In first grade, I attended Parker Elementary School in Stuart. In 1970 it was called “Parker Annex.” I remember those days well and can still recall many of the names of the kids in my class; my teacher’s name was Mrs Jerdeman. Tomorrow, I will be returning to the school, 45 years later, as a guest speaker on the subject of “River Kidz and the protection of sharks”—a subject chosen at the requests of students in Mrs Maya Gebus-Mockabee’s first grade class.
Am I a shark expert? No. But I can give a good lesson as a former teacher and someone interested in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon as well as our Atlantic near shore reef habitat that is connected to our rivers. I have been a guest in many schools, mostly elementary. It’s a riot. A blast. I taught middle and high school, but elementary kids seem smartest of all. So creative! So enthusiastic! So wanting to help! Visiting these young students gives me hope for our rivers and “puts gas in my tank.”
Interestingly, if one takes a look at the River Kidz workbooks, both first and second edition, one will see that it is the bull shark who recites the River Kidz mission statement: “Our mission is to speak out, get involved, and raise awareness because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”
Hey, did you know that the Indian River Lagoon is considered the second most important bull shark nursery in North America? Mother bull sharks come here (mostly central IRL) to have their live young and these juveniles may stay here for up to nine or ten years? Did you know that bull sharks swim way up into estuaries, can endure fresh water, and have even been reported to live in Lake Okeechobee?!
Cool! Yikes! Wow!
The River Kidz’ mission of course applies to ocean reefs as these waters and the creatures of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon are all connected!
We all know they are often needlessly exterminated for “fun,””sport” or wasteful “shark-fin soup.”
Kids with their creativity and sensitivity are able “see” that the fear and hatred directed towards sharks is sometimes extreme. And all kids know, hating just to hate, is not good.
Yes, we humans need to be careful and stay out of their way….but we need not hate sharks; it is better to respect them for the role they play in our oceans keeping disease at bay and populations in check.
From what I’m told, the kids at Parker Elementary are interested in promoting a theme such as “Shark Stewards of the Florida Straits” creating a recognized area off the St Lucie Inlet promoting “education and conservation of sharks.” The students will study the subject of sharks for two weeks, learn, and draw pictures to share with the River Ocean Institute. (http://www.oceanriver.org) (http://www.oceanriver.org/blog/protecting-americas-sharks-on-anastasia-and-oculina-reefs-in-the-straits-of-florida/)
For fun, just what kind of sharks live in our area waters, their length, life span, when do they have “pups?”
There are many kinds, various sizes, and many live 25-35 plus years, and don’t have pups until they are 10 or older!
Here are some area sharks as listed by the Florida Wildlife Commission: (http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/sharks-rays/shark-species/) :
1. Tiger-18 feet
2. Black-tip- 10 feet
3. Bull- 10 feet (The IRL is a bull shark nursery)
4. Hammer Head- 20 feet
5. Nurse- 14 feet
6. Bonnet 5 feet
7 Lemon-10 feet
8. Spinner-10 feet
9 Sand bar-10 feet
10. Great White- 21-26 feet (sometimes off our shores as they migrate through)
Legions of sharks migrate through our waters, and in winter especially, can be seen by plane sometimes by the hundreds. My husband Ed and I have seen this. And although I like and respect sharks, I have had visions of the plane crashing into the water and having a really bad day!
Yesterday, Terry Gibson, of the Pew Charitable Trust, and I spoke. What I got out of that conversation was that sharks are “really not protected;” this has to do with the politics and structure of federal and state agencies, and a “conflict of interest.” (Kind of like the Department of Agriculture oversees the Department of Environmental Protection for the state of Florida—now that’s something to be afraid of! )
Personally, I have seen boats right at our St Lucie Inlet, over the nearshore reefs, catching sharks and leaving them on deck longer than they could possibly survive– holding them up hooked to take pictures and then throwing them back hours later to sink to the bottom. I witnessed this from afar when I was a volunteer on Nancy Beaver’s Sunshine Wildlife boat from 2011-2012.
There is a long history of shark fishing in our area and acting like “sharks will last forever.” It is well documented that Port Salerno was an active and “productive” shark fishery in the Martin County’s early days—–until the resource was exhausted of course.
We must admit, that over recent generations, many of us have not been good stewards to our waters, or to sharks. Many of us we were not educated to be….I remember the movie JAWS in eighth grade. Do you? I never thought that sharks could become as they are today, a threatened species.
Hopefully the upcoming generations will be better than we were, than our parents and grandparents were. Considering these Parker students asked to study and protect sharks all on their own, a brighter future just may be coming.
Florida Straights: (http://www.nova.edu/ocean/messing/strait-of-florida/)
florida straightsBull Sharks/IRL nursery JTL: (http://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/07/18/the-indian-river-lagoonthe-most-significant-bull-shark-nursury-on-the-u-s-atlantic-coast/)