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Summer campers interact with coral reefs

BRADENTON — Palmetto youngster Ashley Mercado doesn’t have to travel to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota to look into the eyes of a scientist and ask how many coral reefs the ocean holds.

The 12-year-old girl can do it from summer camp in Bradenton.

That’s because the Manatee County Police Athletic League Summer Camp is hosting a new traveling exhibit called “Discovery Reef,” which uses Internet video conferencing.

The exhibit inside the PAL building on 13th Avenue East focuses on coral reefs and features live interaction with a specially trained science educator at Mote.

“It’s a live show the kids get,” said Vanesa Renovalez, the summer camp’s director. “They learn and have fun at the same time.”

The 30-minute show times take place every other week, Renovalez said. The next one is set for July 15.

Camp participant Brandon Edwards of Bradenton said he appreciates the live interaction on the big screen.

“It’s cool,” the 10-year-old boy said.

“We get to talk to the scientist and ask her a bunch of different questions about the ocean.”

In addition to the interactive media, there’s also a hands-on, sea-life display and reef exhibit.

A part of the reef exhibit is shaped like a fish tank and displays a simulated reef, complete with sponges and fish.

Children can peer into it through black snorkle-type goggles for a closer look.

On the other side of the tank is a flat-screen TV that displays footage of a real reef.

“What I like about Discovery Reef is all the stuff you can learn like the fishes, sharks and all of the stuff in the sea,” said Mercado.

The traveling exhibits are funded by a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C, Renovalez said.

“Interaction and entertainment are critical to engaging people in the learning process and we’re honored to work with PAL summer camp to bring this new concept to Bradenton,” said Dr. David Niebuhr, vice president of Mote’s education division.

“The need to increase educational opportunities about our oceans is especially timely due to the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, created in response to a report from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

The plan stresses the need to create lifelong learning communities and strengthen students’ knowledge about our oceans.”