By Chelsea Wiggs
JU Communications Major
Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute made a big splash again last weekend with the Sixth Annual Ripples on the River event, giving visitors a chance to enjoy a day of fun, food, fish and facts about the St. Johns River.
The riverfront MSRI building houses not only JU’s marine and aquatic division but also the St. Johns Riverkeeper office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. On Saturday, May 18, the structure was transformed into a place where people of all ages could partake in marine science activities, enjoy food and entertainment and gain a deeper appreciation for the river.
Event-goers were treated to a lunch provided by Sea Best Seafood, live music, samples of SweetWater beer for adults, 30-minute boat tours on the river and a critter touch tank created by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, among other activities (see photo gallery below).
The first 200 kids to arrive were given a free fishing rod and tackle box courtesy of Fish Florida, and were able to attend a fishing clinic taught by TV personality Capt. Don Dingman.
Quinton White Jr., executive director of the MSRI, said Ripples on the River is an annual event to educate people about marine research of the St. Johns and encourage them to get involved in protecting it.
“This is a public outreach program, but also a huge ‘friend-raiser’ for the university to get to reach out to people,” he said.
One of the many JU students on hand during the event to talk about the MSRI’s efforts was senior Josh Hill, a marine science major, who along with Christina Adams, Sara Schunter and faculty advisor Dr. Gerry Pinto, constructed an aquaponics system that was on display for guests to view and learn about.
Hill was pleased the event provided an opportunity to display the hard work that went into the group’s “mini-ecosystem,” and spoke highly of the MSRI and its mission.
“The MSRI is supportive of a number of youth programs designed to develop interest in science and the aquatics world at an early age,” Hill said.
The annual event is one example of how the MSRI plans to continue to spark that interest. Shannon Blankenship, outreach director for the St. Johns Riverkeeper, said it can be done while also teaching kids the importance of environmental conservation.
“With any sort of marine science education or environmental education, you want to focus on kids because they are really the people that are going to take that knowledge and move in to the future having better outcomes and perspectives on these things,” Blankenship said.
While Ripples on the River will continue to work to help youths and their families discover what marine research on the St. Johns is about, Blankenship said the event shows that it can be done in an enjoyable way.
“It’s just a way to get people to come relax, engage, see the really beautiful surroundings that we all can appreciate, the river, the MSRI and all that we are doing in this building to help protect the St. Johns.”