Despite threatening clouds and constant rain, juniors and seniors from Countryside High School were all smiles Thursday morning as they unloaded off a big yellow school bus near the Feather Sound Country Club.
Outfitted in water shoes, swim trunks and plastic ponchos, the 25 students from Susan Curnutte’s marine science class planted salt marsh grasses grown in class along the trash-strewn shoreline hedged by Ulmerton Road. The native grass will help hold sand in place, creating homes for native animals, filtering out trash and creating natural channels for water flow.
“The kids have been growing the grass all year, so they are really looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labor,” Curnutte said. “They love it. It’s a coveted spot to be one of the lucky ones that can afford to miss a day of classes.”
For the project, coordinated by Tampa Bay Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting native wetlands, the students quickly slipped in and out of thick mangroves with bags of grass before heavy rain brought their planting to an end. Environmental scientist Martha Gruber said the group hopes to restore the mosquito ditches near Feather Sound to native wetlands, removing invasive species and replacing them with native plants by the summer.
“I love these trips. They make you feel like you’re doing something meaningful,” said senior Colin Carrier. “A lot of stuff that we’ve been learning about I’ve found really interesting, especially growing up around this area and around the waterfront.”
Curnutte’s classes have planted marsh grass everywhere from Tarpon Springs to Ruskin through Tampa Bay Watch’s Bay Grasses in Classes program, which encourages students at 15 middle and high schools to help restore wetlands.
Though the rain cut in to their day of planting, junior Jessica Hall said she was still happy to spend a day out of the classroom.
“We’re missing a whole day of school, so I can’t complain,” Hall said. “You don’t really get to go on a lot of field trips in high school.”