Florida Keys Trip

Spring Break 2015: Friday March 20th-Monday March 23rd

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Don't miss the underwater adventure this spring!

Beginning a new tradition of student travel and extended class trips, Liberty Middle School will be sending a group of students on a marine biology trip to Seacamp at Newfound Harbor Marine Institute. The trip is open to students of all grade levels and parents/guardians are also invited to attend as chaperones; participants need to be able to swim. Participants will spend 4 days in Big Pine Key, Florida engaging in a variety of hands-on activities. Trip highlights include: a snorkeling trip to explore inshore patch reefs and soft corals, sponge community exploration, mangrove and seagrass ecology, algae community lab, plankton lab, shark biology, squid dissection and a Cassiopeia lab.

Program Details


Inshore Patch Reefs

Located in 10 -12 feet of water about two miles from NHMI, the patch reefs (also referred to as "the coral heads") are located landward of the Florida Reef Tract. The circular patches of star and brain corals harbor a diversity of fish and invertebrates easily observed by snorkeling students.

Soft Corals
Adjacent to the coral heads and in nearby shallow hard bottom areas are stands of sea whips and sea fans (gorgonians). Students enjoy the diverse invertebrate communities in these areas.

Non-Reef-Building Coral Communities
Non-reef-building corals, such as rose coral, finger coral and golf ball coral, grow in shallow water all around NHMI, affording snorkelers an excellent opportunity to view living corals "up close".


Sponge Community
Loggerhead, vase and stinker sponges are just a few of the many sponges found in the shallow waters around Big Pine Key. Students snorkel to observe sponges and their associated plants and animals. Stresses of living in shallow water are important concepts covered at all nearshore sites.

Mixed Algal Community
Dozens of species of algae live on hard bottoms and serve as the basis for a thriving community of invertebrate animals which includes crabs, spiny lobsters and seastars. Snorkelers can easily observe these organisms in this shallow water habitat.

Turtle Grass Community
Surrounded by the soft sediments which they accumulate, turtle grass beds are an important component of shallow areas in the Keys. Students snorkel over grass beds to observe the animals that live on and among the seagrass blades.

Coralline Algae Community
Shoals and mounds of coralline algae are excellent snorkeling and wading sites. Hosts of invertebrates and fish utilize these areas for protection and food.

Mangrove Snorkel
At high tide, mangrove islands make fascinating snorkeling sites. Sponges, tunicates, algae and other sessile organisms cover the roots. Small fish are abundant under the trees. Gulf or Atlantic study sites are available.


Fouling Communities
Lesser-known invertebrates such as hydroids, tunicates and bryozoans thrive on submerged docks and pilings. Students closely examine these fouling organisms.

Shark Ecology
Hands-on activities, a question and answer session, and a chance to observe sharks make this a favorite program of students and teachers.

Cassiopeia Lab
Cassiopeia (Upside-down jellyfish) are collected and then exposed to changes in physical conditions that occur in their natural habitat. Students monitor changes in pulsation rate, record and analyze data and then release the jellyfish.

Sponge Community
Within the myriad canals of many sponges live hundreds of invertebrates. Students examine the canals and observe and record the creatures found within them. Annelid worms and snapping shrimp are some of the most common inhabitants.

Fish Anatomy
External and internal anatomy of bony fishes are discussed and examined. Activities may include fish printing (on tee shirts or paper), fish dissection (for older students) and comparisons between bony and cartilaginous fishes.

Animal Behavior
Students collect animals such as fiddler crabs, segmented worms and sea stars ("starfish") and design experiments to monitor various behaviors, including defense, feeding, reproduction and competition.

Squid Anatomy
External and internal anatomy of cephalopods will be discussed and examined. This dissection lab is one of the most popular marine investigations.


Algae Lab
After a discussion of algae and their importance as habitats, students search for animals living within samples of calcareous algae. This is an excellent review or introduction to the invertebrate phyla. A favorite lab of many students and teachers.

Plankton Lab
Most of the animals observed by students at NHMI began their lives as microscopic plankton. This lab focuses on the ecology and identification of plankton, using live specimens and microscopes. If time and space permit, students may accompany the instructor on a plankton collection trip.

Led by their instructors, students sing, perform and toast marsh-mallows while enjoying an evening under the stars. Stories may be told involving astronomy and/or the history of the Keys. Often combined with a night wade (below).

Night Wade
At night, the shorelines of NHMI are perfect for observing nocturnal habits of marine creatures. Students wade in ankle-deep water, using flashlights to illuminate their search for animals such as crabs, anemones, worms, mollusks with external shells..... and even octopi!

Middle School Program Video

Newfound Harbor Marine Institute, Middle School Program


$725.00 (not including transportation)

Included in Price:

  • 4 daytime programs - 3 hours each (one boat trip included)
  • 3 evening labs - 1.5 hours each
  • 3 nights lodging
  • 8 meals from Friday night - Monday morning

Transportation Cost - TBD

We will travel by motor coach round trip from Liberty Middle school to Big Pine Key, Florida. Cost of transportation will be divided by the total number of participants and will not be determined until the final reservations are made. Prepare to add a maximum of $280.00 per person for transportation (for a minimum of 10 passengers).

Optional Costs

Students may want to bring additional money for the following:

  • to buy snacks on the bus ride to and from Big Pine Key
  • rent snorkel gear (mask, fins, snorkel)
  • wetsuit rental (water temperatures average 75 degrees this time of year)
  • purchase t-shirts, hats, sunglasses, & souvenirs from the gift shop

Deposit $100.00

  • A deposit of $100.00 is due no later than Wednesday December 17th.
  • Cost of Transportation will be determined no later than Friday December 19th.
  • Payment in full is due on or before January 7th.
  • We only accept payments of cash or money order. No checks!


Q: Where will my child be staying?

A: Our address is 1300 Big Pine Key, FL 33043. We have 4 dorms - 2 for male and 2 for female. The number of students to a room varies. Typically it is between 7 and 10. In each building there is a room set aside for our staff who act as dorm duty counselors and a room set aside for chaperones.

Q: What is the policy on cell phones and other electronics?

A: Students may bring their cell phones and personal electronics with them (chromebooks will not be permitted on the trip). However, it is requested that cell phones be kept in the dorm rooms with other personal belongings as many of the programs at NHMI involve being in or around the water. Waterproof cameras or recording devices are highly recommended.

Q: How can I get in touch with my child in case of an emergency?

A: In case of emergencies the parents can call 305-872-2331 - if no one answers, they will be prompted to send message to our First Aid Station which is always manned. - Parents will also be given Mrs. Jensen's direct contact information once registered.

Q: What happens if a student gets sick or injured? Are there medical staff on the premises?

A: All of our staff are American Red Cross First Aid, Basic Life Support, When Help is Delayed, Oxygen Administration, and AED certified. They are all LifeGuards. There is a full time EMS on Big Pine Key. Any emergencies other than basic first aid are handled by them. We use Fisherman's Hospital in Marathon.

Q: Are parents/guardians welcome?

A: Yes! We need chaperones for the trip. NHMI programs are a wonderful learning experience for people of ALL ages! However, the cost for chaperones is the same as the cost for students.