Last week, Capt. Chris Wittman and Wyler Gins of Captains for Clean Water had the opportunity to educate 80 second graders at Heights Elementary, in Fort Myers, FL. After learning about the water issues in Florida from their teacher, the students were very interested. They wanted to learn more to better understand the problems facing their own local waterways. Intrigued by their interest, their teacher reached out to Captains for Clean Water and asked them to come in and talk to the students.

Chris and Wyler began their presentation explaining the historic flow of water through the Everglades by showing an old map of Florida. The students were fascinated and some even knew about how the Everglades cleaned the water as the water flowed south. When asked what was the biggest difference between the water in the Keys and the water in Fort Myers, many kids raised their hands, all having the same answer. “The water is so clear in the Keys!” Many of the students had questions about why the water in their back yard isn’t as clear as the Keys. They also wondered why their parents have been telling them they can’t swim in the Caloosahatchee River anymore.

Once explaining the importance of the Everglades in keeping South Florida’s water clean and healthy, the Captains explained the major changes made to Florida’s hydrology in the past century. The draining, damming and diking of the Everglades changed the water flows throughout the state, which caused great harm to all of the estuaries in South Florida. With the eagerness to understand, the students were ready to become involved. The Captains presented a challenge to the students. They were given a map, a few crayons, and the direction to draw or explain a solution to this issue. They colored in the historic Everglades, showing how the water needs to flow south. The second graders’ ability to understand the problem and solution shows how fundamentally simple it is to fix our water crisis.

After a few more discussions, one group of students raised their hands to ask about the animals and how this affects them. The students drew fish, manatees, alligators, birds and many other species. They made the connection that without clean, healthy water, the animals wouldn’t be healthy either.

Chris and Wyler explained how it would cost a lot of money to fix a problem this big. The students did not understand. They wanted to know why they wouldn’t “Just fix it,” since the problem impacts so many people. Talan, an eight-year-old, stood up and wanted to voice his thoughts. He said, “It makes me sad that people are poisoning the water and the habitats that so many animals and plants depend on to live!” He went on- “It isn’t all about money! Who cares about money. We don’t even really need it. We just need to clean our water!”

For the sake of these kids, and future generations, it is our responsibility to fight to protect our estuaries. Restoring the Everglades is an investment in our future and our kids’ future. Help us make a difference!