Director of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Dr Mike Shirley, reported to Historic City News in St Augustine that they are providing educational opportunities for students from Mayport Elementary, Sebastian Middle School, and St Johns Technical High School.
The students are receiving some “hands-on” lessons in science and ecology by participating in restoration and monitoring efforts associated with oyster shell recycling within the Reserve.
“It’s a win-win situation; while the students learn practical aspects of scientific research, they simultaneously assist our mission to restore a valuable habitat,” Dr Shirley told Historic City News reporters.
The students assume important roles in various phases of restoration, including constructing an artificial reef from recycled shells provided by local restaurants, and replanting and growing marsh grasses, once the reef is completed.
Reef restoration will take place along more than 1,000 feet of lost shoreline at an important historic and archeological site called Wright’s Landing, located on the Guana Peninsula in St. Johns County.
Over time, shoreline erosion led to the loss of protective, once plentiful oyster beds and marsh grasses, leaving the shoreline vulnerable to boat wake and weather-induced wave action.
The recycled oyster shell reef was designed to lure microscopic baby oysters back to the area to supplement the manmade reef and help restore and protect the shoreline. It is expected that the oysters will contribute to maintaining water purity due to their water filtering capacity.
Students from all three schools will learn to grow salt marsh grass and to monitor its progress while also monitoring water quality in the process; while students from St. Johns Technical School have the opportunity to participate in the actual construction of the oyster reef.
These activities are in keeping with the school’s focus of providing students with high quality, industry-relevant curricula to ensure success in future career opportunities.
The Friends of the GTM Reserve received a grant in support of the program from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program, supplementing an existing Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership grant for the restoration activities.