Six members of Long County High’s Tide Research Team have officially become the first student-based team to swim with whale sharks at Georgia’s Aquarium, according to Tide Research Team’s Coach Michael Austin.
TRT is a science based, out of the box classroom, Austin said. It’s set up to let students experience science in the real world. The program is strictly a trips-based research team, with discussions on Facebook and photos on Instagram, he said.
“We have 60 members on the team, and 10 on our leadership board,” Austin said. “A lot of students sign up just so they can take these trips. And that’s okay, because I want them to get those experiences outside of Long County. I want them to sign up to explore the world.”
The team takes trips to meet people and have those conversations with experts in the field, or the real world, Austin said.
After trips, Austin encourages the students to post photos, and start conversations. The goal is to keep learning, he said.
“Our administration is awesome at allowing us to experience other things,” Austin continued. “We take five to six trips a year, and about two each semester. We’ve done everything from Jekyll Island’s Sea Turtle Hospital to SeaWorld, and we’re hoping the next trip is Discovery Cove. This past trip however, was limited to the team’s leadership board. We offered it to six members who all jumped on the opportunity.”
The students were able to get up close and personal in the whale sharks’ environments, making it a memorable experience, Austin said. The students got that up-close view of the whale sharks, and it hopefully changed the students’ perspectives on them. Hopefully they’ll work to help whale shark preservation now, Austin added.
“This experience is going to become an annual thing now, and the aquarium is excited to allow students to come back,” Austin said. “It’ll pave the way for others to go and have those same experiences. Who knows what may come out of this? There may be a future conservationist, veterinarian, or something else among those students.”
The team sells T-shirts as their way to fundraise major trips, Austin continued, and the majority of the funds raised went to paying for the students to attend. Each student contributed a small amount out-of-pocket for the trip, but it was minor compared to the actual cost, Austin said.
“These Tide Research Team T-shirts really helped us out to be able to go, but most small trips the students fund themselves,” he said. “I had the opportunity to work for National Geographic in college as an intern, and it changed the direction of my life. I just hope one of these trips impacts a student just as much. These trips and experiences are something you can’t get in a classroom.”