They scattered along the shore at Monument Beach Monday morning, July 21, pails and nets in hand, firmly focused on the shallow water and the creatures that were swimming, floating and crawling there. Excited shouts of “Found another crab!” or “Did you see the eel?” rang out across the beach, as the 22 youngsters took part in Bourne Community Boating’s Belly Biology class.
“All that time for a dead crab,” one disappointed young lady said to her group of friends after spending several minutes trying to snare the marine creature.
Undeterred, they renewed their efforts, as others in the class fanned out over the tidal flats on the other side of the marina’s boat ramp.
After nearly 45 minutes of searching and gathering, it was back to the white brick building by the beach parking lot where the day’s catch was dumped into tanks inside. For the next several weeks, the children will care for the assorted collection of crabs, shrimp, mussels, quahogs and razor clams, as they get a hands-on lesson in marine biology.
Olivia G. Tura talked excitedly about having found an eel (about an inch in length) and “lots of baby crabs.”
The 9-year-old from Bourne said this is her first summer taking Belly Biology. She said that her mother signed her up for the first session of classes, held from June 23 to July 18, and she liked it so much she wanted to come back.
Natalie F. Renahan, 12, of Fairhaven said she signed up for the class because she really wanted to learn how to sail.
“And you have to take this in order to sail,” she said.
Her younger brother Daniel J., 7, said he joined his older sister because “I heard that it was going to be really fun.”
Both Natalie and Daniel said they did, indeed, have fun scouring the shoreline for crabs.
“It’s always been a really important part of our program,” BCB executive director Amy K. Wright said of Belly Biology.
Ms. Wright mentioned that Belly Biology has been offered every year since BCB was founded in 2006. The program’s name comes from the manner in which many young people first become curious about marine life, by lying on their belly on a dock and gazing down onto what is living underwater. She added that many of the youngsters involved in the program have parents who work in Woods Hole, so marine science has always been a part of the children’s lives. Belly Biology is also a requisite for children enrolled in BCB’s sailing program.
“We want to make sure they know what’s going on under the water as much as they know how to sail on top of it,” she said.
She added that from the start, one of the goals of the program was “to create not only good sailors, but also good stewards of the environment in which they sail.”
All beginner, advanced beginner and intermediate sailors spend one day a week of the sailing program in Belly Biology. She said that the combination of instruction is very popular.
“We have found that for some students, the science they do is the draw that keeps them coming back to our sailing programs,” she said.
Following Monday’s “critter collecting and stocking tanks” lesson, subsequent weeks will include shellfishing with Bourne Department of Natural Resources director Timothy W. Mullen, and fish dissection.
Meaghan C. Lomasney took Belly Biology for five years. The 13-year-old from Monument Beach said that at first she was not into “the whole fish thing, but I really like it now.”
An instructor with BCB, Meaghan said she has even developed an interest in marine biology.
Head instructor Sarah J. Bouchie said that she started sailing at the age of 6. The 20-year-old from North Falmouth said she started teaching with BCB when she was 16, “so I was pretty young to be an instructor but it worked out and now I’ve been here five years.”
An accounting major at Bentley University in Waltham, Ms. Bouchie said her next summer job will have to be an internship connected with her major.
“So my time as a BCB instructor may be coming to an end, sad to say,” she said.
Ms. Bouchie praised BCB for providing young people in Bourne with an introduction and familiarity with the water through its Belly Biology and sailing offerings.
“To have a four-week program that the kids can get out here every day and be on the water, it’s really special, it’s nice,” she said.