- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

PORT MANSFIELD, Texas (AP) - For Sara Cardoza, the school field trip on the research boat Archimedes marked the first time she climbed on a boat - and the first time she saw dolphins in the wild.

“It’s beautiful,” the sixth-grader told the Valley Morning Star (https://bit.ly/1viiLvS ) of Harlingen as she scanned the Laguna Madre. “I’m excited. I got to learn something new about the ecosystem.”

Sixth-graders from Lyford Middle School boarded the 38-foot boat as part of a program that will teach Willacy County students about life under the Laguna Madre through Feb. 27.

“The main things we try to stress are the differences between the food chains on land and the food chains in the water,” said Whitney Curry, the boat’s captain.

For five years, Curry and her husband Bryan piloted a research boat as part of a Texas A&M; University program that helped thousands of students learn about coastal marine life.



When the university cut the program’s funding, the husband and wife team bought the Archimedes to keep the project alive.

This year, Willacy County and the Willacy County Navigation District paid $14,000 to put 1,500 students on the Archimedes for a 14-day run, Curry said.

“I want the students to know how delicate life in the water is so when they get older and become voters they’ll know how to protect and monitor what goes into the water,” Whitney Curry said.

Curry handed out necklaces that dangled shark-tooth pendants to students who knew the answers to her questions.

Layla Frasier showed off her necklace after she told Curry why the Laguna Madre’s waters turn green.

“It’s the plants,” Frasier said. “They make the water green.”

Teacher Richard Vannest led a group of students on what’s become one of their favorite field trips.

“It’s science. It’s hands-on experience that gets them out of the school environment and gives them a better understanding of animal life and marine life,” Vannest said. “They get a better understanding of life and the cycle of life. They get to touch fish - that’s awesome. A lot of these kids don’t get that opportunity.”

For Rommel Adriano, it was the first time he boarded a boat.

“I felt nervous - I thought we might see a shark,” Adriano said. “We were fishing for fish and plankton and we saw islands - a long one. I turned and saw a lot of fish and the pelicans looked like they were going to catch them.”

On the Archimedes, Curry’s crew cast nets that trawled for marine life as the boat cruised from Port Mansfield’s harbor toward the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

The crew dropped the day’s catch that included fish, shrimp, crab and jellyfish into an 8-foot “touch tank” that gave students a close-up view of the bay’s marine life.

Julio Cantu said he learned about crabs whose exoskeletons protect them from predators.

“I never looked at fish and plankton in a microscope,” he said. “It was cool touching the fish. It was real smooth.”

A 32-inch monitor gave students a glimpse of plankton and the microscopic life that swarms in the bay’s waters.

“I didn’t know there was a jellyfish that didn’t have tentacles,” Vianca Flores said. “There’s more than people think under water.”

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Information from: Valley Morning Star, https://www.valleystar.com

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