Each year since 2007, 4-H youth from around the state have gathered to test their knowledge of marine species and ecology at the statewide Marine Ecology Event. This event is led by Dr. Karen Blyer, State 4-H Science Coordinator at UF, who announced in front of the crowd that it is her favorite event of the year! This year was my first time attending and helping out with the event but I can see why it would be Dr. Blyler’s favorite. It was inspiring to see so many youth and club leaders at the event developing their knowledge and appreciation for the marine environment. Many of the youth have been practicing all year (or multiple years) for this event and they arrived with a high level of enthusiasm and excitement.
Youth complete 5 rotations of 20 minutes each: vertebrate ID, plant ID, invertebrate ID, multiple choice, and marine ecology scavenger hunt. I helped organize and moderate the invertebrate ID station, where youth had to identify between 20 and 25 marine invertebrates. Some of the specimens were alive, while others were preserved in jars or only shells of organisms. From year to year, youth never know which specimens will be live and which will be preserved/shells. This adds another layer of challenge and excitement to the day – youth cannot wait to see which live animals they will get to see each year but they must also be able to identify preserved or partial organisms using multiple features and characteristics.
Over 100 youth across three different levels of 4-H (junior, intermediate, and senior) competed this year. Winning teams were exuberant to see their hard work and studying pay off – they received a scholarship of $100 provided by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF). Many clubs also applied for Service Learning Grants and were awarded up to $300 to carry out marine education or service projects, also made possible by the GHOF. Thanks to the GHOF, the Marine Ecology Event allows youth to not only learn about the marine environment but also take action to protect it!
Preparing for the event
The competition at this year’s event was stiff! A few divisions were won by teams or individuals that missed only a few questions. How do these youth prepare for the event?
Many of the youth belong to clubs that focus on marine and aquatic topics, and these clubs typically dedicate several club meetings a year to study the ID guides and other materials provided on the central Marine Ecology Event website. Also, club leaders dedicate time to bring in real specimens to their club meetings and set up mini-practice events. Finally, some clubs have access to “mock events” in their area that allow them to hone their skills and practice in a competition-like setting. If you live in the Nature Coast (or nearby) keep your eye out for a 2017 Nature Coast Mock Event to help your clubs prepare for next year’s statewide event. Please email me to let me know if you would like to be added to the email list to be notified about practice events.