Marine Science Camp Adventure

This post may contain affiliate links.

Marine Science Consortium: Intertidal Biology Adventure

Sieve boxes used in the Intertidal Biology excursion at the Marine Science Consortium, Wallops Island, VA.

Board a research vessel with experienced marine biologists and environmental scientists. Touch a live moon jelly. Collect live crabs, shrimp, flounder, sea cucumbers and take them directly into the lab to study and learn about them. Learn how to use professional oceanographic equipment. Stay on campus with your family in dorm-style accommodations.

These are just some of the things that Firefly and I experienced when our friends at The Chincoteague Bay Field Station (formerly the Marine Science Consortium) invited us to be a part of their Marine Science Adventure for homeschooling families.   We love hands-on learning and it doesn’t get any more hands-on than this! Naturally, we had to see it for ourselves.

Located on Wallops Island, near Chincoteague Island, Virginia, the 30-acre campus of this 45-year-old program contains new labs and dormitory housing, an education center, a ship store,  staff housing and a cafeteria.  A  fleet of buses transport visitors on various excursions, such at the intertidal biology trip that we took part in.  MSC also owns two research vessels, a crew vessel, and a fleet of kayaks.

Aboard the Research Vessel Mollusk, kids and staff work together to perform various water testing measures.

Aboard the Research Vessel Mollusk, kids and staff work together to perform various water testing measures.

MSC has a variety of programs, including scouting programs, programs for adults, day camps, and much more. Our trip was specifically geared towards homeschool families.

Camps for Homeschool Families

Being able to participate as a family and learn together is very appealing to me as a homeschooling parent. So often I am not so much my children’s teacher as I am learning along beside them. The family camp at MSC fits right in with this style of learning.

tiny crab

Families can stay in dormitory housing, eat meals and attend all activities together. Some activities are restricted to children aged 9 and older for safety reasons. For example, the Research Vessel is a craft with an open bow and stern that could be unsafe for younger children.

Ready to board one of two Research Vessel's at the Marine Science Consortium.

Ready to board one of two Research Vessel’s at the Marine Science Consortium.

The dormitories were clean, comfortable and new. We brought our own linens and toiletries. The housing was reminiscent of  college dorm life. Or what college dorm life would be like if you lived there with your kids.

The cafeteria was able to accommodate a variety of special diets (vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.) and offered a variety of choices at each meal in addition to the main entree (salad bar, cereal station, fruit).

Homeschoolers love a good bus ride, and MSC provides several opportunities.

Homeschoolers love a good bus ride, and MSC provides several opportunities.

The schedule is packed full of learning opportunities from the moment you arrive until the time of departure and the hard-working staff uses every opportunity to teach.  For example, even our bus ride across Chincoteague Island and onto Assateague Island for the Intertidal Biology Excursion was narrated with a history of the islands, as well as information about the NASA and Navy areas that we passed on the way to get there.

Children participating in the adventure were aged 9 to 14.  The staff did a nice job of keeping everyone engaged, regardless of age.  During some activities, 9 to 11 year olds were grouped together and 12 to 14 year olds had their own group.  Kids had the opportunity to try out and learn about the oceanographic equipment before going out on an excursion.

Staff member, Jim, demonstrates the equipment that will be used on the research vessel to collect and study water samples and living things.

Staff member, Jim, demonstrates the equipment that will be used on the research vessel to collect and study water samples and living things.

Learning Experiences

While the equipment in the lab didn’t seem super exciting to the younger set, out on the research vessel, they all got very involved in collecting and testing water samples. Now it was all coming together.

Testing water samples aboard the RV Mollusk.

Testing water samples aboard the RV Mollusk.

Everyone worked as a team to throw out the trawler nets and reel them in again, collecting live organisms from intertidal creeks and back bay areas.

Teamwork: throwing out the net to see what we can catch.

Teamwork: throwing out the net to see what we can catch.

Our catch was immediately placed in the live well.

live well

The kids got very quiet as they crowded around the live well, looking at what they’d caught:  a moonjelly, a flounder, some teeny tiny crabs and some huge shrimp, sponges, seaweed, and more.

Kids checking out what they caught in the nets, now residing in the Live Well.

Kids checking out what they caught in the nets, now residing in the Live Well.

Hands-On Learning: A chance to touch a live moon jelly.

Hands-On Learning: A chance to touch a live moon jelly.

MSC packed a plethora of learning into just a few days with the forest, ocean, shore and marsh as our classroom.  Part of what appealed to me about this program is that they are making marine science, a topic often not traditionally taught until the high school or college level, accessible to young children. Even those living in coastal areas where opportunities may abound to study marine ecosystems can learn a lot here. Access to knowledgeable staff and a plethora of marine and laboratory equipment make this a truly unique learning experience.

Looking at the saline content of the water using a refractometer.

Looking at the saline content of the water using a refractometer.

Day Two of our adventure included a trip out to an intertidal area on Assateague Island to collect more live creatures from the marsh areas.

Trekking out to the intertidal area with nets, sieve boxes and buckets.

Trekking out to the intertidal area with nets, sieve boxes and buckets.

This experience can vary, depending on the tides. Our visit to the area was during high tide so it was partly a walk and, for those who desired,  partly a swim. Combing the area for live organisms, the kids used small nets…

Using nets, the kids combed the intertidal area for live creatures.

…large nets…

Large nets in the intertidal area

…and sieve boxes to sift through wet sand.
sieve box in the intertidal areaLive organisms were placed in buckets and jars to bring back to the lab for later study.
catching critters in the intertidal zone

This was an amazing outdoor classroom experience. We were lucky enough to spot some wild ponies on our bus ride to and from the intertidal zone, too.

Back on campus, the staff guided students in the lab, using microscopes, field guides and more to examine the organisms collected earlier in the day.

Tanks in the research lab at MSC

If you go…

  • Pack clothes to get wet, muddy and mucky in. Pack about twice the amount of clothes you would normally need on a trip. You’ll be changing often.
  • Bring shoes that allow you to hike through a mucky marsh and not get pulled off your feet.
  • Explore side trips. This is such a beautiful area with so much to see and explore. We stopped at Ocean City, MD on the way down (only 30 miles away). Chincoteague and Assateague Islands also have beautiful beaches, a lively town (on Chincoteague), wild ponies and tons of wildlife (on Assateague).

The Marine Science Consortium is located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, on Wallops Island.  The Homeschool Marine Science Adventure tuition is $145 for a child, $125 for the first adult. All other family participants are $145.  Tuition includes all instruction, field trips, transportation to filed trip sites, materials, meals and lodging.  For more information, visit the Chincoteague Bay Field Station website. 

Learning Beyond the Camp

MSC provides families with a list of suggested readings that include the culture and history of the geographical area, science and nature resources as well as field guides and books especially for younger kids. We plan to work our way through this list, with the help of our local library, now that we’ve had the experience of collecting and learning about live marine organisms and their habitats.

For more learning resources, follow Creekside Learning’s pin board, Marine Science for Kids, on Pinterest.

Read more information about our previous trip to Assategue Island and the wild ponies.

aboard the research vessel at MSC

Disclosure:  Our visit to MSC was provided free in exchange for writing a review on my blog. All opinions are my own. For more information, visit my disclosure page.