Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Annual field trip to Pasco's Energy and Marine Center a rite of passage

PORT RICHEY — Nine-year-old Amanda Velcov could hardly believe her eyes.

"Wow, they caught a fortune!" she said as her classmates waded out of the brackish water and dropped their well-worn seining net on the shore at the Energy and Marine Center.

It was, no doubt, quite a good catch for the fourth-grade students at Deer Park Elementary School. All told, there were about two dozen silver side minnows, a baby crab, a gooey cone jelly and a mangrove seed pod.

Under the watchful eye of the center's environmental education instructor, Donna Koljeski, the tiny creatures would be gently scooped up and dropped in a bucket to be studied. Later, after the students had boarded the bus back to school, the critters would be returned to their home to take refuge in the mangroves and marsh grasses of the Salt Springs Run Estuary.

With the giant oil slick drifting east toward the Florida coastline, there is growing concern about the devastating impact it could have on this fragile estuary and the wildlife it nurtures. This is the home, and sometimes visiting spot, for baby grouper, shrimp, mollusks and puffer fish; marsh periwinkles, egrets, herons, stingrays, fiddler crabs dolphins and, on occasion, manatees.

"It's very scary," a somber Koljeski said. "I'm hoping that the current will take it away from us. But it looks like it's going to impact us all."

What would that mean for future student field trips?

"We haven't talked about that yet," she said.

The annual field trip to the EMC is a rite of passage for Pasco County elementary students. Since 1975, the school district has bussed thousands of students from schools throughout Pasco County to get a first-hand look at the coastal treasure trove.

The Pasco shoreline may be lacking in the soft, white sand of the Pinellas County beaches that attract northern tourists. But this is where ocean life begins.

"This is the nursery of the sea," Koljeski tells her charges. "Nine percent of all the seafood we eat — oysters, shrimp, clams, muscles, fish — start out right here."

This is a working field trip where students have a chance to partake in a variety of hands-on activities. They shuffle their way into the water to try their hand at seining as egrets wade nearby. They don bulky gloves to pry apart a bin filled with jagged oyster clusters that serve as filter for the brackish water and discover the tiny crabs, shrimps and mollusks that find shelter there. There's a short jaunt out to the wooden boardwalk that borders the mangroves where plankton, which serves as nourishment for much of the food chain, is collected to be examined under microscopes. Students also learn the difference between a vertebrate and invertebrate, how the tides affect the inlet and how stormwater runoff threatens the estuarial environment because it contains harmful fertilizers and pesticides.

Right now, the students are more knowledgeable about the dangers of stormwater runoff than the drifting oil slick.

"They haven't really been talking about it," said Deer Park Elementary teacher Cheryl Gendebien, who was overseeing the oyster-cluster activity. "We've read a little about it in Scholastic News, but because it's not close to home for them it hasn't made a big impact."

Even so, there are some who share the adults' concern.

"I think it's just bad," said Victoria Pawelska, 10. "People should stop drilling by the shore."

"It's going to kill a lot of fish," said her classmate, Wyatt Kurzals, 10. "They should be protected."

"I haven't seen it, but my mom's been watching it on TV so I know it's bad," said Chris Haranziam, 9. "I think they should stop it.

Day by day, that is the wishful thinking for some keeping watch over the rising tide.

"I just can't imagine the impact it might have," Koljeski said as she took in her surroundings. "I can't imagine not being able to go into the water. I just can't imagine it not looking like this."

Michele Miller can be reached at or at (727) 372-9794.

Annual field trip to Pasco's Energy and Marine Center a rite of passage 05/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 3:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  2. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  3. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette


    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  4. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494
  5. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 139, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 139 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]