Next generation of coastal stewards benefits life jacket loaner program

(Contributed photo)

By Rebecca Jones, special to the News-Times

MASONBORO ISLAND — Oceans have been negatively affected over the past few years by a range of problems, including pollution, overfishing and the ecosystem’s reaction to additional artificial substances such as fertilizers and detergents.

Some of the effects of these factors are very visible, like less fish on one’s plate or a deteriorating dive site. Given that 71% of the planet is covered by water, the state of its waterways is now one of the most pressing issues.

Since education is the key to awareness and prevention, Masonboro.org was founded in 2009 to help protect Masonboro Island, as well as provide access to the island. In the fall of 2013, Island Explorer trips were started by taking a class from Wrightsville Beach Elementary by boat to Masonboro Island, teaching students about conservation. The organization then offered the program to every fifth-grader in the New Hanover County public school system. That is over 2,000 students each year from every eligible school in New Hanover County.

The science-based, hands-on field trip gives opportunities for students to learn firsthand what a precious resource the waterways and oceans are. Students experience going to a living shore as instructors demonstrate wind and weather predictions before sending kids on a scavenger hunt along the shoreline to collect items like seaweed, driftwood, feathers and other objects that wash up onshore. They learn about the salt marsh before going on a hunt for periwinkle snails. The hope is that the program will create the next generation of North Carolina coastal stewards.

 Being a good coastal steward is important, but so is education on boating safety. The U.S. Coast Guard reported 76% of boating deaths in 2017 were due to drowning, and 84% of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Sea Tow Foundation, a nonprofit part of the Sea Tow Family, works to provide access to education, tools and resources in order to promote safe and responsible boating, a way to prevent recreational boating accidents and deaths. Through the Foundation’s Life Jacket Loaner Program, more than 83,000 life jackets are made available to borrow or return free of charge to over 800 life jacket loaner stations in an effort to prevent drowning.

This past summer, the organization reached out to Capt. Scott Collins, who is the general manager and senior staff captain of Sea Tow Wrightsville Beach, and requested help providing life jackets for students. Collins immediately answered the call for support. He and his team, along with the Sea Tow Foundation, were more than happy to provide 120 life jackets for students’ safety aboard the ferry. This is the first time that students have been able to get back to the island since the coronavirus pandemic started, and the Sea Tow Wrightsville Beach team is thrilled to be part of the students’ education and safety while out on the water.

For more information on the boating safety mission of the Sea Tow Foundation, visit https://www.boatingsafety.com/.

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