By Maddy Vitale
Ron Kovatis knows he must be quick to get and keep the attention of kids as they tour the Sea Isle City beaches in the Beachcombing Program, where young and old alike, learn about the shore, the shells, the ocean and the many creatures that live in and around it.
“I go in with a blanket full of samples of shells, horseshoe crabs and other things and then I start asking them questions,” Kovatis, a Sea Isle Environmental Commission volunteer and one of the beachcombing tour guides.
He asks how old kids think horseshoe crabs are. “When I say 400 million years old, they start asking a lot of questions,” Kovatis said, during the Beachcombing Program’s first meeting of the season Thursday afternoon. “Then we discuss fish, whales, porpoises, crustaceans.”
The former teacher said it takes a little bit of skill to keep the children engaged.
“I try to be a kid myself. I try to take their perspective,” Kovatis, 70, explained. “I always leave a space on the blanket and get one of the kids to sit there and I say, ‘You are one of the creatures at the shore too.’ That is how you get them involved.”
Kovatis said one of his favorite ways to start the tour is by asking what color the kids think the ocean is. “When they say green, blue or gray, we run down to the ocean and get a cup of water. Then I show them the water is actually clear,” he said.
When he goes to take a big gulp of it, he gets a rather dramatic reaction from the kids. “They say, ‘No. Don’t drink that!’”
He then explains to them why they are correct and displays a container of salt – the approximate amount that is in each cup of seawater.
For a $1 donation, beachcombers learn all about seashells, marine life, the ocean, the bays, the beaches and more from the environmental experts. Children also receive a bucket and coloring book.
Tours include shell hunting, what influences the barrier island, the different types of birds seen at the shore and where the sand comes from.
Tours are held twice a week from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. On Tuesdays, they take place at 29th Street and the Promenade. On Thursdays, they are held at the Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park at 94th Street.
Abby Powell and Marianne Snyder, co-directors of the Beachcombing Program, were busy with the other volunteers working on the Beach Combing Program’s first fundraiser of the season “Sara the Turtle Party.” It will be held at the Lobster Loft from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 20. Tickets are $35. All proceeds benefit the Beachcomber Program which is sponsored by the Sea Isle City Environmental Commission.
“This will be the best year ever. I just feel very fortunate that we have amazing volunteers,” Powell said. “Without them we would never have this program.”
Powell said she loves what the program does for everyone from adults to children. “I am still learning,” she said of the many things taught during the tours.
For Snyder, a retired kindergarten teacher, the tours give her a way to be “in the classroom” again.
“I taught for 32 years. This is a way to go back to the kids and teach them. You find too, there are kids that come in and really know nothing about shells, the beach or the environment, so it is all knew information.”
Marie Peltier, who taught eighth grade for 49 years, has been a tour guide for eight years.
Giving tours is just an extension of her former career.
“It really is a teaching moment and it is fun. The kids are so energetic,” Peltier said. “They can’t wait to look at things and ask questions. The adults ask a lot of questions too.”
Margie Quinlan has been a volunteer for six years.
“The kids are like sponges. I just love meeting the families,” she said. “People come back year after year.”
The first tour of the season is Tuesday, June 26. Snyder and Powell said the group is always looking for volunteers to help with all facets of the program.
Kovatis said most of the members are residents with a true love for Sea Isle.
He added, “The volunteers are very concerned with keeping the town natural and environmentally sound and educating the kids.”
For more information about Sea Isle City’s beachcombing tours, go to www.visitsicnj.com and click on the “Weekly Summer Events” link. For tickets to the fundraiser “Sara the Turtle Party” call Abby Powell at 215-595-4601 or Marianne Snyder at 215-805-9277.