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Hands-on and up-close at 7th annual JU MSRI Ripples on the River

By Christina Kelso

JU Communications senior

For the more than 300 visitors who explored the Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute’s Seventh Annual Ripples on the River event on Saturday, May 17, the St. Johns River became more than a flowing backdrop to the university.

Captain Don Dingman of the television show "Hook the Future" demonstrates fishing techniques to the crowd at Ripples on the River. - Photos by Christina Kelso/JU

It became an experience up-close and hands-on.

Children and adults alike reached their arms into touch tanks by Florida Fish and Wildlife to hold and feel critters from the river, engaged in a family-oriented fishing clinic by Capt. Don Dingman of the TV show “Hook the Future,” listened to live music and fed tilapia in a working aquaponics system.

They also walked through the halls of the MSRI and across the grass of its adjacent riverbank, sailed up and down the St. Johns on the university’s new floating research classroom the R/V Larkin. They enjoyed seafood lunches by Seabest Seafood and, for adults, beer samples from SweetWater Brewing Company. At the end of the day, 200 children received free rods and reels from Fish Florida to take home.

Sarah Grace Beson pushes Abby Beson and Ryan Stone on a riverside swing while Evan Stone cheers on at the 7th Annual MSRI Ripples on the River event.

Quinton White, executive director of the MSRI, said the event was designed to promote understanding and interest in the marine science and the St. Johns River to children and families. He called it a time for public-outreach and “friend-raising.” The event continues to find success and strong support from the community.

“With the fishing clinic, seafood, boat ride, touch tank, it’s not the kind of thing you see everywhere all the time,” White said. “The kids really enjoy the touch tank and seeing the aquariums. I had one guy saying he couldn’t get his kids out of the lobby, there’s so much to do here.”

Captain Don Dingman hands six-year-old Brooke Deese her grand-prize for winning the Ripple on the River raffle, a new fishing pole. Following this, she turned to the crowd and announced that she would give it to her dad for Fathers Day.

For some families, like Valarie and Sean Toussie of Fruit Cove and their two children, Julien and Emilie Toussi, Ripples on the River was their first time visiting the JU campus.

“This is a beautiful campus, and this institute is state-of-the-art, very impressive,” Valerie Toussie said. “We appreciate that it’s open to the public. It gets a lot of kids seeing things and experiencing and touching, which is important. We enjoyed the hands-on tank, where they could touch all the stingrays and different crabs and fish; that was very fun.”

On a dock outside the MSRI, Ashley and Rob Johnson and their children Land, (left) Miles and Libby Johnson test out the new fishing poles the children received after the Ripples on the River event.

Alongside her mother, Nichole Deese, a member of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, six-year-old Brooke Deese also explored the JU MSRI and riverfront for the first time during the event. Following the fishing clinic, Brooke Deese won the grand-prize in a raffle drawing: a new, full-size fishing pole. Upon receiving it, she turned to the crowd, smiling, and announced she would give it to her dad for Father’s Day.

“Today is a good day,” Deese said. “It was perfect for my life. If I go here again I will scream out ‘I love this place.’ ”

Meanwhile, a team of active volunteers from the St. Johns Riverkeeper, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and JU stepped up to guide visitors throughout the day. St. Johns Riverkeeper volunteer Michaela Miller spent her day as a tour guide of the floating classroom, educating and entertaining riders with river trivia.

“I think it’s important for people to know about our river and why it’s so important to our community, and I think the best way to learn about it is to experience it,” she said.