Of all the fascinating natural environments that surround Camp Casey Conference Center, the most diverse and complex habitat is hidden from view, under the waters of Puget Sound. Camp Casey’s Sea Lab aims to uncover the mystery of the depths by showcasing local marine life and educating guests on the importance of conservation.
Retired Navy veteran Keith Ludeman’s lifelong passion for biology and zoology inspired him to build the Sea Lab at Camp Casey 32 years ago. He is still employed by Camp Casey and offers students and guests a rare look at the sea life that pervades the Puget Sound just off the shores of Whidbey Island. The lab features about a dozen aquariums that house sea urchin, sea stars, sea cucumbers and other fascinating creatures.
“Basically it’s a live collection of Puget Sound invertebrate sea life. The students get to watch some of the interaction between the animals,” Ludeman said. “There are some of them that, if you put them in the tank with another animal, get upset and run away. The kids would otherwise never see them, because these animals are all in deeper water.”
Some of the animals are collected with a beach seine, which is basically a huge net that Ludeman uses off the shore of the Island. He often employs the help of school children, adults and even sometimes preschoolers and their parents to drag the net to shore. The beach seine experience is another educational opportunity offered by Camp Casey and can sometimes be booked in conjunction with the Sea Lab. The remainder of the animals in the lab are collected by hand in tide pools or by scuba divers from the Emerald Sea Dive club.
The focus of the Sea Lab program is to encourage students to understand that a very important habitat exists in the ocean, even though they can’t see it. They also learn how their actions affect the beaches, oceans and habitats of these animals. Ludeman gives the example of a type of Rockfish, which only breeds every 75-80 years, to illustrate why people should observe fishing limits and regulations. Without regulation these animals would not have a good chance to survive and thrive.
The Sea Lab program at Camp Casey includes a one-hour class, limited to 35 students, with a lecture, lab tour of the aquarium, and a time for questions and answers. The Sea Lab is only open in the spring, so space and reservations are limited.