Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Hosts Educational Dolphin Excursion for Flour Bluff Students

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Through a once-in-a-lifetime immersive experience, Dr. Dara Orbach, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, is working to educate young minds about the importance of marine life, conservation, and research.

Through a unique partnership with the Flour Bluff Independent School District’s Oceans Program and the Texas Floating Classroom, sixth grade students were given the opportunity to not only learn about marine life but to experience it all firsthand.

“The goal of this partnership is to forge mentor relationships and to help inspire students to pursue higher education and research,” Orbach said.

On Nov. 15, Orbach, alongside Islander alumna Whitney Curry ‘16, captain of the Texas Floating Classroom, led students on a journey through Corpus Christi Bay in search of dolphins.

“Because of the pandemic, these students have had very few opportunities to take field trips, so they are especially excited to be here today, to go on a boat and see dolphins,” Orbach said.

The boat, the R/V Archimedes, launched from the Coopers Alley L-Head in the Corpus Christi Marina on a crisp fall morning. The research vessel is equipped with a full complement of scientific equipment for accurate observation of the marine environment and collection of specimens for onboard study. According to Curry, who earned a Master of Business Administration from TAMU-CC, her goal is that each student discovers a passion for marine life in their natural environment.

“My hope is that students on the boat will fall in love with something that lives in the bay,” Curry said. “They may be kids now, but they’re going to be adults before long. It’s going to be on them to protect these animals and the bay, and if they love it, they’ll protect it.”

Participants learned about the lives of marine mammals, viewed dolphins thriving in their natural habitat, and collected research data that will be used to monitor and conserve our Coastal Bend population of dolphins. Flour Bluff teacher Katie Doyle says the experience is one that is vital to encouraging the next generation of ocean advocates.

“I really hope my students become better stewards for the environment,” Doyle said. “I want them to have a love for our ocean, a love for being outdoors, and a love for wanting to save and conserve our marine mammals along with our base ecosystems.”

Benedicta Boateng, age 11, says the opportunity to watch dolphins in their natural habitat was one she couldn’t wait for.

“I was so excited about this trip that I couldn’t even sleep last night,” Boateng said. “I really enjoyed looking for dolphins and the sea air blowing in my face. I think it’s important for us to learn more about the ocean and how to save it, because there’s a lot we don’t know, and we should want to learn more every day.”

Islander students, who are also members of the American Cetacean Society Student Coalition, also participated in the excursion. Lydia Aspiro ’21, a marine biology major, says the experience is one she hopes generated curiosity in younger students.

“Marine mammals are keystone species, which means they are very important in our marine ecosystems,” she said. “It’s important to be knowledgeable about their location, their migration patterns, and their breeding seasons so that we don’t interfere. I really just hope the students enjoy this chance and learn all they can.”

The excursion was supported by a generous donation from the Frazier Family Foundation,Inc. The partnership has provided learning opportunities for more than 100 Coastal Bend children along with excursion opportunities for more than 200 Flour Bluff students, including additional groups from the Texas State Aquarium and the Texas Zoo.

“I think the biggest hope for these students is that they take away memories that they can be ambassadors for the environment and stewards for the betterment of the community,” Orbach said.