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Program aims to get more out of Seahorse Key

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By Mark Scohier

Folks at Seahorse Key are doing what they can to get people more involved with the island – its unique history, ecology and facilities.

The tiny island has long been known for its lighthouse and as a sanctuary for a vast array of plant and animals species, but, until relatively recently, Seahorse Key has been “underutilized,” according to Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory Assistant Director Dr. Jennifer Seavey.

“It’s a gem of a resource,” Seavey said last week, and offers some “of the most pristine environments.”

Since 1936, the island has been owned and managed by the federal government, Seavey said. It’s had a marine lab since 1951, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that those associated with the lab began reaching out more with regard to education.

The director back then, Dr. Brian Silliman, put in place a partnership with the University of Florida’s IFAS, the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and with Santa Fe College carried on by now-Director Dr. Mark Martindale.

“Specifically, we facilitate day trips,” Seavey said.

Students and professors from diverse disciplines such as biology, geology, geography and even fine art are becoming involved with projects on the island. A “big movement to mix art and science” last year at UF resulted in an exhibit there, and some of that happened from collaboration between science and art majors on Seahorse Key.

Staff at the lab also helped organize eight trips last year for students in 5th to 12th grades.

Recently, Seavey said, high school students from the Bronx, NY, came and stayed.

“They were super smart, but some of them had never been out of New York. It was awesome … those high school kids blew the college kids out of the water, as far as guts.”

At the end of the stay, the kids were treated to ghost stories based on local lore from area historian and author Toni C. Collins, also known for her portrayals of historical figures at the open houses held each year on the island, the latest being Saturday with a Seminole Indian reenactment. Seminoles, during the Second Seminole War, were interned on the island before being shipped out west.

“Toni held court,” Seavey said. “She had them.”

Local teachers and students are becoming more involved with Seahorse Key, as well, Seavey said. She said future plans could include a program where local students meat with those such as the ones who came from New York to have some kind of “peer vision.”

Locals, for a long time, have felt  left out, she said. Seahorse Key “is a big part of the culture. There are lots of connections.”