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That’s a wrap! Youth Education Program’s 1st year recap…

Join our enthusiastic young explorers as they navigate our ocean courses, celebrating the successful first year of the Youth Education Program! Our budding scientists journeyed through ocean zones, marine food webs, the lives of invertebrates and vertebrates, and even fish anatomy through hands-on dissection. Interactive lessons and expert-led activities taught them about the complexity, diversity, and importance of our oceans, their inhabitants, and the environmental challenges they face. Celebrate their discoveries with us and get ready for more exciting marine adventures in our upcoming courses!


Our 6-week courses met once a week for two hours at our jungle classroom in Rincón, where kiddos aged 7 through 12 were immersed in fascinating talks led by real scientific professionals (local and from abroad!) and teamed up for creative activities, experiments, and games. So far, we've offered four courses: Marine Critters: Life in the SeaCoral ReefsFantastic Fish, and Hope for the Sea: Conservation & Sustainability, and we are ecstatic for what awaits us in the future of the Youth Education Program. Let's revisit each course!

Marine Critters: Life in the Sea

We started the program in September 2023 with the Marine Critters course. Our young scientists began exploring the different ocean zones, the vital roles and importance of primary producers (such as plankton), and how energy transfers among marine organisms through food webs. In the second week, they studied the six main groups of marine invertebrates (like mollusks and crustaceans) and virtually chatted with Dr. Claire Crowley (Florida Fish & Wildlife,Tampa) about crab populations in Florida.

Halfway through the course, we shifted the topic to vertebrate animals, where our scientists-in-training compared shorebirds and off-shore birds, examining their hunting styles and different beaks. The final week focused on fish groups, gill functions, bony fish anatomy, and distinguishing bony fish from cartilaginous fish. The highlight of this course was a fish dissection led by our own Dr. Evan Tuohy, where we examined the internal organs and external features of numerous fish species.

Coral Reefs

In November, we settled into the benthos for our next course: Coral Reefs. We introduced our adventurers to the intricacies of one of the most vital ecosystems in the world that supports approximately 30% of marine life. They studied coral anatomy, identified the diverse species living on the reefs, and explored the different relationships between those species. 

We first learned about Cnidarians and conducted experiments demonstrating the effects of acidity on coral skeletons. Over the course, they discussed the differences between soft and stony corals, the specific conditions they need to live, and the local and global threats they face, such as coral bleaching. The kids acquired this insightful knowledge through hands-on projects, fun review games, and an exhilarating scavenger hunt and snorkeling activity at the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, finishing our second course with a flourish. 

Goodbye 2023, Hello 2024!

Every new year comes with surprises, and this year Isla Mar did not fall behind the trend! In 2024, we welcomed two new members to the team: Idalmis Santos Echevarría and Lourdes Marcano Quiñones. 

Born and raised in Vega Baja, northern city of el melao-melao, Idalmis grew up by the ocean and developed a lifelong love for the underwater world. This passion motivated her to achieve a Bachelor's in Coastal Marine Biology at UPR-Humacao and she is currently pursuing her second year of a Master's in Biological Oceanography at UPR-Mayagüez. Sharing her passion and love for nature with others fulfills her in many ways, especially with young ones. One of her favorite memories while co-teaching the 10-12 age group at Isla Mar is seeing how excited the kids get when they have the opportunity to explore the outdoors!

"Understanding our connection with nature and the ocean will help us care and protect the place where we live."

On the other hand, coming from the beautiful west coast of Aguadilla is Lourdes, our co-teacher for the 7-9 age group. She has a background in Psychology from UPR-Mayagüez and is embarking on a hybrid Master's journey in Environmental Education and Communications at Royal Roads University. Lourdes takes great pleasure in being able to mix scientific understanding with artistic expression, nature exploration, and educational games during her sessions with the younger kids, adding that one of her most treasured memories is when they get to visit the beach at the end of each 6-week course. On their last visit, they had the opportunity to interweave cultural heritage with oceanic lessons, which deeply resonated with her.

"It is a magical experience being able to teach kids about the ocean, its inhabitants, and how to have a more sustainable life for the Earth."

Fantastic Fish

Moving along the expedition, our future scientific professionals dove deep into the exciting and immersive world of fish with our Fantastic Fish course in early February. Here, they explored the fabulous creatures of the deep sea, immersed themselves in their anatomy through hands-on fish dissections, and learned about the fascinating life cycles of fish living in Puerto Rico.

We started by covering the general characteristics of fish and the differences between bony and cartilaginous fish, explored the internal and external anatomy of various species, and compared their feeding styles, habitats, and life stages. This course included a marvelous tour of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography Marine Vertebrate Collection -- collected from extreme depths and preserved for over a century -- guided by PhD candidate Fernando Meléndez (a local alum from UPRM). The students were amazed by the rare deep-sea specimens and learned about fish morphology.

Throughout the journey, they tackled the critical issue of overfishing with interactive games illustrating the impacts of different fishing methods. They also created skits demonstrating their understanding of fish life cycles and engaged in energetic trivia games to review their newfound knowledge. We wrapped up the course with a visit to the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, finding and identifying a variety of marine critters and learning about the unique ecosystem of tidepools.

Hope for the Sea: Conservation and Sustainability

With our oceanic trip ending for this academic year, we decided to design a comprehensive session that ignites passion and a sense of responsibility in our young scientists toward our oceans. Our planet's environment and resources are impacted constantly by the eight billion people living in it, and it is urgent to take action and advocate for environmental sustainability. The Hope for the Sea session kicked off with a series of engaging activities regarding living sustainably, renewable and non-renewable natural resources, overfishing, sustainable and non-sustainable fishing methods, and coastal contamination, among others.

The students helped plant coastal trees, donated by Para La Naturaleza, at Domes Beach where they learned about the importance of trees to the marine ecosystem. They also engaged in weaving using natural, sustainable products from local teacher and advocate for cultural practices, Pedro. This session encouraged the students to reflect on their own use of our resources and ways in which we can reduce our footprint. This course was certainly one of the most fulfilling for our staff as they observed the students resonate with this theme and develop stewardship for our ocean and environmental systems.


Our Director of Youth Education, Leslie Wade, comments about the first year of the program: "It was an amazing first year in the Youth Education Program!  We are so pleased with the growing level of interest, endless support and encouragement from the community, and of course, the brilliant scientists-in-training that we were such a joy to teach.  We consciously allowed this program to grow organically, and I am super excited to watch it evolve as we expand our staff and add new programs in the fall"

Her favorite memories lie within and outside of the classroom. She says the fish dissection, led by Dr. Evan Tuohy, was one of the most hands-on activities. "This year we had seven different fish species for the students to compare and observe various body, mouth, and fin types.  It was a huge hit!" From the field, Leslie says that exploring the "great variety of life alongside the students in the incredible tidal pools of the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve" was one of her favorite moments.

The parents of our scientists-in-training also had amazing feedback about the program!

“One of the best experiences my kids have ever had. It’s been something that is very much cherished in our home.“
Keep on doing what you're doing! I'm grateful for the variety of learning methods that take place within each class - hands-on science, art, writing, teamwork, games, etc. It is noticed and appreciated!"
"¡¡Un millón de gracias a todos!! We are so grateful for the classes, community and beautiful mission! ¡Gracias de corazón!

A giant thanks to everyone who took part in the program this year. We are so grateful for the support of our community. We also want to thank our generous donors who helped sponsor NINE students through partial and full scholarships to attend these sessions. Are you interested in sponsoring a student? Let us know via email to . See you again soon as we roll out new programs in Fall 2024!


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