On the banks of the May River, 20 seventh-graders armed with paddles nervously eyed the tandem kayaks they would soon climb into.
The outing Friday at the Oyster Factory Park in Bluffton marked the first time several of the Bluffton Middle School students had been in a kayak, and some were afraid they'd tip over or run into one another.
"I might die," one girl joked as she entered the back of the kayak.
Putting those fears aside, they launched the two-hour tour that included sightings of dolphin and other marine animals and lessons in ecology and protecting the environment. It was part of daylong field trips all week for Bluffton Middle seventh-graders.
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On land, they participated in a watershed simulation that demonstrated the ease with which fertilizer, runoff from factories, chemicals and other pollutants enter waterways. Students took turns creating "rain" with a spray bottle over a plastic model of a watershed and watched as the food coloring "pollutant" drained into the ocean.
Seventh-grader Joseph Garcia said he liked that activity even better than the iPad lessons in the classroom.
They later went on a scavenger hunt for specific animals and other components of an ecosystem and participated in a hands-on activity that demonstrated how different birds' beaks are designed to pull worms from the ground or snatch bugs from the air.
Several students who went on the field trip earlier in the week said the kayaking was their favorite part.
On the Monday trip, Sydney Tully saw a male dolphin -- she learned they travel alone -- and a small stingray.
"We got to learn about what's in our environment," she said. "It didn't feel like we were" in town.
Science teacher Lois Lewis said the field trips reinforce classroom lessons. It's become an annual tradition at Bluffton Middle and other area schools, such as H.E. McCracken Middle and Hilton Head Island Middle.
"The whole point is to give them experience in the May River to understand the fragile ecosystem that we all depend on," she said. "The best way I know of (to teach) is to provide them with experiences to learn from."