This school year, Historic City News has learned that the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve is partnering with Sebastian Middle School and St Johns Technical High School in St Augustine and Mayport Elementary Coastal Sciences Academy in Jacksonville on a new project — the Sea Grass Nursery Program.
The GTM Research Reserve will help teachers pair this activity with lessons on coastal ecosystems. Students will learn about plants and wildlife, tidal activities and the changes occurring in coastal environments.
“The Sea Grass Nursery Program project is great because we’ll achieve in one or two years what other projects would require four or five growing seasons to accomplish,” says GTM Research Reserve project intern Erica Saffer. “Planting the additional grass will give the area a jump start in restoration.”
The Sea Grass Nursery Program began last month with student visits to the GTM Research Reserve to harvest the seeds. Throughout the fall and winter, the students will monitor the seeds during a period of dry and then wet storage and germination. In early spring, they will plant the seeds in trays and monitor their growth. Students will plant the grass at the Reserve at the end of the school year.
Students will grow Spartina alterniflora, also known as smooth cordgrass, at their schools and then plant it along the marsh at the GTM Research Reserve. The program offers students the opportunity to conduct in-depth scientific research and monitoring as well as help the GTM Research Reserve rehabilitate a struggling shoreline.
“The development of the spartina grass nursery is a natural progression for our Academy of Coastal and Water Resources students,” said Linda Krepp, career specialist at the St. Johns Technical High School. “Growing of the grass seeds into plugs and then planting them really gives the students the complete picture of a living shorelines restoration from start to finish.
Students will also gain hands-on experience with new science technology. They will use electric meters to take weekly readings of salinity, water nutrients and other environmental factors important to plant growth. These meters automatically upload the data to iPods that will allow the data to be compiled and analyzed as well as shared with the GTM Research Reserve.
Each school is planning to grow over 4,000 plugs. The resulting 13,000 plants will cover an area of marsh totaling almost half an acre. In many places, the marsh is currently barren of this important plant offers that homes to wildlife and protection from erosion for the fragile shoreline.
The GTM Research Reserve is one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves around the nation focused on researching, educating, and protecting the natural biodiversity and cultural resources within the estuary. It is managed by Florida DEP’s Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Environmental Education Center is located at 505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 32082. For more information about the GTM Research Reserve, please call (904) 823-4500 or visit our website at www.gtmnerr.org