computer screen.”

The Floating Classroom Program is operated by the Texas Sea Grant Program in partnership with Texas AgriLife Extension. The Karma is a U.S. Coast Guard-inspected passenger-for-hire vessel, which means it meets the strictest safety requirements. It is operated by a licensed captain and experienced crew trained to respond to all emergencies.

For more information on the Floating Classroom Program, go to http://floatingclassroom.tamu.edu

Pictured:

Russ Miget, Texas Sea Grant Environmental Quality Specialist, supervises Willacy County students as they handle sea life brought aboard the R/V Karma in a trawl net on Wednesday. Photo by Whitney Curry.

Willacy County students pose with the tools they used on Wednesday to explore aquatic ecosystems in Port Mansfield. Photo by Andres Garcia.

UTB graduate student Andres Garcia prepares to throw a cast net as Willacy County students watch on Wednesday. The activity was part of shoreside lessons done in conjunction with a cruise aboard the R/V Karma. Photo by Leana Lerma. 

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.