SOUTH PADRE ISLAND – The Coastal Kids Marine Science Day Camp kicked off yesterday at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Coastal Studies Lab here.

The camp is held on the “Ridley floating classroom,” a 57-foot marine vessel fully equipped for research and learning.

Yesterday, children at the camp used plankton nets, trawls, water and sediment samplers and test are given to kids to gain an understanding in the research of marine biology, ecology and human impacts on the marine environment, according to its official website.

At the floating classroom, students were able to interact with sea life by using the onboard touch tanks while being instructed by educator naturalists Mario Molina and Program Manager Shelby Bessette.

“It is important for kids to understand the environment and be able to touch and feel everything out here,” Bessette said. “Teach them about the animals and the impact that every activity they do has.”

The camp has been going on for more than 10 years, and students are able to see bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and brown pelicans in the Laguna Madre.

Onboard, students touched planktons, fishes and shrimp, among others.

“You have to respect the lives of these little animals,” Molina said to the class of more than 10 students. “They deserve to live.”

Students at the camp also had a lunch and watched a video discussion marine habitats and watersheds, fish printing, hermit crab races, bird watching and water quality testing.

The Coastal Kids Marine Science Day for children ages 7 to 13 takes place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday and Friday in June and July. A similar camp for teens will be held on July 29 and 30 at the same times.

“Our goal is to enhance the understanding of this unique marine environment and inspire stewardship of our coastal natural resources in students of all ages,” the floating classroom’s website states.

For more information about the summer camp, log on to utrgv.edu/csl.