Toes in ocean for first time

Grace Beahm/staff Volunteer Ann Crane (left) with Kiawah Cares watches as Essence Richardson jumps in the waves along with Lesly Aguirre (right), participants in the Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach camp. Several of the campers, including Essence, had never seen the ocean before.

KIAWAH ISLAND — JosalynRobinson lives on a barrier island, yet she had never been to the beach.

The 7-year-old Johns Island girl dipped her toes into the ocean for the first time Thursday morning at a summer camp trip with Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach.

“I felt like I was moving, because my legs felt funny,” Josalyn said as she knelt down, raking together her first sand castle. “It tickled my feet.”

The Kiawah Island Community Association invited 23 children out for a day at the shore. They ferried them over from Johns Island on an air-conditioned bus from Kiawah’s prestigious golf resort, The Sanctuary Hotel.

The campers, all in second through fifth grades, split up into Turtles, Dolphins and Gators and spent the morning hanging out with marine biologists and learning about a new ecosystem just down the road.

“I’ve got something in my eye!” one boy yelled, as the breeze blew sand at the group. A girl beside him squealed when she spotted a crab inside a hole.

Joe Pezzullo, who leads Kiawah’s turtle patrol, taught the campers about loggerhead sea turtle nests near the sand dunes. He demonstrated with pingpong balls how volunteers gently probe the nests.

“I think it’s important getting to this age group, in terms of conservation,” Pezzullo said. Just last month, someone poached two freshly laid turtle nests on Folly Beach.

The highlight of the day was a starfish one of the campers discovered along the waterline. Remembering the peach-colored starfish from SpongeBob SquarePants, the campers yelled to one another, “It’s Patrick! It’s Patrick!”

Marine biologist Norm Shea let the children hold the delicate creature with a warning: “Be careful, because his legs can break off.”

Angell Blake, an 11-year-old Angel Oak Elementary student, said touching the animal was the best part of the trip.

“It tickled,” she said.

The campers spend three weeks in the summer together, according to Sister Carol Wentworth with Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach. They do arts and crafts, learn about science and culture and read for a half-hour each day with an adult volunteer.

Wentworth said five of the campers had never been to the beach before Thursday.

“It’s hard to believe, since they live on Johns Island and Wadmalaw,” she said.

Some campers from previous years returned as volunteers, including 11-year-old Kimberly Tovar, who attended camp in 2008 and 2009.

“It was fun, and I wanted to have the experience of helping out,” Tovar said.

The group spent the day studying sea life, playing with beach balls and hopping over shoreline waves like jump ropes. Before leaving, they left a remembrance of their day in a series of sand castles.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or jbird.