At the 30A Sea Life Discovery Center in Grayton Beach, Florida, kids snorkel with sea turtles, kayak across serene coastal dune lakes, and participate in evening scavenger hunts to learn about species that only come out at night. The center was established in 2017 by Joe Moore, a marine biologist with a doctorate in fishery biology.
“I started the center to inspire kids and help them develop their passions, but also to teach them how to protect our natural marine resources,” said Moore.
“With our coastal dune lakes and all of the different habitats here, this area is one of the most unique environments in the world.”
At nine years old, Moore already knew he wanted to be a marine biologist. He lived on South Padre Island, Texas, and would often visit a lab where professors from the University of Texas studied lobsters, crabs, and other sea creatures.
“It wasn’t for kids, but they let me go into the lab and hang out,” said Moore.
Fast forward to today, and Moore now runs two businesses with a similar focus: educating the next generation about protecting our natural resources. The first business is Appleseed Expeditions, a company that organizes educational trips for students to destinations worldwide.
“We do everything,” said Moore. “We plan the trip, sell the trip, arrange the airlines, coordinate the hotels, and then provide our own Appleseed Guides, who meet the kids in each country and teach them all about marine science.”
A big part of their Costa Rica itinerary, for example, is planting trees and helping local scientists with conservation programs such as protecting frogs and planting endemic species.
While Appleseed Expeditions is a for-profit company that Moore runs as CEO, the 30A Sea Life Discovery Center is a nonprofit venture open to everyone, including students, adults, and families. Sea Life Center programs are led by Moore and interns that are recent graduates in environmental or marine science. They stress the importance of protecting our beautiful beaches and wildlife, and teach simple but useful practices such as “plus one” – gathering all your things “plus one” piece of plastic whenever you leave the beach.
Through interactive programs like snorkeling with sea turtles, seeing creatures up close via net pulls, and even dissecting squid, the 30A Sea Life Discovery Center team hopes to instill a love and appreciation for sea life that lasts a lifetime.
“We’re trying to spark that desire to protect our marine creatures, so we talk about plastics in the ocean, marine debris like fishing line, and what we can do to limit these things,” Moore said. “When they see how unique these animals are, that connection lasts forever. You can teach young people about these animals in class, but it’s not until they have that one experience where they swam next to a sea turtle that they think to themselves, ‘I want to help protect these animals and our oceans.’”
Moore’s work and impact goes way beyond a classroom. Through his research, for example, Moore learned about a green sea turtle nursery near St. Andrews Bay. As many as 40 juvenile sea turtles inhabit the cove, and it’s one of the only known turtle nurseries in the Gulf of Mexico. Moore is now working to educate people about the importance of such habitats.
“We obviously want to protect the nesting sea turtles,” said Moore, “but we should also be trying to protect fragile places that are so unique to our area.”