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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Masonboro Island Explorer program making memories that will last a lifetime

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Audrey Holloman. Masonboro.org Board Member

By Audrey Holloman, Masonboro.org Board Member

Another season of the Masonboro Island Explorer program concluded this week, giving nearly 1,600 New Hanover County fifth graders from 18 schools this year a magical day of learning and discovery on the undisturbed, uninhabited barrier island that offers unparalleled access to the region’s nature and wildlife.

As a member of the Masonboro.org board, I accompanied about 75 students from Bradley Creek Elementary to Masonboro Island this Tuesday. My experience showed why the Masonboro Island Explorer program is so valuable for these impressionable young students.

Three instructors from local educational consultants Carolina Ocean Studies lead the students into three groups, each with a different focus on the island’s ecosystem and each with its own hands-activity.

On the living shore segment, where instructors demonstrated wind and weather predictions, before sending the kids on a scavenger hunt along the shoreline where they could pick up four items, but only three could be seashells. It gave the kids the chance to find seaweed, driftwood, feathers and other items that wash up on our shores. My favorite find along the beach is sea glass, but none was found this go around.

At the salt marsh, the kids got a complete rundown of the island’s ecosystem before going on a hunt for periwinkle snails.

But everyone’s favorite station was the tidal creek, where the kids learned about water quality, tides and turbidity. But the coolest part for the kids was the crabbing.

Using the “old school” method a fish head on a string, the instructors told the kids any noise or movement would scare off the crabs. They then counted to 100 before slowing pulling the string to reveal whether a crab was caught.

It was the quietest I heard them all day. When they needed a net, they whispered ‘net, net, net.’

The project is supported with the help of many local volunteers, including four from Live Oak Bank who helped us out this week.  Each Masonboro.org volunteer carried a bucket to carry trash. This provided another important lesson for the kids, teaching them about how long it take for trash to decompose. Even the boat ride over from Carolina Beach provided an opportunity for education, where the instructors taught the students about the bodies of water and the birds living in the ecosystem.

Even though it’s so close, many of these kids don’t get the chance to spend time on the beach, and even fewer can make it all the way out to Masonboro Island. Just the sound of hearing their shoes squeak on the sand was thrilling for them. I had a chance to talk to a handful of the kids on the trip. Only one had ever been to the island before. Each wanted to know more about this natural playground.

Ezequiel Talavera said it was his first ever trip to the island, but he hopes one day he can do more crabbing there. Trey Wright said he wanted to come back to the island one day  so he could do some fishing. Damion Davis came up with some questions of his own, especially about how the island was formed.

Masonboro.org is a grassroots organization that works to protect the rights to visit Masonboro Island, which were once under threat. Our mission is to protect public access, promote responsible use and preserve the tradition. We started by making sure the island was cleaned up after the July 4th holiday. In 2013, Masonboro.org expanded its educational outreach mission by launching the Island Explorer program.

As a regular visitor to the island, I joined the organization in 2012 so that I could be a part of the mission to protect this amazing natural wonder in our backyard.

One of my primary roles with the organization is to assist with fundraising, and there’s exciting news to announce. The Duke Energy Foundation, which donated $35,000 last year for the Island Explorer program, has generously boosted its donation to $50,000 for next year’s program.

Other key sponsors include the Mitchell Foundation, the Orton Foundation, the Landfall Foundation, PPD, MarineMax and Waste Management.

But you too can help the Masonboro.org mission and have lots of fun while doing it. On Thursday, June 1, we’ll host our annual auction fundraiser at Bradley Creek Marina, where you can have a chance to win raffle and auction items, including cool surfboards, skateboard, jewelry, works from local artists, dinner cruises and more. Plus, bluegrass from Masonboro Sound will keep everyone’s feet tapping.

I made my first trip to the island at age 7. My grandfather would take me over, where we would go fishing, swimming and camping. They were very special memories that I cherish to this day. The trips to Masonboro Island help keep him in my memory.

I watched a lot of great kids make special memories this week. And with the support we’re getting from the community, it will be great to see more memories being made in the years to come.

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