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Thursday, Mar 23, 2017

Salt marsh nursery brings real-life learning to the classroom

RIVERVIEW – Nestled between two academic buildings behind the Riverview High School gymnasium, a newly planted salt marsh nursery has brought together the efforts of the school’s environmental club members, Tampa Bay Watch workers and volunteers.

It also serves to start the conversation about pressing conservation issues in the Tampa Bay area for students who live and plan to raise their families here.

“We want to keep Tampa Bay beautiful for generations to come, so that’s my main goal for being here, to keep it beautiful for myself, my kids and future generations,” said club president, Nickolaus Wilhite.

The focus of the Feb. 3 planting was on growing salt march grasses.

“It’s important because (a salt marsh) is a natural filtration system, which helps clean the water of toxins,” said Selena Martinez, the club’s vice president. “Since Florida is a peninsula, water is something we’re constantly around, so we need to protect it.”

The not-for-profit Tampa Bay Watch organization partners with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and, more specifically, its Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program to restore tidal wetlands throughout Tampa Bay. The salt marsh students planted on campus will eventually wind up at a restoration site managed by SWIM, said Martha Gruber, an environmental scientist for Tampa Bay Watch, who was on site to help students get the salt marsh nursery started.

In large restoration projects, SWIM “removes invasive plants, re-grades the land and puts in tidal creeks to bring an area back to historical habitats,” Gruber added. “Then Tampa Bay Watch comes in to plant salt marsh grasses, either with schools or community volunteers, which helps to stabilize the newly created creeks from eroding away. The grasses help filter stormwater runoff, buffer against hurricanes and tropical storms and establish a habitat for birds and juvenile fish, shrimp and crabs.”

For their part, Riverview High Environmental Club members collected some 10,000 salt marsh grass plugs from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish Stock Enhancement Facility in Port Manatee on Feb. 2 to replant back at the school the next day.

They’ll keep track of their salt marsh nursery throughout the spring and summer, and then harvest about half of it after the start of school in the fall for replanting at the district’s Rock Ponds Ecosystem Restoration project, which entails about 1,043 acres of uplands and wetlands, in southern Hillsborough County.

Gruber said similar programs have been in place for two years at Lennard High School and since 2002 at East Bay High. Riverview came on board under teacher Georgianna Trowbridge, the environmental club’s sponsor.

“We have a lot of hard-working kids who are really interested in volunteering, helping out the economy and getting engaged in local activities,” Trowbridge said, about the club’s focus and its approximately 100 members. “It gives real-life application to what they’re learning in class, they get hands-on experience and they get out into the community.”

Freelance writer Linda Chion Kenney can be reached at lindachionkenney@gmail.com.

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