VALRICO — Dozens of fifth-graders, many hearing for the first time about subjects such as erosion, water quality and marine critters, helped plant hundreds of plugs of salt marsh grass in their school’s nursery recently as part of the Tampa Bay Watch Bay Grasses in Classes program.
The Valrico Lakes Advantage Academy students spent a portion of their day Oct. 24 getting a bit muddy, as Tampa Bay Watch Environmental Scientist Martha Gruber and her crew guided the students through the process.
The plants are being added to the brackish-water nursery behind the school on Boyette Road. This spring, the marsh grass will be used to restore an area of the shoreline along Tampa Bay.
The program has been around since 1993 and the nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch gets assistance from the state’s fish hatchery at Port Manatee, which provides space for the plants until they can be moved to area schools.
Last year’s fifth-graders planted a portion of their nursery at Bahia Beach, off of West Shell Point Road in Ruskin. Students from East Bay High School, who previously have participated in the program, came to Valrico Lakes Advantage Academy to school the fifth-graders on why it is important to restore the beaches along the bay.
“We had the students from East Bay come and give presentations, so the students would understand what they would be doing,” said Kayla Hoag, whose classes — along with teacher Kylie Adams’ students — participated in the most recent planting.
Between now and spring, Hoag said the students will tend the nursery, pulling out weeds and cleaning up the nursery area.
“We make our own brackish water and monitor the salinity and the pH. We will be teaching that in their science classes,” she said.
Some students dug right in, more than willing to get their hands muddy. Others hung back, as Environmental Specialist Melinda Spall explained to them that marsh grasses grow in the intertidal zones along the bay’s shoreline.
As runoff from surrounding roads, yards and farms makes its way toward the bay, the marsh grasses help filter it before it reaches the open water.
Schools across Hillsborough and Pinellas counties put in countless volunteer hours each year to help restore Tampa Bay to its former glory.
The Tampa Bay Watch program aims to provide the students with hands-on experience in habitat restoration, while promoting science education and the value of maintaining a healthy environment.