Fundraiser unites youths, marine life

A nonprofit organization helps youths gain an understanding and appreciation of marine life.

Published October 26, 2005

TREASURE ISLAND - As beach residents watched and waited for Hurricane Wilma, organizers were forced to cancel weekend events because of pending inclement weather.

But organizers of a small fundraiser to benefit the Youth and Reef Development Program, a nonprofit organization that educates children on the value of ocean conservation, decided the show must go on, at least half of it.

Because of the uncertainty of Wilma's path, Joe and Hatsue Bailey canceled the annual underwater pumpkin-carving contest scheduled for Saturday that was to serve as the first day of the group's fundraiser, Halloween Fest.

With Wilma still moving at a snail's pace off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday morning, the couple decided to go forward with their treasure hunt.

Open to all, the inaugural treasure hunt included a conservation theme. Participants used a yellowed and crinkled treasure map while working their way from station to station, where they answered multiple-choice questions about marine biology.

In order to win coins to redeem for prizes, they were asked questions such as: "What is the average temperature of all oceans?" and "What percentage of the Earth do oceans cover?" (Answers? 39 degrees and 70 percent, respectively).

Daiki Pistole, 9, won a snorkel set, a black T-shirt and three goody bags filled with items including beads and stickers. The fourth-grader at Academie Da Vinci in Dunedin said the treasure hunt was "awesome" after he removed his snorkel mask and emerged from an inflatable pool set up by organizers in the parking lot of the Treasure Island Plaza on 107th Avenue.

His mom, Tomo Pistole, said she hoped the weekend event helped spread the word about the Youth and Reef program.

"I hope some more people come out to help the organization. The event itself is very fun, and everybody gets prizes," she said, adding that the $10 donation is returned in prizes.

Hatsue Bailey said the impetus for the treasure hunt was to create an activity for anyone who wanted to participate, including nondivers.

The event approaches marine conservation through the study and protection of waterways and marine life, while educating the next generation of conservationists through hands-on projects.

"(We) provide school lessons or small marine biology class sessions to educate kids. If kids interact with the water at an earlier age, they care about the water more. It's the very first step to conservation," Hatsue Bailey said.

Her husband, Joe, is president of the organization, which attained nonprofit status about a year ago.

The couple train younger kids and beginners to dive using SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) gear, a smaller scuba tank attached to a life jacket.

Scuba lessons for certification are given to children, ages 12 to 16, and children under 12 take kayaking trips or go on ecotours to learn more about the local wetlands environment, said Hatsue Bailey.

The group visits a variety of areas to see the diversity of the different environments, such as rocky shores, sea walls, sandy beaches and mangrove marshes, she said. Samples are collected and studied before being released.

"We take the dip nets and try to collect all the animals we can find. We put them in a bucket and identify them," Hatsue Bailey said.

Joe Bailey said about 50 kids attended their programs this summer. The group also works with organizations like the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Science Center of Pinellas County and the Pier in St. Petersburg to teach kids about marine biology and conservation.

The group wants to help preserve Gulf Coast waters and touts research and observation as an important first step in this effort. The program advocates the creation and maintenance of artificial reefs so the habitat and marine life can be studied while under protection from fishing and hunting, he said.

"Let's really start studying the artificial reefs. Let's set up observation zones," he said. "Some serious studies need to be done. We're just a small outfit, but we want to get involved," he said.


Youth and Reef Development Program is a nonprofit organization devoted to educating school-age youths on the values of marine ecosystem conservation. For information, call Joe or Hatsue Bailey at 365-5180 or send an e-mail to youthandreef@yahoo.com View the Web site at www.youthandreef.org