''If I didn't have any bones, could I do that?'' a small voice piped up as an octopus squeezed through an impossibly small hole in Curaçao's Sea Aquarium. The question brought a quick smile to the faces of the Sea Camp counselors. These kids were having fun and learning at the same time - the best way to teach any subject, including Mother Nature's incomparable ocean.
The Kids Sea Camp and Family Fun Week was conceived as a unique opportunity for parents to share their love of the ocean with their children. The project is the inspiration of Margo Chornlesky, owner of Caribbean Adventures Dive Travel. Searching for a way to introduce her son Robbie and daughter Jennifer to the delights of the sea, she collaborated with Maureen Kuenen, director of the Sea Aquarium's Marine Awareness Center. The result was a six-day program for children from 4 to 12 years old.
Learning Made Fun
The natural history of corals was neatly disguised in games and a 3-D slide show. Looking stylishly '50s in their plastic glasses, the kids gave a spontaneous ''Ooohh!'' for a red and white coral shrimp sitting on a yellow sponge and ''Whoa!'' when a fierce-looking green moray seemed to lunge from the screen. Why aren't college courses in marine biology this much fun? On Invertebrates Day, slimy squid separated the squeamish from the not-so-squeamish during the dissection class. Everyone eventually joined in while they learned how squid breathe, swim, eat and squirt that neat cloud of ink. Treasure Hunt Day was sponsored by Sport Diver magazine. Children and parents searched the Sea Aquarium Beach for hidden coins. The smiles were nearly as bright as the tropical sun when everyone won a prize. Micro Day found the kids using magnifying glasses and microscopes to observe tiny animals living around the aquarium. The scale got bigger the next day with sharks, rays and turtles. On Aquarium Day the children learned the behind-the-scenes work of running a full-scale aquarium, digging into buckets of fish and changing food containers in the displays. The second half of each morning was wet and wild in the Sea Aquarium's animal encounter swim area. This specially constructed sea pool is the perfect place to meet sea creatures face-to-face. About 10 feet deep with a boardwalk along one side, the pool is separated from the ocean by a seawall. Seawater circulates freely through cyclone fencing at both ends. The side of the pool open to swimmers is home to a large jewfish, half a dozen Southern stingrays, a troop of silver tarpon, some snook, angelfish and a pair of cobia. On the non-swimmer side of the fence, which has clear panels with holes for feeding, nurse sharks, lemon sharks and a gang of big loggerhead sea turtles cruise in hopeful circles waiting for handouts of fish. Supervised at all times, the groups hit the water with various missions, from identifying fish species to feeding sharks and turtles through the plastic panels. Even non-swimming children joined in the fun, lying on a thick foam float with a mask and snorkel while counselors towed them around the pool. Kids were introduced to Scubapro's Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth (SASY) units, which provides the look and freedom of scuba to surface swimmers. Ocean Encounters, a Peter Hughes Diving affiliate, hosted the event's diving and provided the daily five-minute boat ride from the Princess Beach Resort to the Sea Aquarium. A two-tank morning dive, which left the dock after the kids began their session, was a popular option for the parents. Curacao's reefs are refreshingly healthy, and offer profiles for divers of every experience level. Typically, the reef top is an extensive shelf of dense coral, gently sloping to around 25 feet. Then the reef drops into a very steep slope, which becomes a true vertical wall in places. The slope is thickly covered with hard and soft corals, and sprinkled with purple azure vase sponges and orange elephant ear sponges. Below 60 feet, black corals become prevalent, particularly long, whisker-like wire coral. Two shallow tugboats and a deep freighter are also on the regular dive schedule at Ocean Encounters.
For a current schedule and more info, visit Kids Sea Camp.