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Bob Bender has some interesting new roommates: shrimp, crabs, turtles and other creatures that live in local waterways.
Bender has reopened the Lowcountry Estuarium in his Port Royal home, bringing his passion for teaching about the local marine world full circle. The estuarium started in his former home in Beaufort about 20 years ago.
Beginning in 2002, the estuarium operated in a 900-square-foot space on Paris Avenue until July, when it could no longer afford the rent.
Some of the financial difficulties came from a decline in the number of field trips the estuarium hosted due to budget cuts, Bender said. In the past two weeks, school groups from Riverview Charter and Coosa Elementary schools have participated in some of the estuarium's workshops, which are held on local beaches. Coosa's field trip was the first public-school outing Bender had hosted in two years, he said.
The estuarium receives accommodations-tax money from Beaufort County and had asked for a one-time, additional infusion of $24,000 from Beaufort County Council last summer. The council considered giving it an additional $3,000 in accommodations-tax revenues, but the measure failed, and the estuarium closed its doors.
"A lot of people were sad," Bender said. "I was sad. ... But it forced us to look at ways to move forward."
Bender has since moved his creatures -- including diamondback terrapin turtles, a spider crab, a sea star, shrimp and blue crabs -- into an art gallery at his home at 630 16th St. Extension.
That cuts a lot of costs, Bender said. There's no rent or utilities. Bender catches the creatures' food, too.
Starting Monday, he'll be ready for visitors at the estuarium. It can accommodate about 12 people at a time, he said. Visits are by appointment only.
Meanwhile, the estuarium's website -- lowcountryestuarium.org -- is being redesigned. Bender said he hopes to build in live video streaming so he can reach students in classrooms far away from the Lowcountry.
The estuarium's workshops have continued, too. The sessions cover information on salt marshes, shrimping and estuaries. Bender said they're available to families and small groups as well as students.
Bender hopes visitors to the estuarium will become good stewards of the environment; that's why he's worked to keep it open.
The first visit to the estuarium's new quarters is already scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving. Around the holidays, Bender said, he hopes to attract grandparents looking to show their families a good time.
"The awe and wonder you see on the face of 8-year-olds -- you see that same thing on the face of octogenarians," he said.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.