Saturday, June 19, 2021

UGA aquarium/Skidaway Island

Despite feeling sunburnt and beat-up from our long beach excursion on Wednesday, everyone still wanted to go to the beach on Thursday. I thought it best that we take a little bit of a break from the sea and sun (and avoid being at the beach during the hottest part of the day), so we spent the morning at the UGA aquarium. 

UGA has a "marine extension" program in Savannah and they have a cute little aquarium/facility. It was a better deal for a family like our size, too! I'm sure the aquarium in Atlanta is amazing but it would cost our family around $260 to visit. The UGA aquarium cost us around $40. 

It was really a quick little walk-through (I think they have something like 16 observation tanks), but we had a good time observing the marine life up close.

Here's Miriam watching the lionfish:

I was confused about why the lionfish would be included in the exhibits since it was supposed to be local wildlife only, but lionfish are now "invasively" local here. 

Zoë and Alexander were particularly excited by all the fish and kept running from tank to tank. Fortunately we were practically the only family there when we arrived (there was one other family there—just a little family of three—and we were able to stay out of their way for the most part, I think).

We were excited when this shy loggerhead sea turtle finally came out from the rock he was hiding under:

Everyone thought this pufferfish was pretty funny (we didn't know puffer fish had teeth quite like this):

Andrew and this sheepshead fish had a lengthy staring contest (it was pretty funny):

Benjamin's loved the touch tanks. While I love east coast beaches—with their warm ocean currents and beautiful sandy beaches—I do kind of miss a good, rocky tidal pool. We kind of miss out on that sort of thing out here. While the tide does leave little pools behind when it recedes, they're all sandy so there's nothing permanent in the tide pools, you know. No sea anemones or barnacles, no starfish. Though, to be fair, when we were at the beach one of the days a lady came by to show the kids a starfish she had found so it is possible here. You can also find crabs here, if you're lucky, but I remember collecting buckets full of cute, tiny crabs. You just flip over a rock and gather them up. 

Oh, and sand dollars! We've never seen any out here and but I remember gathering bucketloads as a kid in BC. But, to be fair, I don't remember ever really enjoying getting into the water in the Pacific Northwest. It was always freezing!

The point is, there are positives about both coastlines and I enjoy them for different reasons. But not being familiar with rocky tide pools does make a touch tank especially exciting for my east coast babies. Show a west coast kid a touch tank and they'd be like...a hermit crab? I saw like fifty of those on the beach just now. A starfish? You think I'm impressed. I literally tossed a thousand of them back into the ocean half an hour ago... Show an east coast kid a touch tank and they're like, "Alright! These creatures I've heard about but have never seen because all I'm ever left with when the tide pulls out are pristine sandy beaches!"

Benjamin wanted to touch everything. The other kids weren't quite as sure they wanted to touch things (like Miriam, below).

They had horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, spider crabs, and whelks. The older girls were excited about the horseshoe crabs because we'd just been reading (in the National Geographic, but they have a paywall so here's a free article) about their blue (copper-based, rather than iron-based) blood and how it's harvested for use in COVID vaccines. To sum up, there's a component of their blood that is useful in detecting endotoxins, so it's used to test a few vials of the vaccine from each batch that's made to make sure it's safe (but there's worry about over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs).

Here's Benjamin with a hermit crab:


And here he is holding a whelk:

And Miriam: 

It seemed like there should also be sea stars (or starfish) in the tank as well, but we looked and looked and didn't see any. 

Here's Benjamin with a spider crab:

It took Alexander a while to feel comfortable putting his hands into the water with all those crabs, but curiosity finally got the better of him and he dove in. He would only pick up the very smallest of creatures (and was very gentle):

Here's Benjamin waving goodbye to this seastar:

Outside was a little nature walk, which I think was my favourite part of the aquarium (and which is technically always free to visit—the ground and the picnic area, I mean, so if you need a really cheap pit stop, this place can be free if you don't go inside the aquarium).

Here are the kids by a live oak all decked out in Spanish moss (which is neither moss nor Spanish):

It's hauntingly beautiful:

And the children quickly figured out why it's sometimes nicknamed "grandfather's beard":

I didn't even tell them about that nickname, but it quickly became bears for them, anyway.

Zoë didn't want a beard but she thought it matched her hair rather nicely since her hair was crimped from taking her braids out:

Most of the Spanish moss they're holding was stuff they found on the ground (though they did pull some from the trees, they were constantly reminded "to not to").

Alexander was determined to carry around a little armful of Spanish moss all day (but eventually threw it into the water from the boardwalk, which bothered Zoë because that was "littering" but...I'm sure it was fine because the trees all draped in Spanish moss grow right there by the water so... (and when she said, "He threw it in the water and he threw it in on purpose and that's littering!" he said, "I didn't throw it in on purpose! I did it on accident because it was making my shirt all messy!" I had to explain that if you do something "on accident" because of a specific reason, that speaks to premeditation, which means you did something on purpose, not that that was an issue here because, again, throwing a naturally-growing local plant into the adjacent naturally-occurring body of water seems like pretty innocuous "littering" to me, but still)):

Benjamin immediately started climbing this big ol' oak tree, which I wasn't quite sure he was supposed to do because the oak trees are very old and it seems like they're trying to preserve them (given the metal bars around many of them), so he jumped out of the tree and...landed directly on top of Zoë.

Here she is limping out from the base of the tree:

Benjamin just left her there after he landed on top of her, and came out to apologize/explain away his behaviour to everyone else. So we had a good discussion about what a proper apology would be (stopping to help his sister up, for example, making sure she was alright, saying sorry and promising to look before he leaps in the future). She had a few new scrapes from the adventure, but was otherwise unscathed.

Anyway, here's Alexander heading down the trail with his "pet" clump of Spanish moss (the one he'd throw into the water about ten minutes after taking this picture):

Here's Benjamin contemplating his life:

The trail, we soon learned, was teeming with these squareback crabs (also known as marsh crabs):

It was kind of strange to see them just roving about the forest floor. I know we were very close to the water, but still. They were just scuttling around the leaves along the forest floor. We had to look up how they breathe because...don't they have gills? They do. But as long as their gills are wet, they're able to breathe, so they carry a bit of water with them, and make sure they don't stray too far from their wet(ter) homes.

Benjamin wanted to see what would happen if he teased this crab with a leaf. Turns out it will snap at it. They had a little tug-o-war over it.

And then the crab decided to scamper away to hide...on Benjamin's shoe...

Here are the kids on the boardwalk, heading out to look at the Skidaway River (which, yes, Alexander threw his Spanish moss into...but I assure you, Zoë, that is not the same as littering):

Here are the kids doing a silly pose on the "danger" bridge, as they called it:

And here they are looking over the side into the mud, which was absolutely squirming with squareback crabs. It looked like the mud was boiling...but it was just crabs:

Here's Alexander trying to balance on a log:

And here he is saying, "Is this poison ivy?" before reaching down and picking up a red leaf that he saw.

"Well, buddy," I said. "If it was poison ivy you'd be in trouble because the minute you touch poison ivy it releases its urushiol oil on you and that's what will cause the rash. So if you're wondering if something is poison ivy you don't touch it..."

"Oh," he said, dropping the leaf. "It's not poison ivy."

"It's not," I agreed. "But remember not to touch something if you're wondering if it is poison ivy."

So many learning opportunities this morning!

(Also, look how white Alexander's hair has been bleached by the's wild!)

Here we all are on the path:

And here are a few pictures that Alexander took:

There was an "interpretive cabin," which was built in the 1930s and renovated sometime later to be a mini-museum of sorts (our children were very bothered by the term "interpretive cabin" and just wanted it to be called "museum" or "educational center"), but our children were more interested in the dilapidated cabins along the trail. They were used for workers on the cattle farm (which this particular section of the island was until the 1970s when it was donated to UGA and became a research center).

Two such cabins are close by the Roebling Oak, a live oak that is over 100 years old (and is named after the Roebling family, who owned the aforementioned cattle farm).

Here you can see the metal bars in the tree:

After we finished our little nature walk we settled in for a little picnic lunch.

On our mega-beach-day, the kids all ate their lunch so fast! They scarfed down their sandwiches, gulped down their water, smashed snacky foods into their faces, and then ran back to the water. I was amazed because often the little kids, at least, take forever to eat lunch. 

Well, aquarium day apparently didn't burn enough calories (or cause enough excitement) to elicit the same behaviour because Alexander took forever to eat his lunch. I stayed behind with him while everyone else packed up and walked to the car. He was being so silly (and didn't ever manage to finish his crust).

Here he is giving me some finger guns while trying to wink at me and make a clicking noise in his mouth. So flirtatious. 

So bad at winking.

And here he is taking a pretend picture of me with his pretend camera:

He took so long eating that everyone began to wonder if we'd been eaten by alligators or something (you have to watch out for those in these rivers; alligators and sharks, both). Fortunately, the only things we were attacked by were mosquitoes and ants. 

Goodbye, Skidaway!

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