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PHS Students Venture To South Florida To Experience Marine Science

PHS Students Venture To South Florida To Experience Marine Science

Fourteen Perkins High School students extended their school year with a four-day Marine Science trip to South Florida, where they encountered sea turtles, tagged sharks, and explored mangroves and coral reefs.

The trip, organized by PHS biology teacher Mr. Michael Mauntler, included hands-on research with marine biologists from June 5 to June 8 in Fort Lauderdale and surrounding areas. 

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On Jupiter Beach north of Fort Lauderdale, the students met with local marine biologist and sea turtle expert Kelly Martin, who escorted them onto a beach where they encountered several loggerhead turtles that crawled onto the sand to make nests and lay their eggs. 

Under a dark midnight sky, the students stood just feet from one loggerhead as she dug her nest in the sand, dropped dozens of eggs, and buried the nest before heading back into the ocean.

The students also spent a day on a charter boat fishing for sharks off the coast of Fort Lauderdale with Dr. Derek Burkholder, a marine research scientist from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. The students pulled in four sharks – two nurse sharks, a lemon shark, and a Caribbean reef shark – over the eight-hour sea excursion.

The sharks were tagged, and measured, and DNA samples were taken. The sharks were then released unharmed.

Dr. Burkholder’s team uses the data to track shark populations and their health and migration patterns.

On the third day, the PHS students headed to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, where they spent the morning exploring the coral reef and snorkeling among the tropical fish and wildlife.

That afternoon, they kayaked and paddle-boarded through mangroves in the park. While paddling, the group encountered an aggregation of manatees.

The students wrapped up their trip on Saturday, June 8, with a brief visit to the beach to watch the sunrise before departing Fort Lauderdale for home.

PHS senior Erika Ernsberger was among several graduating seniors on the trip. Although she expects to study medicine in college, she said she still wanted to take the trip and explore marine science.

“It’s nice to see other people’s passion,” Erika said. “I love animals and I love the beach. It was just a great experience for me.” 

PHS junior Ben Smith was also on the trip. He expects to pursue marine science after graduation in the spring of 2025 and possibly go to college in Florida. The snorkeling was his favorite part of the trip.

“We got to do a lot of different things, from shark-tagging to paddleboarding to snorkeling,” Ben said. “Mr. Mauntler was a great teacher, and I learned a lot in his class. I’m glad he put together this trip for us.”

Mr. Mauntler has taught the marine science class as an elective for the past couple of years. Students learn about waves, currents, and tides, climates, and ocean chemistry in the first half of the yearlong course. During the second half, students study marine ecology and biology and take a closer look at ocean life, including dissecting clams, squids, and sharks.

The trip to Florida enables students to get out of the classroom and touch and feel what they have learned.

“My hope is that they are able to put all the pieces together, and start applying what they’ve learned and see how it all works,” Mr. Mauntler said. “The other hope is that they become stewards, and it's important to take care of our oceans and keep them healthy.”