By Marci Shore, Island Eye News Staff Writer
With special privilege, comes special responsibility, says Holly Blair, Coastal Ecology Program Manager at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School. A magnet school, SIES is uniquely located beachfront, and appropriately has the county’s only Coastal Ecology Systems class as part of the curriculum, right alongside Physical Education and Art.
Blair teaches six to seven classes each day (Kindergarten through fifth grade), and students are encouraged to make scientific observations in the lab. Activities are tied in with common core standards.
“It’s important to teach the importance of the delicate barrier islands, how to live here and leave a smaller footprint, enhance rather than take away from it,” said Blair, who has a Bachelors in Education, a Masters in Marine Science, and 20 years’ experience in educating the public, including her work at the South Carolina Aquarium in 1998.
The school’s Coastal Ecology Lab Room features four ‘touch tanks,’ three of which are 50 gallon tanks that can be relocated throughout the school for education purposes. The touch tanks will bring various marine species inside the classroom. There is a freshwater tank, a marsh estuary tank, and saltwater tank.
Little hands will not be going into the tanks, but rather “the kids will interact with the critters being brought out of the tanks,” explained Blair. The 100 gallon tank is located in the ecology lab and will serve as a holding tank.
Right now, the tanks hold a few species commonly found close to shore, like the hermit crabs and mullet Blair collected. When the nature trail behind the school is “reclaimed,” said Blair, she will lead students into the surf and shore to collect more species themselves.
Blair wants to pass on her passion and love for marine science to her students, in the hopes they will pass it along to their parents, cousins and friends.
“I want them to learn things like, don’t pick up a jellyfish on the beach and throw it at their friend. That jellyfish is a food for birds,’ she said. “Don’t collect all the shells on the beach to be put away in a garage somewhere. Those shells eventually crumble down and become sand. Don’t collect live sand dollars and bleach them for Christmas ornaments.”
The food and creatures sustain the beautiful island, she added, and that “if we lose one of them, we could lose them all.”
“A lot of people know the tropical rainforest holds more species than any other place on the planet. Most people don’t know that the salt marsh estuary is second only to the rainforest in biomass and number of species.”
Blair wants students to put down their electronics and slow down, and when they ride across the causeway, she wants them to see more than just mud and oysters.