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Guest Post: Opening a Door to the World beneath the Waves

July 12, 2019 by

My love of nature and science can be traced back to my childhood at the Deer Spring Bruderhof in the rolling hills of the Berkshire Mountains in northwestern Connecticut. From a young age I was encouraged to experience the natural environment around me: exploring the forests, fishing the ponds and streams, hiking, bird-watching – anything to get “hands-on” with nature. Annual summer trips to the beaches of Connecticut and Rhode Island kindled my love of the sea and everything in it. The smells, the sounds, the taste of the salt water, and the majesty of the ocean stayed with me and eventually led me to a career in marine biology.

group of children holding sea animals

After taking a few years off after high school I ended up at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point Marine Campus in Groton where I pursued a degree in coastal science, a hybrid of marine biology and environmental science. After graduation I honed my skills as a field scientist in several environmental labs in Connecticut and Vermont.

Sixteen years ago, I ended up here in Charleston, South Carolina, as the Marine Operations Manager at a marine research lab. I wear many hats: I’m the boat captain, animal husbandry specialist, field experiment designer, onboard biologist, light bulb changer – you name it, I do it!

But perhaps the most rewarding hat is that of the Outreach and Education Coordinator. About ten years ago, we implemented a program we called CORAL: Community Outreach Research And Learning. CORAL brings marine biology into the hand of local K-12 students in an innovative fashion: we bring a large “touch-tank” filled with lots of local marine critters right into the school. After a short introduction to our local marine environment and a few interesting facts about each animal, the students are allowed to pick them up and examine them. Depending on what’s available that season, the kids can get up close and personal with everything from sting rays and horseshoe, blue, hermit, or spider crabs to puffer fish, sea stars, and sea urchins.

little girl holding a horseshoe crab

There is only so much that can be learned in a classroom or from a book, and with ever-dwindling funding for field trips and outdoor activities, our kids are missing out on an incredibly important aspect to their education. CORAL helps fill that gap. I’m always excited to see a six-year-old hold a huge horseshoe crab – the ultimate evolutionary survivor – or a quarter-sized diamondback terrapin for the first time, or watch a ten-year-old who has grown up only three miles from the ocean experience a sea star regenerating a missing arm. Some of these animals look truly “out of this world” but any initial trepidation is almost always overcome with wonder and delight.

Being able to share my passion for the natural world, particularly our local marine environment here in coastal South Carolina, is something that I treasure. An innate curiosity about all living things resides in all children whether they know it or not and I feel privileged to be able to help foster that inquisitiveness. As they grow up, I hope some of that curiosity and love of nature will stay with them, helping them become better stewards of our oceans and this beautiful blue planet we call home.

One of my programs was recently featured on our local ABC TV channel – check it out here.

Peter Meier grew up at the Bruderhof and is now the marine operations manager for the College of Charleston’s Grice Marine Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina.


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