WILMINGTON, N.C. — Education is a top priority for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and Touch Tank Tuesdays are all about public hands-on experiences.

What You Need To Know

  • The N.C. Coastal Federation is hosting Touch Tank Tuesdays

  • Every week, a team collects wildlife from the salt marsh

  • The plants and animals are set up for a hands-on education experience

  • The wildlife is released back to the marsh after the program

No matter what time of day it is or what the weather is like, you can find Bonnie Mitchell and her team out in the wetlands at low tide every week.

Mitchell works for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and is on a treasure hunt to see what animals are living in the water. She says these salt marshes are an essential habitat that needs to be protected from pollution and erosion.

“I think a lot of times people don't understand just the beauty and the magic of the salt marsh,” Mitchell said. “I think people often come to the beach to go to the ocean, not realizing just how awesome the sound side is.”

Bonnie Mitchell and her team collect wildlife for Touch Tank Tuesday. (Photo: Jenna Rae Gaertner)

Mitchell says change starts with education.

“My favorite aspect of the job is being able to share this,” she said. “And that's really the reason behind Touch Tank Tuesday is that we can bring some education and experience and again inspire that coastal stewardship and love of the salt marsh.”

Mitchell and her team take the wildlife they find during their collections back to their office and share them with the public on Touch Tank Tuesdays.

Hermit crabs found in the salt marsh. (Photo: Jenna Rae Gaertner)

Their mission is to bring a hands-on education to people who might not get to experience a salt marsh on a daily basis. Mitchell and the volunteers love the work that they do.

“I was once one of these kids going to different aquariums and camps,” said intern Summer Owens. “And I always loved the ocean and all the different critters that lived there. And so getting to come back and educate other kids and hopefully inspire them to work with the ocean or somehow be more sustainable or just care about the environment is super cool to me.”

Mitchell hopes that their program will help people understand the value of salt marshes and take action to protect them.

“I think I take for granted my privilege of being able to live near the coast and have this as my daily life, and I forget how little people really know about it,” Mitchell said. “And so when we're sharing this information with them, and we can really see them light up when things click, and they go, 'oh I never knew that before, I had no idea all of this lived in the grass.' It is very rewarding to be able to share what I love so much with all of these other people."

The N.C. Coastal Federation releases all the animals it collects right after the program is done for the day.

Touch Tank Tuesdays happen every week through the end of July. Registration is required and you can sign up online.