Keating has been studying marine ecology since he was six. He is now 14 and this year that time and effort paid off. At the Florida 4-H Marine Ecology Event in Kissimmee last month, he competed with 4-H youth aged 14-18 from around the state. The contest consists of five sections testing knowledge of marine and estuarine plants, animals and ecosystems.
Harrison won first prize with a perfect score. Over the seven years Harrison has been competing he missed only one question and has consistently placed first in his age group. “Competing in the MEE has been an incredible experience. I have really enjoyed learning more about the marine ecosystems and organisms around me, and the study skills I have gained from it will help me in high school, college, and beyond.”
This was a banner year for the St. Johns County 4-H Marine Ecology Club cosponsored by the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR). Their teams won first place in each of the three age groups. There were 115 youth from 17 counties across Florida participating in the contest. The first place Junior team was made up of Helena Peterson, Connor Koppe, Carson Koppe and Gabe Clements. Helena and Connor tied for first place as individuals and Carson was third. The Intermediate first place team members were Lark Harrington, Caeli Benyacko, Andrew Benyacko and Samuel Clements. Lark won first place individual. The Senior first place team included Harrison Keating, Sarah Battista, Emett Peterson and Chris Fox. In addition to Harrison’s first place award as an individual, Sarah and Emett received third place awards. Each team received a $150 scholarship for marine-related educational activities. In addition, each first place individual received a $100 scholarship for a similar activity. The scholarships are funded by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation though the Florida 4-H Youth Development program.
Recently the club celebrated their achievements of the past year at the GTM Reserve. Members of the staff were invited to the End of Season Celebration which began with a “poster session” covering some of the mini-grants that the club was awarded this year. The topics included saltwater intrusion into wells and container mosquito larval sampling (both mini-grants funded by the Florida 4-H Foundation), zooplankton sampling at GTM NERR (a Cornell Citizen Science grant), and World Ocean Sampling Day (equipment provided by the European Union’s Micro B3 Project). Last year they received a Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation mini-grant to study the best material in which to anchor saltmarsh grass in a hydroponic system. During the evening it was announced that the club had won another Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation mini-grant to study Oyster Gardens, a project led by Whitney Labs of the University of Florida. The club also received a donation of fishing rods and reels from FishFlorida! that the club members will take home after learning about fishing regulations and techniques and then applying their skills at a club meeting next year.
“The St. Johns County 4-H Youth Development Program has continuously achieved tremendous success,” said Dr. Michael Shirley, GTM Research Reserve director. “We are very proud of the work they have been doing here with our staff. None of this could happen, though, without the dedication of our volunteers who have led the group for eight years.” Currently GTM NERR volunteers Janet Koehler, Clare Bailey, Irene Kaufman and Pam Allen meet monthly with the club members with additional sessions to work on the mini-grants and to prepare for the contest. In addition to providing classrooms and equipment for the club, many staff members assist the club in various ways throughout the year.
Enrollment for the 4-H Youth Development Program takes place each September and is for youth ages 5-18, as of September 1st. Anyone interested in enrolling in the St. Johns County 4-H program for the 2015-2016 4-H year may do so by going to http://stjohns.ifas.ufl.edu/4-H.shtml . Caring adults interested in working with youth should contact the St. Johns County 4-H Office (904 209-0430) to learn of the many volunteer opportunities within the 4-H Youth Development Program.