After lunch on Friday, October 21st, the 8th graders embarked on the annual Environmental Science trip to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. This trip, which has now become a Highlands tradition, and an important eighth grade privilege, lasted a total of three days and two nights. After a long bus ride, and a stop for dinner at Blaze Pizza, we arrived at Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island is an important barrier island off the coast of Alabama, near Mobile. We were welcomed into their dorm, called “Challenger”, named after the famous sea vessel HMS Challenger. We briefly frolicked, stargazed, and observed bioluminescent organisms on the beach before calling it a night.
On Saturday after breakfast, we boarded the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) research vessel, R/V Alabama Discovery. We explored the ship and set out into the Gulf of Mexico. On the trip out, we saw many species of seabirds and bottlenose dolphins. The captain released the trawl net into the water, and when it came time to pull it up we were all excited. Among the species we caught were croakers, mantis shrimp, Atlantic stingrays, a butterfly ray, blue crabs, cutlass fish, lizard fish, comb jellies, and many more. We learned about the importance of these oceanic creatures to Alabama’s coastal ecosystem. After lunch, we explored a salt marsh. We all made sure to wear shoes we were fine with never seeing clean again. We waded into the marsh with our nets and caught many small species of crab, fish, shrimp, and snails. At one point some of us even saw a salt marsh snake, an endangered species that is usually rare. The snake swam right by me and a couple of others, but it meant no harm and calmly slithered away. When we came out of the marsh, we were all wet and MUDDY. After cleaning up, we had dinner and an eighth grade talent show, and then went to bed.
On Sunday morning, we went on a beach, dune, and forest hike. We first strolled along the beach at the edge of the dunes, as we learned about their importance to the coast. We again saw bottlenose dolphins, and heard the sounds of many large birds. We then crossed over the dunes and into the maritime forest/bird sanctuary, where we saw many fascinating species of birds, like the anhinga (also known as the snake bird). We came to a swamp, and as we looked for the resident alligator, a bald eagle gloriously flew over us. In the afternoon, we took part in an engineering program that involved designing and building ROVs (remote operated underwater vehicles). Our ROVs had to fetch rings out of a pool, to simulate getting trash out of the ocean. We split up into three groups and got to work, using different sizes of PVC pipe for the base of our vehicles. We used three propellers for the motor(s) of our vehicles. We came out with three very different, but all very effective designs. After testing our ROV’s, we packed up and prepared to head home.
On the trip, we learned so much about our oceans and our environment. We gained new perspectives on the lengths we need to take to save our oceans. We also got to interact with, and learn about, so many unique and interesting species. Everyone had different takeaways from the trip, but all of them displayed just how much we gained from the trip. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot along the way.
Written by: Harris Murphree, Highlands 8th Grader
- Middle School