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Darton College students made their way down to the Sunshine state to swim with the sea cows

Date: March 8, 2011

Darton College students made their way down to the Sunshine state to swim with the sea cows. Members of the Servant Leadership Program and student activities snorkeled with the manatees during a weekend trip to Crystal River, Florida. Each winter, as many as 500 manatees gather in a protected estuary 10 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico seeking a warm-water refuge. Manatees are gentle, slow-moving and yet an endangered species around the world.


Hoping for some cold weather and many manatees to see, students traveled on Feb. 25-27, to stay at The Plantation Golf Resort and Spa. The resort was complete with its own dive shop where students received their wet suits, snorkel gear, and watched a video explaining what people should and shouldn’t do when encountering manatees. For example, it is prohibited to chase after the manatee, separate the mother from her calf, disturbing a manatee while it is sleeping, etc.


Considering that the manatee is an endangered species, park officers and manatee advocates were ever present to ensure the protection of the manatees. “It was an exhilarating experience,” student Hannah Thompson said. “I almost touched a manatee but the conservation officers kept telling us to back away from them. I really appreciated how concerned they were for the manatees and the conservation of their environment. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.”


Similar to most college students, manatees spend the majority of their time eating and resting. Manatees are known for their ability to consume about 10-15% of their weight I vegetation daily. They are completely herbivorous and can often be seen eating floating plants and underwater vegetation.


“I saw a mother and her calf. The calf swam up to me, and its face was wrinkled and it had incredibly long whiskers,” student Dani Shemery said. It also kept making a squeaking sound and I saw him rest to eat some plants. It was so incredible to see.”


Students were led on a guided tour through the spring-fed waters of Three Sisters and King’s Bay. Not to be left out, Darton College faculty members also joined in on the sea cow experience. Student affairs’ Michael White, Darton’s resident photographer and student life coordinator and communication teacher Tina Burney suited up and swam.


When students weren’t swimming with the manatees, they joined the Citrus County Parks and Recreation Department to host a fishing expo to teach local children about conservation and responsible fishing. Servant leadership is a relatively new program at Darton College led by Cynthia Mann. The program is dedicated to developing student’s inherent leadership skills and abilities. “Being a member of the Servant Leadership program is great for potential scholarships, it offers hands-on experience, and allows me to work with my peers,” student Dani Shemery said.


According to the Darton College website, servant leadership emphasizes civility, listening, empathy, awareness, conceptualization, foresight, problem solving and building communities in its members. To be enrolled in the Student Leadership Program students must maintain a 2.5 GPA, meet membership requirements, and uphold the program’s core values. Servant Leadership also plans to do a spring break trip to the Florida Keys to learn about coral restoration, a service trip to Brasstown Valley Resort, and more community service projects throughout the semester.


Article By: Jessica Word

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