Forestbrook Elementary School students swim with manatees

By Chandi Lowry - bio | email

CRYSTAL RIVER, FLORIDA (WMBF) - Students from Forestbrook Elementary School were able to take what they learned in the classrooms and bring it to life while on a trip to Crystal River, Florida where they dove into water and swam with manatees for a hands on experience.

Not too many people can say they took a dip in a river with huge manatees or even rub their tummies, but some 5th graders had that amazing experience.

Lizzy Noblin said, "Oh my God, it was huge.  You think it was so big and it's going to hurt you but it doesn't."

Ryan Dion and his grandfather Alfred explained they now understand that these creatures are captivating, but they are also in grave danger of becoming extinct.

Dion commented, "You'll see their backs and there are stripes from boat propellers it's just really sad to see.  They go through a lot they don't do anything to anyone and people just hit them with boats and don't care."

After seeing their injuries, not just hearing about them, the kids tell me they want to take action.

"If nobody steps up and protects them they aren't going to be here anymore," said Dion.

That was a lesson learned through a life experience, not a textbook.

The first day the kids visited Homossasa Springs Wildlife Park where they spotted manatees in captivity, took a tour of a small museum and learned all about the sea cows and how to stay safe in the water.

After swimming with manatees in their natural environment in Crystal River, it was off to Rainbow River.

The water is so clear there you can see straight to the bottom.

Schools of fish swim around you and kids yell out the names of wildlife they discovered the day before.

Larry Hilliard from Nu Horizons Dive and Travel is one of the guides and said after the students complete the trip, they have a sense of achievement and a drive to take on more challenges.

The trip started 16 years ago and was only for a few children in the very beginning, but now all kids in 5th grade at Forestbrook Elementary School get to enjoy this underwater learning adventure that wrapped up with the students gathering on the beach and watching the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

The principal Johnny Caulder said businesses in the community all come together and give out scholarships so every student can have this learning and life experience.

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